Living in Landlord’s House – Where Does My Unit End and His Home Begin

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    Like in many Brownstones, me and my roommates rent the top two floors while the landlord and his family live downstairs. While there are multiple entrances, there is no locked barrier between their home and our hallways, landings and kitchen. Upon requesting that they respect our privacy and peace by notifying us before entry and by refraining from noise (loud arguments in those hallways), we were informed that they have total access to all but our bedrooms, as if it were a boarding house. The lease does not specify where our “unit” begins and their personal property or shared space begins. Any advice?

    7 Replies

    1. yipe that sounds awful. read your lease (end date being the most important piece of information!)

    2. If you don’t think people who live in your house are due privacy, however much they want, you don’t have tenants…rather, you have housemates. By law, tenants have the right to privacy, as they take possession of the space for use purposes.

    3. Living in an owner-occupied house is definitely not for everyone. For it to work correctly and comfortably there has to be a lot of trust between owner and tenant and also both parties have to be the types not totally put off by contact. I have a great relationship with my tenants and we actually hang out a good deal, but I fear if and when they move out, getting tenants who are much more private and even paranoid. Not that I am all over them or anything. I am very respectful of their space and give them warning before I need to access anything in the basement etc, but for it to be a happy situation there definitely needs to be the right kinds of personalities in place.

    4. time to move. such a difference in opinion is not a good situation to have with landlord in the same house.

    5. Also, it is just bizarre that they would treat rooms with your stuff in them (kitchen, living room) as theirs. Very strange. They didn’t furnish the rooms, did they?

    6. I used to rent in such a house, and I am a landlord in one now. Always, the practice was to treat the floor as the apartment. The landlord would enter only with 24-hour notice or in an emergency. The tricky thing is how to communicate. We try to pretend we don’t hear each other in the common hall, but sometimes we both yell hello to each other (since there is no door on which to knock).

      I don’t know what mental model your landlord is using — the SRO model? — and I don’t know what the law says. You could try persuading them they do not have access to the whole apartment if they rented to you as a group and the CFO is a two-family, and threaten to leave and/or send notice to cure, etc., because they are violating the 24-hour rule. But it sounds like they are pretty insistent their way is correct.

    7. When I first moved to NYC, I lived in an upper duplex like that in Brooklyn, only we had no locks at all on any doors, if I recall correctly. (I never remember locking one.) My landlady who lived downstairs never came upstairs, unless she came to look at a problem we had with something in the building. She was respectful of our space. (I was the one who drove her nuts, being a younger adult with much energy who constantly forgot not to run up and down the stairs.)

      To live this way, people need to be respectful of each others’ spaces. It doesn’t matter where your space begins and ends, really – if you can’t get your landlord to be respectful, you are out of luck with being happy living there. I don’t even know if there is a clear law in these situations. You clearly are renting your floors, not just the rooms, especially if you and your roommates pick the roommates, not the landlord. (If the landlord picks them, they may feel it is a boarding house – but that’s still no reason not to give you folks space and respect.)

      But in any situation with a landlord living in the building, they have the right to talk and argue in the halls (here meaning their halls below your floor), as does anyone who lives there – unless it reaches the level where it can be said to violate you right to live without noise (which I think must be a fairly high standard in NYC), what can you do but sit them down, explain how you feel, and try to get them to agree that you’ll respect each others’ spaces and ears?

      Living where I did was fine, great actually. But I later decided I’d never live that way again – too much risk of dealing with what you are dealing with. I once looked at renting an upper floor in such an owner occupied brownstone, and they told me they wanted their (not young) kids to be able to roam around upstairs, and that they preferred the upstairs floors never locked their doors! I said “pass” on that place. At least they were forthcoming about what they wanted. Had I moved in, I’d be in the shoes you are in now.

      If pleading for respect doesn’t work, I see a move in your future. Or you could just be rude and yell at them every time you see them upstairs, or hear them arguing below. I’m told there are those who use anger as a management strategy at work, not a real emotion – I’m thinking this could be a useful tool to learn when you want non-respectful people to stay away.