Compromise on squeaky-floor fix

If landlord balks on cost, go to Plan B

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Q: My boyfriend and I have been living in an apartment in an older section of town for about two years. This 1930s building has had some renovations but never a complete overhaul. In the last year or so the wood floorboards have begun squeaking loudly under our feet. The apartment is carpeted, but the squeaking is very audible to us and to the tenant below us, who is constantly complaining that she can hear "every step we take" even though we are mindful of the noise we are making.

The downstairs tenant says she can’t sleep and will not be renewing her lease if the noise continues. However, we are just leading our lives; we never dance, have parties or do jumping jacks, and we feel bad that we are bothering her.

We have spoken to our building manager about it, but he brushes us off with comments of never being able to get the owners to pay for a renovation and quips of it being "just an old building" and there is nothing that can be done.

We don’t really want to move because the rent is very reasonable and we like the location, which is so close to our jobs and great restaurants, shopping and public transportation. Is there anything we can do about our squeaky floors?

A: Unfortunately, while the squeaky floors are certainly a frustration for you and your neighbor, it is not a traditional "habitability" issue that would require the landlord to make the necessary repairs. There are many advantages to "an older building" such as a good location and lower rent, but certainly there are some negatives that go along with the positives. However, I disagree with the building manager’s statement that nothing can be done.

Based on your stated desire to find a solution without moving, I would suggest you contact a flooring contractor and have them come out and remove a section of the carpet to look at your wood floorboards to see if there is an easy solution. It may just be that some of the floorboards have come loose and can be glued down or refastened with screws so they are secure and will not give when you walk over them. …CONTINUED

Be sure to get permission in advance from your landlord and explain that you are frustrated but trying to find a cost-effective solution because you don’t want to move. You want to do this so that the landlord doesn’t feel that you are being deceitful; and you want to keep him informed because you want to have a professional evaluate the problem to see if there is a solution.

Just telling your landlord that you are serious may be enough to prompt him to have a contractor of his choice make the inspection. When you have the estimate, hopefully the landlord will find that it is not an unreasonable amount and will approve the work to the relief of both you and your downstairs neighbor.

To reinforce that this is not just your concern, you might ask your neighbor to send the landlord a written but polite complaint indicating that the upstairs floorboards are disturbing her quiet enjoyment of the rental unit and that the landlord should take action. It sounds like the tenant below you may not be as anxious to stay as you are, and the landlord could lose a tenant and should be willing to avoid a vacancy, especially when the demand for rentals is so low in many areas.

Or, while not required and depending on the cost of the repair, you might offer to pay all or even a portion of the repair just to have peace and quiet and avoid having to move. Another option might be to have the landlord pay the full amount now but you sign a new lease with a modest rent increase that will help the landlord cover the cost.

This column on issues confronting tenants and landlords is written by property manager Robert Griswold, author of "Property Management for Dummies" and "Property Management Kit for Dummies" and co-author of "Real Estate Investing for Dummies."

E-mail your questions to Rental Q&A at rgriswold.inman@retodayradio.com.

Questions should be brief and cannot be answered individually.

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