Do you think I have any legal exposure in this situation?

7 Replies

Uggh. I've got a crazy tenant. On the 28th when I was away she emails me saying the apartment is cold. We're having a historic cold snap btw. She immediately escalates to withholding rent. I tell her to call the local utility hotline and see if maybe there was air in the hydronic baseboard line, this 450 ft unit being heated by it's hot water heater feeding baseboard.  They come and tell her it's underpowered and, here's the problem, wrote a violation stating that "natural vented equipment is not to be installed in a bedroom".  

Now, this unit is a dog bone railroad with 2 larger rooms at either end with a kitchen and bath between. Each large room has a door to the stairwell. When this unit was installed and inspected there was no designated bedroom. When I show these units I point out the 2 doors and say "you can choose which rooms to be the BR and LR". Apparently I was wrong, though many rounds of state inspections with a bed in that room did not produce a violation.  She thinks I'm going to change the heating system for her. I'm not moving the heating system, nor replacing it with a direct vent device. I'll solve the heat shortage with more radiators, though for 6 years and 2 tenants the heat has been no issue.

We tried to get this young woman to sit down with us and discuss the issues, but she's got some issues of her own and claims she can't make a half hour to talk with people who live in the same building as her, even though she's hysterical about the heat! After rounds of emails my wife the clinical therapist says she's nuts. 

So, what can she legally do to me besides calling all the regulating agencies and making my life miserable with inspectors tramping through on fishing expeditions? Of course there's nothing in the lease about which room is which.  We just offered to release her from the lease if she's so unhappy. That'll probably just piss her off more. 

She also thinks heating systems are upgraded with a magic wand. My heat contractor told me no one who's just a little cold is getting on their list, they have people with no heat, pipes freezing and toilets exploding!  Heating systems all over the mid-atlantic are "not up to the task" in this weather.

This isn't legal advice.

I think you're going to be okay. If she doesn't want out of the lease, tell her sorry but you won't change the heating system and that she has to swap the BR and LR. Buy her a safe electric space heater to keep in the apartment. The Amazon Basics heater costs about $30, works great in a small unit, and has a safety kill switch on the bottom in case it falls over. Tell her it is commercially unreasonable to withhold rent when using a space heater is an option.

BTW, I have a brother who lives in S. Orange in a similar unit. I visited him over the holidays, stayed in his living room, and kept warm using a space heater to supplement the heating system. I was quite comfortable. 

Thanks @Jacob Rhein . As soon as I got back last tuesday I ordered 2 of the oil filled type radiators from Walmart for $25 per. Not surprisingly they delivered one on Sunday and marked 2 delivered! I'm curious as to your belief that I can call it quits at providing space heaters for cold days. Hard to believe that wouldn't violate some code. Seems at the least I would figure I would need to compensate her for the cost difference between gas and electric, no?  

I believe I've found a decent solution for the hydronic heat output: a fan powered kickspace heater in a wall mount chassis that has way more than enough BTU's and only $300 per unit.

Classic Walmart service. Happens to me and my wife all the time.

I'm not sure about the law in New Jersey. If there is reasonable heat most of the time, I think you can use space heaters when needed. You could of course also offer to supplement the cost of utilities. But frankly I've been using a space heater in Atlanta because homes in the SE aren't built to handle sub-freezing temperatures. It doesn't seem unreasonable to require a tenant to do the same. If the heating unit is substandard for your area, though, you may have to upgrade.

@Jacob Rhein , reasonableness is not happening in this situation. We've tried to be placating and accommodating, but she just escalates. When I went to look the situation over I saw a small fan sitting there and put it blowing on the baseboard to increase heat output, and she was enraged that I was spending HER electricity!!  That fan probably could run all year on $5. I called the city Landlord-Tenant Relations Office, and they said providing space heaters was legitimate and she could not withhold rent if I had offered them.

I looked up when this went in, Dec 2010, that makes 7 years of trouble free service, so I think the utility tech was an asshat to tell her the heater was underpowered. I don't have a problem amending the system, it's the victim mentality that gets me.

I don't know if she is constantly contacting you, but if she is, hopefully you're not answering every single call or immediately returning her calls. She can wait. You've given her the info she needs and you're taking care of it.  I'm not saying to fully ignore her, but don't jump every time she contacts you (maybe you're already doing this).

Actually , @nicole.A, She's been radio silent since getting our email several days ago telling her she needs to move her bedroom . I expect she's lawyering up or something. My problem right now is whether to order this $600 worth of heating equipment and install it or wait for her next move.

@Johann Jells If upgrading the heat is worth it for the property and to stay within codes, do it. Just do not be doing it for her.

Also, has she paid January rent? If not, you need to immediately (as in today) take the first legal step in eviction. 

Create Lasting Wealth Through Real Estate

Join the millions of people achieving financial freedom through the power of real estate investing

Start here