A few days after we moved into this gorgeous apartment, we discovered the windows didn't quite close. When we called the landlord, he acknowledged there was a problem with 2 windows, and said he was planning to have those fixed in a few weeks. As you may know, Somerville is in New England, where the end of March is still awfully cold. Thus we called the city, and they sent out The Heroic Building Inspector to have a look.
By happy coincidence, The Heroic Building Inspector arrived about 5 minutes after the landlord and the windows repairman showed up to look at the 2 windows where they acknowledged a problem. Hijinks ensued. The inspector said none of the windows in the apartment were weathertight and the building code required all of them to be fixed. The windows repairman said for a proper fix he would have to take the windows out, pack insulation around them, and put new windows in--that would take time to order new windows. The landlord agreed to do that, but first he would have caulk put around the worst gaps as a temporary fix. The Heroic Building Inspector said that was great; if the landlord made repairs, he wouldn't need to write a formal notice of violation and ruin everybody's day.
As soon as the caulking was done, the landlord started arguing that he should not need to make further repairs. We were unreasonable to expect windows to close tightly. This is New England, where it gets cold in winter. Don't we know windows are expensive? Don't we appreciate the nice new floors he installed for us? Don't we understand windows always let drafts in? That's just the nature of a window. Besides, the building inspector told him he only needed to replace 2 windows, and caulk the other 14. How dare we ask him to put anything in writing? It was pretty awful.
Part of what made it awful was not knowing if we WERE being unreasonable. I know windows can be made weathertight, but are windows in Somerville expected to be weathertight, or is the community standard to suck is up and deal with the cold? Could we document our attempts to negotiate with the landlord (as the lawyer advised) when he was so hostile to putting anything in writing? When the inspector said he wouldn't write a formal notice of violation, did that mean he didn't think the problem was important, or that he wasn't going to take action?
We did our best with the documentation, sending certified letters to the landlord to confirm what he had said to us, and sending copies to the city inspection office. And the Heroic Building Inspector backed us up very strongly indeed. He assured Sovay that we were right and the landlord was wrong, that we had a right to a warm and secure apartment that met code, and (perhaps most important) that he was glad we had reported the problem rather than letting the landlord get away with this. And he wrote a formal notice of violation saying all 16 windows in the apartment were not weathertight, and threatening to take the landlord to court and make him pay substantial fines if he did not insulate them all properly.
With this Notice of Violation in hand, and the confidence that civil authority was backing us up, we withheld April rent. Even though the main dispute was now between the landlord and the city (rather than between the landlord and us) we wanted to encourage the landlord to make the repairs quickly, as well as making a statement that we considered the window situation unacceptable.
It wasn't that simple. I'm afraid it's never that simple. The landlord was willing to replace 2 windows because they didn't open properly. Sovay and I considered those a nuisance--with 16 windows in the apartment, it's not that big of a deal to just leave a couple of them closed. But 14 windows that don't close tightly are a serious problem, and the landlord really doesn't want to fix those. I can understand why...it's an expensive project. But sometime expensive repairs are part of owning rental property.
I like the proverb, "If it wasn't documented, it didn't happen," but there are situations where it doesn't apply. Somebody built new walls without a building permit, or put in new windows and didn't document them. The window is demonstrably THERE, even though it wasn't inspected and nobody knows why the job was so sloppy.
After the caulking was complete, the landlord said he would send over the windows repairman to install new windows. Only the 2 windows that didn't open properly, but having any windows properly installed would be a start. The windows repairman was very uncomfortable with having his work photographed, and suggested getting a building permit as an alternative. This seemed like a very good idea, because building permits come with building inspectors. Installing windows in Somerville needs a building permit anyhow, so it was slightly problematic that he had been planning to work without, but nevermind that. On with the story.
After acquiring the building permit (via a nominally-supervising licensed contractor), the windows repairman took the old window out of the frame. That's when the first Non-Heroic Building Inspector came by. He saw there was insulation packed into the wall, around the window frame, and concluded that all the windows in the apartment must therefore be well-insulated. No problem.
A: "But this other window doesn't close! And this one, and that one..."
N-HBI: "You have to understand, windows are like that..." (The Non-Heroic Building Inspector sounded uncomfortably like the landlord, really.)
S: "But it gets cold at night!"
N-HBI: "Maybe you should have somebody in to adjust your furnace, so you can get more heat out of it." (I suppose that's better than the landlord telling us to just turn up the thermostat. A little better. I'm sure it will make the gas company very happy next winter.)
That was last week. This morning, another building inspector came to do a final inspection for the building permit. (Somerville has 6 building inspectors, and we have now met 3 of them. I suppose it was too much to expect that they would all be heroic.) Today's building inspector came in and looked at one of the new windows, checking that it opened and closed. Then he looked at the window beside the other new window (a window that doesn't close well.) He slid it almost-closed, said all was well, signed the building permit, and left.
I am so very discouraged. The Notice of Violation was written up by the Heroic Building Inspector, and I think that still exists. Technically. But 2 out of 3 building inspectors think there's no violation, so I'm afraid it's going to evaporate any minute now. And thus we will have no excuse for withholding rent, demanding further repairs, or breaking the lease.
This entry was originally posted at http://adrian-turtle.dreamwidth.org/123