Q: For six years I have lived in a beautiful six-townhouse complex with a common courtyard. The other tenants and I have become such a close-knit "family" that we even spend holidays together. Last year, a new owner bought the place and he clearly is interested in maximizing his income. In one year, he not only raised our rent by 3 percent but we have seen fliers indicating that the newly renovated units will go for almost double our current rent!
As of last week, three of my neighbors have become so frustrated that they simply moved out, and these units are now being renovated. The three of us still here live with carpenters, electricians, plumbers, workers, designers, painters, etc., and all of these strangers are traipsing through our common courtyard area causing a lot of noise and mess. They are stepping on and breaking our personal gardens and plants, and we now have to keep our cats inside for days.
We no longer have a key to the basement where the previous owner allowed us to store seasonal holiday items; the new owner took that over for his own use as a staging area for the renovation. He will begin renovations on the other three units, including mine, by the end of the year and apparently has no concern that we will be inconvenienced during the holidays.
In short, our quality of life has drastically diminished. I feel that my safety is no longer secure with all of these people on our property. The noise is unbearable with banging against my walls as early as 6:30 a.m. and as late as 11 p.m. All the while, I am expected to endure this with no consideration and must pay my full rent for a reduced quality of life. Is this fair? Do we have any recourse? Is there a possibility he should be asked to reduce our rent for the remainder of our time here?
A: While I respect the rights of the property owner to upgrade and make improvements to his rental property, it is important to work with and appreciate the rights of quiet enjoyment of the current tenants. It seems as if your new owner has failed in this regard. Clearly I believe you have a strong argument for a rent reduction as your ability to use your rental unit and the common areas has been diminished. One challenge is that there is no specific way to calculate exactly the amount of any rent credit. I would suggest that you begin to keep a daily log of all of the items you mentioned that are disruptive. Now some amount of noise and mess would be reasonable under any circumstances where the other rental units are being renovated, but you should focus on those concerns that are the most unreasonable. Check with code enforcement or noise abatement, as they may be able to cite the new owner as well. Starting construction work prior to 7 a.m. or late into the evening is a violation of noise control ordinances in many cities, and you should research exactly what is allowed in your area.
You should immediately put your complaints in writing to the new owner and demand a reasonable reduction in your monthly rent for the duration of the construction project. You can also consider hiring a tenants’ rights attorney to assist you. Another effective technique is for each of the three remaining tenants to take the new owner to small claims court with each of you seeking the jurisdictional limit for the nuisance and noise created by the new owner and his construction team. Of course, you know the other option: You can just go ahead and move now rather than waiting to the end. It is unfortunate, as not all landlords are so callous and inconsiderate, but in your case that is probably what the new owner is hoping will happen.
Q: My daughter and her three roommates moved out of a rental house more than two months ago. They paid a $2,400 security deposit and we still have not received their security deposit accounting or any refund, which was due several weeks ago. We cannot find the landlord. He doesn’t return phone messages, nor did he accept a certified letter that finally came back to us after 30 days. What are our options now? How should we proceed?
A: Your only real option is to pursue legal remedies such as small claims court. You may need to have a process server do some research or skip tracing to be able to effect proper legal service.
This column on issues confronting tenants and landlords is written by property manager Robert Griswold, author of "Property Management for Dummies" and co-author of "Real Estate Investing for Dummies."
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