Leak from ceiling drowned my laptop – Landlord is asking me to move out, out of nowhere

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Topic: Leak from ceiling drowned my laptop – Landlord is asking me to move out, out of nowhere

Landlord August 3, 2011 at 4:43 pm

Leak from ceiling drowned my laptop – Landlord is asking me to move out, out of nowhere

Hi everyone, I was recommended this site by a friend and site member after asking where I could find information regarding my situation.  I have not been able to find much in regards to it so any help is highly appreciated.
 
I found my laptop drowning in water due to a leak from the ceiling and is currently being left upside-down to dry. My main concerns are to not only fix the leak, which alone should not be an issue, but to also be reimbursed for the computer repair.  Ideally, I’d simply like a reduction in rent by half to cover it, as water damage repair would cost at least that much.

Under the “Liability” section of the lease, it states: “Landlord is not liable for loss, expense, or damage to any person or property, unless due to Landlord’s negligence.”

This should be a clear statement that backs up landlord’s liability, as the leak is due to his negligence – it’s his apartment and pipes, I can’t possibly be liable since not only do I not own it but I never touched the leak/light fixture or any place on the ceiling to cause this to happen.

He actually has known about it because this same leak occurred about two or three years ago and they allegedly fixed it but now it’s happened again. So knowing this, the leak was never fixed properly the first time. Does this help the negligence clause then? I also could not have notified him for this recent leak because I had no opportunity – it happened and flooded my laptop all at one time. 

Don’t I have a warranty of habitability and a reasonable expectation that fixes are made so that problems 
don’t reoccur and also expect a leak-free apartment and reasonable expectation that I can leave my property in my apartment unharmed from the apartment itself?  I have also had to sleep in the living room and cover my bed with a plastic sheet just in case there is any other leaking or damage, rendering the room unusable.  I am sure there is a clause in my lease that states something about unusable parts of the apartment not being part of the rent payment as well (as long as this sum is half rent, that should cover repair cost).

I left a voicemail the next morning, no call back. I sent a letter stating that my apartment suffered extensive 
water damage from a severe water leak and that this same leak had been attempted to be repaired in the past, and to arrange to come to fix it. Also that I have extensive property damage as well, and to contact me and remedy that too.  No contact from him. 

So I followed up in a day and called and asked if he received it. He asked me what happened even though my message was clear. After telling him a summary, the first words out of his mouth were, “I’d like you to move out. There are some renovations I want to make and you guys being there is going to make it inconvenient.” I was flabbergasted. Not only did I not expect this but he just pretty much showed he doesn’t really care about the relevant issues at hand. He wasn’t very cooperative in hearing me and understanding the situation to even accept the negotiating I asked (half rent).  Even asking why I would put my computer in that place if I knew of a leak – the point is that I didn’t know, it was supposed to be fixed.  I shouldn’t have to live in fear of a fixed leak for two or so years in my own bedroom.

So he wants to see the condition in person before anything else so I’ll be meeting with him late this week.  I hope that he hears me out better this time but any advice on this?  I’ll need to make sure he gets that this leak is no small matter, that it caused my computer issue, and that it is from a botched repair that apparently wasn’t properly done.  I have pictures and video, is it wise or unwise to show him now or save them ready for further legal action if necessary?

My roommate also has renters insurance but my name isn’t on the policy.  Is there anything at all I can do regarding his insurance though?  Can this be considered shared/common property to cover it if I bought it (receipt billed to me) but he paid half to me in cash and we both use it?

I’ve also talked to neighbors upstairs and there does not appear to be any water leak up there so that doesn’t seem to help much (I even went into the bedroom directly above mine and could not see any remnant of water damage/leak there where my leak would be directly under – or could the bathroom to the side that’s not directly above contribute?  If so, I’ll need to contact the neighbor to ask again).

If I withhold rent or even just pay the half I said I wanted to pay, would that be unwise?  What are my options? 

As I understand it, I’m not obligated to leave just because he tells me.  I’m on a year lease (that expires middle of next year) in a rent stabilized apartment, and he is required to give me a renewal every year – is this correct?  If it does go further, is it small claims court of housing court for the laptop issue?  I’d rather it not go that far but I may have no choice depending on how our meeting goes late this week.

I really really appreciate any and all help.  It’s crucial for me right now – my life is on this machine, I use it for work and for my income.  If anything, it would behoove him to help me out with this to be able to continue paying rent.  It’s under a year old and the original cost was over $2k and repair will likely be at least $1k if not more.  What can I do?  Thank you in advance for any support.

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Others will have more experience with this but I don’t really think you have a leg to stand on when it comes to the laptop — this is what renter’s insurance is for. That is, insurance that you take out in your own name.

He can’t make you move out of your apartment, though.

You should also check on tenant.net

Rent stabilized says it all.  LL wants you out.  If you move, they can up the rent more for a new lease than a lease renewal–renewals have a low % increase, like 3% where as new leases with new tenants can up it 15-20% (My percentages might be off a little, but they are close to what I experienced in my stabilized days).  He probably wants to go through tenants quickly to get the rent higher and (in his view, not saying this is right) he isn’t making much money off the apartment and doesn’t care to really keep it in good condition.

I don’t know what grounds you have for getting money for the repairs, but I’ve been there and it was really hard for us (a much more extreme situation that they could not deny fault).  

It sucks.  Eventually you’ll have to decide how much crap you are willing to put up with for the RS rent rate.  We eventually couldn’t take it and moved.  There are only so many floods you can come home to on top of your door falling off and repeatedly exploding light fixtures (glass all over).

I can’t speak to all of your issues but my understanding as to the negligence portion is that negligence is a pretty high threshold to meet. He knew of a leak and attempted to fix the leak. He apparently thought the leak was fixed, as did you, or you wouldn’t have left your laptop where you did. Repairs fail but that doesn’t make either the landlord or the plumber negligent. Negligence is more like your landlord being well aware of a catastrophic issue and doing nothing substantial to remedy the underlying problem. I don’t think that’s what you have here. Unfortunately, I don’t think you have any reason to expect a rent reduction or other compensation for your loss; as someone said above, that’s what renter’s insurance is for and a decent policy is very inexpensive. In terms of sharing the information with the landlord; if you think he is acting in good faith but is skeptical of your claims, then you might want to show him video / photos. If you think he is a bad actor in all of this, don’t. As to habitability–I think that depends on how bad the flooding is. Can you quantify it?

yes post the question on Tenant.net. Folks over there who respond to posts include Landlord/Tenant Lawyers

Move out and go some place where you really pay for the maintenance of your apartment.
You get what you pay for.

You have zero recourse regarding your damaged personal belongings. This is what renters insurance is. He is using your loss and aggravation to his advantage by asking you to move out so he can simply jack up the rent. And honestly, I can’t blame him – because you come off as really naive to the NYC rental game. (which is okay, because we’ve all been there at some point) Another poster brings up a good point – how much quality of life are you willing to sacrifice for that lower rent? That’s basically what it comes down to. You will come to learn that 99.5% RS landlords are jerks to their tenants. There is little incentive for them.

here is my take on this, from a landlord point of view:
1) Since the water was no longer coming down when you arrived back home, this is likely to have been caused by overflowing bathtub or sink upstairs.
2) Even if had been a leak, no way your case can be considered negligence by the landlord.
3) You demanding money for damages caused by something beyond his control (such as a leak), and thretening to withhold rent will make any landlord want to move out.
4) If you keep paying rent on time, no way he can kick you out and he will have to offer you a renewal lease. That said, if you are paying a preferential rent, he can raise rent to the legal rent + 3.75% annual increase at the end of the lease.
5) i don’t think that withholding rent is not an option. You should pay rent on time. Failing to do so will facilitate his goal to kick you out.
6) When your life depends on a piece of equipment, insurance is the way to go. Renters insurance is around $15 month.
good luck

The tenant landlord lawyer is probably interested in your case because you told him that the landlord is trying to get you out, and that is something that the landlord can’t do. I doubt that the lawyer told you that he can get money for the computer.

Your post was way too long. 2 suggestions:
- Your own renter insurance policy, if you can’t handle a loss of ~1k
- Backup your data, if your personal and professional life is on the computer. Sh!t happens.

Landlord would like you out (possibly because you’re a PITA tenant), but he doesn’t have any cause to evict based on what you’ve said.
You’d like him to replace or repair your computer, but unfortunately for you he’s not responsible – doing a repair years ago that didn’t last forever is not negligence.

I doubt paying a lawyer is worthwhile. If you want to stay, try to get on better terms with your landlord. If you want to leave, you and the LL can sign a lease surrender agreement. You can find another place, but you’ll never live risk free.

 

Coming back to respond to some things and reiterate what others have said.

1.  Aren’t lawyers are interested in almost any case (if you are going to be paying for their services no matter the outcome which I thought was generally the case).  
2.  You’re not going to get someone else’s insurance to cover property in your apartment.  You’ve learned the renter’s insurance lesson the hard way.  It sucks, but go get some ASAP.
3.  RE our rent stabilized experience, I did not have the time nor the desire to go to court or pursue our damage (inches of water in our apartment, ruining many things more than once).  I threw out the moldy, almost new and pricy rug, and the LL (refusing to pay for a replacement) got it out of the trash and had it professionally cleaned, but the look and quality of the rug were still ruined.  We actually paid rent on time and had improved the apartment (again, it’s cheap rent so we didn’t mind putting money into a few things) so he didn’t actually want us to go meaning we were not bullied out.  We just got tired of his unwillingness to properly fix things like dangerous electrical wiring and drain pipe issues and mice.  We moved of our own accord because we decided paying more in rent or living in a cheaper area were both better options than putting up with a RS building.  
4.  Don’t withhold rent.  If you actually have grounds to withhold it, do it properly which I think involves putting the money aside in an account so you can prove you had the money to pay but just did not due to ____.  As long as you keep paying and can get over this laptop mishap (meaning stop pestering the LL about an accident that happened), he can’t just kick you out.  If you need this place and it’s RS rate, you’re going to have to just suck this up and move on.  There are lots of shitty LL’s here (I’ve had some great LL’s–they aren’t always bad).
5.  It doesn’t really sound like negligence.  Accidents happen and again, this is what insurance is for.  Even with good maintenance, leaks happen. There could have been a problem brewing with the plumbing away from where the previous work was done, a problem that wouldn’t be found without ripping all the sheetrock down, and it’s not common to just go hunting for problems if you think you’ve got it fixed.
6.  Heat not working sounds like the only issue he could get in trouble for.  If you don’t have heat again this winter, report it.  That is not legal http://www.nyc.gov/html/hpd/html/tenants/heat-and-hot-water.shtml

The rent stabilization thing is weird, imo and outdated.  

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