Can my landlord do this?

My family and I are renting a three bedroom apartment in Brooklyn in a two-family house. As some of you may know from previous postings, I’ve had some issues with the landlords here.

The landlords themselves live in Israel. We communicate (when necessary) by email.

Our lease expired in November 2002. We recently received an email from them stating that they would like to raise the rent. They also want us to now pay for our own heat. We never agreed to these conditions. They have been, to be diplomatic, not the best landlords in the world. It took about 10 weeks to fix a hole in the ceiling when it collapsed one afternoon. It took over two weeks to replace a stove (yes, we had no stove for two weeks!). Of course, when the double self-cleaning stove was replaced, it was replaced with a single non-self-cleaning model. But fine, that’s thier perogative. Sure, we’ve been waiting for two years to have windows fixed, but hey, who’s counting years?

I haven’t responded to thier email yet (regarding the request that we pay heat) because my wife and I are still discussing the best way to politely say “no.”

In any event, today, lo and behold, a plumber shows up at the door (with no warning, of course) to switch the boiler so that we pay for the heat. He was also there to do other repairs in one of the other apartments, and so he went to do those first. I don’t know if he’s going to get around to doing the boiler thing today.

My question is: can they unilaterally do this? We never agreed to pay for the heat. In the expired lease, it explicitly stated that the landlord pays for the heat, but I understand that the lease is now expired.

I’m not crazy about paying any rent increase considering the way we’ve been treated, but paying for the heat is an abosolute no-way for us. Especially since we have no way to verify that we’re not being charged the heat for the entire house!

Can anyone offer any suggestions (besides move fast)?

Zev Steinhardt

Get a lawyer, Zev. There are a bazillion laws, regs, and ordinances about this sort of thing.

Sigh

I was afraid someone would say something like that. I really don’t want to go that route, but I suppose it might be neccessary.

Zev Steinahrdt

That is probably the only thing you can do zev. Or you can try to negotiate a new lease with them. Perhaps they will be willing to meet you half way if you have been good tenets. Finding new renters will be hard with them living so far away.

Move.
No need to live where you are not happy.

Zev,
I’m not a lawer, nor do I want to admit knowing any. However, it seems to me that you were the victim. I don’t know how things are in Brooklyn, but when I lived in New Hampsire I found a pamphlet on tennant rights at the town-hall, it was published by an advocacy group and netted me $3000 when they tried to, illegally, evict me. Check your local resourses to see what can be done.
Good Luck!

They have a brother here who is acting as their agent.

When we moved in, they were living in the house. They moved to Israel about a year ago, and had friends of theirs move in. These friends are really nice people. To make a long story short, they got into a dispute over the heat as well with the landlord. The landlord’s response: “Sorry you’re having trouble with the apartment. When are you moving out?” So, if they treat thier “friends” that way, I’m not holding out too much hope for little ol’ me.

In the end, what happens if we completely refuse to pay for the heat? Suppose we agree to a modest rent increase, but are completely deadlocked on the heat issue?

Zev Steinhardt

IANA lawyer, either, but I believe, unless there are some local Brooklyn/NY statutes that say otherwise, the landlord is entirely within his rights. Not that he isn’t a jerk to do it, but I’d be very surprised if there was anything you could do about it other than to move. Without a lease, you’re a “tenant at-will”, so he could, theoretically, raise the rent every month. There’s no binding contract preventing him from doing so.

On the other hand, I know New York City has some of the toughest tenant rights laws in the country, so maybe Brooklyn does, too. A quick search (“tenant rights” + brooklyn) found this…

*It’s no secret that apartment living in NYC can be hell. Brokers and landlords don’t always follow the letter of local and national housing regulations (can you say understatement?), but it can be difficult for renters to figure out their housing rights by themselves. One grassroots organization set out in the mid-1990s to change that fact.

Tenant Network, an informal network of housing advocates and professionals, seeks to make it easier for renters to know their rights. Their website, Tenant.net , is an astounding trove of information for residential tenants that should be browsed by anyone living in rental housing anywhere in NYC. Regular viewers will find the last sentence notable; Yours Truly only rarely raves unabashedly about the web resources we discuss on the Brooklyn Homepage. But in this case, raves are well earned.*

Sounds like a good place to start looking for help.

Whether you win or lose this fight, you will probably end up moving. Save yourself the trouble and start planning your move now.

Otherwise, “get a lawyer” is the best advice.

Talk to a tenant’s rights organization, and read the ordinance itself (and any pamphlets, etc. that you can find to explain it). Talk to your alderman’s office.

If your lease is expired, though, they can probably do whateevr they want in terms of raising the rent or making you pay for heat in any new lease. The landlord/tenant ordinance will spell out what your rights are as a month-to-month tenant in terms of giving notice before you move, though.

It sounds like your landlords are more trouble than they’re worth. If you resolve this issue, there will just be another one later on. Even with the NY housing market as it is, can’t you do better?

My wife just went down to the basement and confirmed that there is only one boiler down there. That being the case, is it possible for them determine how much heat we use as opposed to the rest of the house? Even if we end up paying the heat for my apartment, I don’t want to pay for the other apartments in the house too!

Zev Steinhardt

As far as I know, they can charge whatever they want… (do you have rent control?)

"Talk to a tenant’s rights organization, "

THere is a book, TENANT’S RIGHTS, from nolo.com, our library, our bookstore, Etc, about $22, great book, covers this sort of thing.

Slight Hijack, but how much are they raising your rent? Is it that big an issue? Also, check you original lease. My lease has a clause stating that after the contract expires, there is a limit (25 buckeroos) to how high it may be raised.

Also, what are you referring to as far as “boiler?” Is it a gas heater or tank, or some type of other system? Coal? The hot water heater? As a Floridian in Central California, I know very little about heaters. Imagine my suprise in this apartment when I opened a door in the hall and found a big metal thing filled with blue flames! Whoa!

However, I used to live in military barracks that had some kind of antique, rudimentary excuse for heat… It looked like it had pipes connected to the hot water lines, and you turned a knob on the side to allow water in. If it’s something like this, they may put water meters on the pipes in order to check… of course, then you’d pay the same for heat as hot water.

Then again, I know nothing of Brooklyn, so take this with a grain of salt.

You might want to try talking to Banger here on the boards. He works for the NYC housing dept. and can probably help you with this problem.

This part is confusing me, what can a plumber do to make you pay for heat from a boiler/radiator system? It seems to me that one of these things was going to happen:

  1. They start charging you for the electricty/gas/whatever the boiler uses to heat the water. In which case, the plumber doesn’t have to do anything, and you’re paying to heat the whole house if there’s only one boiler.

  2. He’s installing a second boiler, which will have it’s own meter, and hooking it up to your apartment’s radiators. But that would cost the landlords the most money, and this doesn’t sound likely.

  3. He was simply going to shut off the water flow to your radiators, to stop “giving” you heat and making you “pay” for something like a space heater if you wish to have a warm apartment. It is likely to be illegal to shut off your heat without warning in the middle of winter.

Does anybody have another theory?

-lv

**

The amount of a raise is under negotiation. There is no renewal clause in the lease. And handy, we aren’t under rent control.

Zev Steinhardt

Unfortunately, I know next to nothing about heating systems. I know that I’m not currently paying heat for the house (I paid the heat in my old apartment and I’d know what my gas bills were like if I was paying here).

I don’t know if they were intending to install a second boiler or not. And I don’t think even they’d stoop to #3.

Zev Steinhardt

Read over the old lease.
Some convert to a month-to-month basis after it’s initial term.
That way, either you or the landlord can make changes as long as a thirty-day notice is given.

In most places, that would make it illegal for him to charge you separately for heat. You (generally) must have independent heating zones, with independent control of the heat (thermostats), in order for this to be legal. This would not be possible in a single boiler setup.

It also raises the question of what, other than bluffing or maybe tuning up the boiler, the plumber was supposed to do when he visited.

You still need to get in touch with some tenant’s rights activists in your area. Those of us not in NY can only guess what your rights are.

Hey Zev,

One of the luxuries of renting is not having to worry about how heating systems work etc. Yes renting IS a luxury no matter how you look at it. You are basically not recieving a return on A LOT of money you are spending. Renting should be easy and unstressful just like any luxury.

I wouldn’t spend your time and energy with the lanlords. Think if it this way, you are doing them a favor by giving them money. If you don’t like them, stick it to them by taking away there money and renting someone else.