tennant question (or "Am I screwed?")

I am renting an apartment in a two family house in New York City. The landlord lives on the upper floor, I live on the ground floor. In the basement, there is another two apartments (one in the front of the house, one in the back). My bedroom is directly above the one in the back.

Lately, the people underneath us have been making life a bit unpleasant for us. They smoke, and the stench comes up from their place to ours. In addition, they sometimes play music somewhat loudly in the evening (which explains why I’m posting at this godforsaken hour). It’s not loud enough so as to disturb anyone outside, but my wife and I can definitely hear (and sometimes feel) the music.

Complaints to the landlord have revealed that the folks below us are squatters. They don’t pay rent. The landlord is trying to have them evicted.

I know that due to NYC’s byzantine housing laws (and the fact that the courts usually side with a tenant over a landlord) that it can take upwards of six months to get these people out.

Now then, aside from buying air purifiers for my room and my daughter’s room (which also frequently stinks from the smoke) and having carpeting put in the bedroom (which I don’t want to do), do I have any legal recourse in this situation?

Zev Steinhardt

If your landlord were being unhelpful to you in this regard, you could take him to small claims for denial of “quiet enjoyment” of that for which you paid, but it sounds like your landlord is doing what can be done.

You could pursue civil action against the squatters, but that wouldn’t necessarily change their conduct.

If you need to remove them in a hurry, you need for them to commit a violent crime against you. (threats don’t count). It doesn’t have to be permanently incapacitating, but something necessitating a doctor’s visit would be useful. Then you press charges in criminal court, get a crim court Order of Protection and have it served (but be prepared for possibly uncooperative police officers who are not attorneys and therefore may have doubts about whether the criminal court can order someone removed from premises as they have often been instructed that only instructions from housing court can evict someone).

I suppose this is not very encouraging. Sorry. Sure do sympathize.

your landlord is attempting to evict them, but it takes a while, right?

are there noise ordinances where you live? (as in if you can hear it in your apartment, can you call the police)

Any chance the landlord can get the power cut off to that apartment?

sorry, this sounds awful (although I can tell you from personal experience, living above irritating folks was far less irritating than living below them - encourage your young one to take up bouncing balls, rolling things, dancing etc…)

This is against the law in every state that I know of. You just have to wait on the courts. YOur landlord is trying to evict, just wait it out.

I lived in NYC for 11 years. All over Queens, in true apartment buildings but mostly in houses that had been cut into apartments.

It was made pretty clear to me that there is a law specifically BANNING basement apartments. Period. Call the NYC Dept.Of Housing, Or look up Building Inspections under the Blue Section of the white pages. You will find an official willing to cite chapter and verse on the law banning illegal basement apartments.

The landlord’s dragging his heels because A) They’re buddies of his, or more likely B) He knows it’s totally illegal, and if he really pushes, they’ll drop the dime on him and he’ll be deeply fucked.

Your family is suffering needlessly. A call to the right folks in your county ( where are you in Enwye? ), and a check of the statute, THEN a call to the landlord might get them gone poste-haste :smiley:


Hi Zev, no offense but I’m going to take the other side here, some of the advice above doesn’t sound all that good. I know New York has some of the toughest tenant laws in the nation and they almost always benefit the tenant.

Though I’m a smoker, I can sympathize with the smoke odor coming from below and I can also feel for you about the music…hope they play something you like if you have to listen to it 24/7.

However, you live in an apartment in NYC Zev! If you want relative peace and quiet and pure air-move to the country.

I would do what you said you didn’t want to do and buy that carpeting and the air purifiers, you can take them with you when you move on to your next place. Before you put down carpets, make certain to caulk all the edges (with the landlords permission)of the floor to help keep the smoke odor out.

Your irritations sound relatively minor for apartment dwelling, I’d learn to live with it or move elsewhere. Have you considered what the future neighbors might be like?

I don’t want to steal this thread, but do the “squatters” have to have one person in the apartment at all times in order to not get “locked” out? Or is it just that they have some stuff in the apartment and they are “safe” (albeit for 6 months or less)?

No fricking way does living in NYC make it ok to disturb the peace. Look at his posting time. 4 am on a Monday morning is not a time to have your music playing loud wether you Manhattan NY or Manhattan KS. Sure in NY you get to hear muffled conversations and your neighbors fighting/having sex,(sometimes you just can’t tell) but the fact that you live in NYC dosen’t mean you get make all the noise you want whenever you want. Actually I think the people who want to be loud at 4 am on a work/school night (morning!) are the ones who need to move to the country where your neighbor lives half a mile away.

zev I feel for you. I hope you get some sleep.

If they are not legally evicted, you cannot just lock them out. It is illegal for the landlord to change the locks. And if he does, the tenant may use any force he wants to get back in. This includes kicking in the door. The landlord would have to fix the broken door on his own afterwards. After you live somewhere for longer than seven days, the place is your home and there must be an eviction to force you to leave.
So be careful about letting people crash at your house for more than a week. If they decide they like freeloading and want to stay longer, you would have to get an eviction to make them leave. Otherwise, that is his home too.

Zebra Read Zev’s post again… neither Zev or myself gave liscense to disturb the peace.

How would you feel Zebra, if you worked at night and tried to sleep during the day?

Fact of the matter is that you will almost always going to have to put up with your neighbors in an apartment, especially an older one that does not have sound deadening built in.

I still think it is better to keep the peace.

That seems like a crock that this house could have been legally divided into apartments without the proper improvements that would be needed. There should at least be a vapor barrier between you and other apartments, and some kind of sound proofing as well. This sounds more like a big house with sections of it rented out. I know that codes vary from state to state, but at least when my building (a single family home about 12 years ago) was divvied-up into condos, there were a whole pile of codes that the owner had to abide by. There has to be a vapor barrier in each floor, x amount of dead air space & insulation between units, seperate venting for each unit’s stove hoods & dryers, etc, etc. I can’t believe the codes are so relaxed in NYC that a basement can be rented out of a house and officially qualify as a seperate apartment.

Could you clarify- is it an actual sperate apartment (with seperate utility bills, private entrances, etc.) or is this just a bunch of people renting the basement out of somebody’s house with you stuck in the middle?

I also wonder if the landlord has been properly claiming their rent as income- hint hint.

Here’a tip. The girl who lives upstairs from me is generally very considerate except for one thing. She has to be at work about an hour sooner than I do, so naturally she gets out of bed earlier. She is a fashionably-dressed young woman, so naturally her wardrobe these days includes lots of platform shoes. Therefore, I am awakened every day by her clomping around in the final stages of getting dressed. My girlfriend stayed over the other night and thought my neighbor was hammering on the floor at 6 AM.

So why not outfit your wife and daughter with lots and lots of platform shoes? And while you’re at it get yourself some nice wooden clogs to wear around the house.

cartooniverse pointed out:

This is a good point, although it may not work in your (OP’s) favor. Suppose I am landlord and I am renting out an illegal apartment. Another tenant wants that individual kicked out and reports the situation to Housing. Housing tells me that I may not legally ACCEPT rent for the illegal apartment and furthermore am subject to fines and charges and whatnot. Does Housing rush in and remove the tenants of the illegal apartment? Nope, not their job. Can the landlord evict them now? Uh, tenants of what? (You have to have a legal apartment from which to evict tenants. Housing Court won’t always check but under these circumstances…).

So it could result in a very angry landlord and still not get the tenants out.

First of all, I’d like to thank all of you who took the time to respond. It’s given me something to think about.

I don’t know if the apartment is legal or not. Even if I did “drop a dime,” there is a downside; the tenant in the basement apartment in the front. He’s a nice guy and I’d hate to see him get thrown out. In addition, I’ve got a two year lease that I just signed and I don’t want to be on bad terms with my landlord for the next 22 months.

AHunter3, they haven’t displayed any violent tendencies, but if they did, I can’t wait for them to do something… I have three kids!

I know I may not get much sympathy from some for wanting a smoke free environment in NYC. However, before we moved in we asked the landlord if there were smokers in the house. We were told no. I don’t know if these folks were in there at the time or not, but they are there now.

And, as for the quiet, I’m willing to be somewhat tolerant. But no one should have to put up with their walls vibrating at 3:30 in the morning. I don’t care whether you’re in midtown Manhattan or Nowheresville, Alaska. It’s not like I’m asking them to shut down by 10:00, but I think midnight is a fair comprimise.

If anyone else has any ideas, I’d love to hear them.

Zev Steinhardt

I’m suprised that nobody has suggested some good old-fashioned New York-style intimidation.

I’m not being a smart-ass here. I used to know a bouncer who made effective daytime pay “visiting” with those behind on rent or trying to ride out evictions. He would politely inform them of the infraction and what must be done, and mention that he genuinely hoped he wouldn’t have to come back and intrude upon them again…

In your case, Zev, you would have to find a trustworthy and intimidating accomplice and either pin it on the landlord, or orchestrate another cover story. Perhaps your friend might “take an interest” in the apartment, after hearing that your neighbors are just about to move out.

First of all, regarding basement apartments in NYC- some are legal, others aren’t. Best I remember, it depends in part on how much of the basement is above ground.

Now for Zev’s problems- I’m assuming you’ve spoken to them and they haven’t been inclined to cut down on at least the noise (the smoking is going to be hard to do anything about).I would suggest you contact your Community Board. The board itself won’t be able to help you, but there’s a decent chance they’ll be able to direct you to the appropriate agency.I don’t think the noise regulations only apply to what can be heard outside the building, but I’m not sure which agency would enforce them in this situation.

Sneak in and spray parts of their place with good old “fart-in-a-can” or something relatively untracable (you can’t really prove someone did that), making them WANT to get out of there…Then help pay to get the air cleaned out or something when they leave. Small price to pay for a little peace and quiet, heh…

  • Tsugumo

P.S. You probably shouldn’t do this because I’m sure it’s illegal, but it would be a fun story to tell people later.

Hi Zev,
I came across your thread and empathized with the difficulties you were experiencing at the beginning of the year. Did you take any actions or leave it to the landlord? How did the situation get resolved? I’d sure like to hear that things are better for you and your family now.


Hi AbbySthrnAccent.

I probably should have updated this thread. My apologies for not doing so.

The problem solved itself, as the landlord managed to convince the “tennants” to move out.

Zev Steinhardt

Go buy the Tenant’s Handbook ($20) from Nolo.com (Nolo Press) or you bookstore or library…its a legal handbook that you can read & its well written & easy to understand…