Q: A tenant in my building has been hassling me for no reason — I think she’s a bit off her rocker. Others in the building have had their cars keyed and have found her at their doorsteps, yelling and accusing them of various misdeeds. I told the landlord, who has said there’s little he can do without proof. Now he’s set up two webcams trained on my front door and my parking spot. He says when he catches her on tape, he’ll have the proof he needs.
I’m very uncomfortable with this approach — I don’t like to be watched every time I come and go. Isn’t this an invasion of my privacy? –Tina S.
A: In this day and age, when we’re used to seeing videos posted online of everything from public stonings in Pakistan to assaults at high school dances, it’s understandable that your landlord might think that he needs similar, unassailable proof of this resident’s misbehavior.
But this sounds like a situation where high-tech might not be the best solution. Your landlord could collect the evidence he needs to support a termination of this tenant without using a method that makes a blameless tenant feel uncomfortable.
Landlords have been dealing with disruptive residents since long before the advent of the webcam. They used old-fashioned strategies like interviewing those tenants affected by the behavior, documenting their stories, and taking photos of the damage.
True, this evidence is not as compelling as a video of the crime in action, but that doesn’t make it insufficient. Taken together — particularly when multiple residents have been the victims of such behavior — these stories and photos should be enough to convince a judge that this tenant should go.
Have a talk with your landlord and ask that he first try less invasive methods of collecting the evidence he may need. You might also suggest that an intervention, perhaps by a local landlord-tenant mediation service, may be in order.
The actions you describe do not appear to be those of a balanced person; perhaps a family member, or local mental health professionals, should be apprised of the situation.
Q: We own an older apartment building with two stories. The exterior staircase has a wrought-iron handrail with openings that are wider than are currently allowed by code (in our state, space between railings must be less than 4 inches). But because of a provision that "grandfathers" our building, we are not in violation of the code. My wife says we should replace the railing anyway, because "it’s not legal." But it is! What do you think? –Todd W.
A: A grandfathering provision is a clause that excuses an existing item’s failure to conform to a rule. If you’re correct about the rule — that the code has a clause excusing compliance for buildings that already existed when the rule was passed — then you aren’t legally required to replace it.
But if you do any major renovation to the stairway (or certainly to the railing), that may destroy the protection afforded by the grandfathering rule. For example, if you repair the railing by replacing sections, you may find that you’ve done enough work to require you to make the railing code-compliant.
On the other hand, your wife is on to something important. The reason for the rule limiting gaps between railings to 4 inches is to protect children from falling through them. Incredible as it may seem, sad experience has shown that little ones can slip through openings even that small. Now, suppose an accident of that nature were to happen on your property.
The fact that your railing did not have to meet code requirements because of the grandfathering clause will protect you from any enforcement action by the city, but not from a lawsuit on the part of an injured child or his or her parents. They would claim that you were aware of a dangerous condition on your property, failed to take reasonable measures to correct it, and as a result, the child was hurt.
Ironically, your awareness that the railing is not code-compliant will hurt you, for you can hardly claim ignorance of the too-wide spacing. (But fortunately for you, your wife could refuse to testify against you, citing the marital privilege, thus sparing you from hearing "I told you so" from the witness stand.)
I’d advise you to look into replacing that railing. In some states, the burden on a landlord to fix a dangerous situation will be measured against the magnitude of the foreseeable harm if you do not. Here, the result of a child falling through a gap, landing possibly many feet below, could be devastating.
Although it may cost you a fair amount to replace the railing, that cost will pale against the cost, in human and monetary terms, of an accident. You will be hard pressed to convince a judge or jury that it wasn’t worth the cost of repairs to avoid the accident.