Last week I mentioned that Matt and I had to move because of some structural damage to our current apartment. It was a hassle to say the least but ended on a positive note. However, I think there’s an important lesson in our story and if you are a renter, you need to hear it. Now, I don’t know your landlord or property management so I can’t speak to his/her/their character and moral compass, but it’s safe to say that as a renter, you always need to know your rights. If you ever find yourself in a situation in which you are forced to move due to circumstances beyond your control (and in control of the owner of your apartment), you have a strong leg to stand on in terms of what needs to be done for you.
Today’s four renters’ predicament lessons will come in the form of a story.
Matt (my fiancé) and I both work from home. On a random sunny weekday, our productivity was interrupted by what can only be described as a huge crash. The ceiling over our screened in balcony collapsed onto our patio furniture. Thankfully, nobody was hurt (that would be an entirely different story) but it didn’t take long to smell the mold and mildew that had clearly caused the wood to rot and ultimately collapse. Here’s the kicker; we had called to report a leak and a water stain in that same location six months prior to the incident. Our property manager took one quick look at it, slapped a fresh coat of paint over the water stain, and told us it was no big deal. Lesson one of today, keep records of any issue that you report to your landlord as proof that you did indeed inform them of the problem. Luckily we did because it was proof that we reported the problem rather than causing and ignoring it.
Once I took what felt like a hundred photos of the damage from every angle (lesson two, take a lot of photos for your own personal record and again, as proof of the severity), I called our property manager emergency line. They sent maintenance over who told us that the project was out of their hands and they would need to call a proper roofing company (fair enough). I expressed my concern that the damaged ceiling was connected to the ceiling in our bedroom and showed him a growing water stain forming over our bed. He promised to make the call right away.
A man of his word, maintenance had the roofing company come over that same day. They did a full inspection of the roof (we lived on the top floor of our building) and determined that the problem was even bigger than we thought and the entire roof would need to be reconstructed. Fast forward to our property manager telling us that nothing could be done for several weeks because the Homeowner’s Association needed to sign off on the aesthetics of the new roof!
Two days later, after several (saved) email exchanges about my concerns, the worsening condition of the ceiling, and timeline of construction, we were told that our only option was to transfer apartments. We were given 72 hours to move our two bedroom apartment across the complex with no help from movers (luckily, I know a great moving company).
Lesson number three, negotiate.
It seemed unfair that Matt and I would both have to take three days off of work to move because our landlord didn’t properly handle a leak that we reported half of a year ago. After I spoke to the roofing company and learned that we would be safe in the damaged apartment until Friday evening, I asked our landlord to let us wait. I then presented the saved emails from our initial complaint (re: lesson one) as a way to negotiate receiving compensation to hire a moving company to handle our large furniture.
When it came time to cross our “t’s” and dot our “i’s,” I noticed that we were about to sign off on paying for damages in the original apartment! Lesson number four: read every line before you sign anything.
I refused to sign off on such a ludicrous statement and referred back to my negotiation lesson to not only avoid paying for the roof damage, but also for paying for any other damages done in the apartment over the last year and a half (a big dog and a new puppy can cause quite a bit of destruction to a carpet) based on the premise that we should have had seven months (the remaining time on our lease) to remedy the issues ourselves.
When all was said and done, Matt and I found ourselves tired and a bit stressed out (a 72 hour move window will do that) but in a first floor, larger apartment at the same rental rate with no financial responsibility for any issues in the upstairs place. Four lessons helped turn a disaster into a blessing.
Lesson One: Keep record of all communication
Lesson Two: Take photos of everything for your own record
Lesson Three: Negotiate
Lesson Four: Read before you sign