Dear PoPville – Renter/Landlord Relations

Photo by PoPville flickr user fromcaliw/love

“Dear PoPville,

Two roommates and I just signed a lease in a great new place that came partially furnished. We understood this to mean the living room furniture (a couch, ottoman, some side tables) and the dining room table. We originally saw the house, it looked great, and we saw that the bedrooms clearly would come unfurnished. When we moved in this weekend, we were surprised to see much more stuff in the house than we expected. Upon emailing the landlord, we found out that much of the miscellaneous (Ikea dresser, large storage boxes, side tables, desks, rugs) was his, and he wanted us to keep it in the house. It’s not a huge place, and we each have our own items we would like to store in the closets and rooms we are paying rent for. I feel as though our landlord is using our apartment as a personal storage unit, and charging us for space we cannot use. My roommates don’t want to address it with the landlord or the management company, as “the house is his so he can use it as he likes.” I disagree, but I wonder if anyone knows the legality of this situation, and what, if anything I can do about it.

Another problem is that the lease indicated that all utilities were included. Our landlord made it clear that if we had excessive electricity usage, that we would discuss the limits of that agreement, which is fine. However, one of our small trashcans was stolen (not sure if it was our unit’s or the upstairs units), and now we are expected to replace that on our own. Furthermore, we told him we needed 4 cable boxes (one for each bedroom one for downstairs), and the house only came with 3. He ordered us a new one, but we will be responsible for the extra $10 or so per month for that additional box. It’s not so much the costs as the feeling of being taken advantage of. Unfortunately I am the only one of the three roommates who feels this way, and the other two feel that we shouldn’t sour the relationship over a few dollars here or there. To me it is more the principle. I’m wondering if anyone has been in a similar situation, and what the best way to proceed is.”

A good lesson to make sure you have a clear/detailed lease signed before moving in. Personally, I see no harm if you wanted to talk to the landlord to see if there was any room to negotiate.

What do you guys think – should the reader speak with the landlord even though the roommates don’t want to rock the boat?

37 Comment

  • You should definitely go by the lease if the lease says 4 cable boxes. And if you agreed the place would come furnished with what was shown to you and nothing else, the landlord should remove those extra things, specially the storage bins etc.

    It is your responsibility if the trash cans get stolen, you should get renter’s insurance.

    As a landlord of a condo in DC, I can tell you that no landlord wants a sour relationship with a tenant, specially since in this city it is almost impossible to evict a bad tenant.

    • I’m not sure renters would actually reimburse you for the trash cans if you left them in the yard. First of all your deductible is going to be more than a single trash can. Second, anything left outside is probably not covered.

  • You all need to be on the same page if you want to approach the landlord. Otherwise, it will just make things worse.

    Also, take this as a lesson for your next rental: get everything in writing and signed. I’ve looked at places before, where the landlord has said, “If you want to move out early, that’s cool. Just give me 30 days notice”, but he refuses to put it in the lease. That’s a sign that things could get nasty.

    Ive also lived in semi-furnished places before, and we put every item in the lease, including condition. And, I took “before” photos to make sure I was not accused of chipping a dresser or something.

    In my current place, the landlord specified he would fix a broken faucet in the 2nd bathroom. Of course, I never go in writing as to when. 9 months later, and it still was broken, and he always has an excuse. I finally fixed it myself and sent him the invoice with the amount deducted from the rent. I was surprised he never complained. Still, I wish I had had in writing when it would be fixed, and that I had the right to hire someone to fix it.

  • OP here. If it helps our lease says (All utilities are included in the total rent amount
    detailed above. Dollar amount of utilities included is based on average usage in the past. If usage
    consistently exceeds the average, Landlord may require that actual utility costs be paid each month. Utilities included are: internet (wi-fi), TV cable, water, gas, electricity and alarm system.
    All utilities will be billed directly to the Landlord.

    • I don’t think that this is an enforceable clause in DC. Amenities and services are supposed to remain constant (or grow if the landlord is feeling particularly generous) over the tenancy’s specified time period. If your rental agreement is month-to-month then new terms lowering services can be introduced with proper notice but if it’s for a year, then the landlord will have to wait until then to charge actual utilities.

    • What a horrible lease clause. TO say nothing of whether it’s enforceable, it just says nothing, which I suppose is unfortunate for you, since he’s putting the cost of the 4th cable box to you. What’s he going to do when the water bill goes up, as presumably there will be 3 showers a day vs. 1 (and an equal increase in laundry loads and dishwasher runs), or if you have the AC on more because more people = a longer time when people are at the house? All of the sudden, is he going to jack your rent bc electric and water are $50/mo more than when he lived there?

      My guess is you probably have a similar clause that says the place is rented as a furnished unit but then doesn’t specify anything about what it means to be “furnished.” If that’s true, you have a similar problem there.

      I’m a landlord, and I try to be as specific as possible in these things in the lease so nobody’s disappointed down the road (i.e., if I say cable is included, I say how many boxes I’m paying for and am clear that doesn’t include HBO, DVR, PPV, etc..) You’re now past the point where you can correct this, however, so I think the delicate thing to do is to suck it up on the utilities but try like hell to get his crap out of there. You didn’t sign up to live in a storage unit. The instinct to maintain a positive relationship is right — souring the relationship at its start will lead to a lot of bad feelings and, as far as you’re concerned, probably a lot of halfhearted efforts by the landlord to correct things that are his responsibilities — but you also shouldn’t get run over by this guy. I usually think tenant complaints on POP are vastly overstated and whiny, but this guy sounds like he’s a piece of work and you’re getting the short end of the stick. I’d talk to him and propose a plan — start non-confrontationally, but make very clear that you think there are some things not clearly specified in the lease that you’d like to address to everybody’s satisfaction.

    • Is your landlord an attorney, because that clause is drafted to the landlord’s protection perfectly. I may use it in the future.

      • If he is he did it wrong. And if he’s not and his attorney drafted the clause without warning him that it was likely unenforceable in DC, then the attorney’s up for a bar complaint.

  • What’s in the lease? Be open an honest with the guy if what you got isn’t what you signed for. “We understood that we would be getting a small amount of furniture, and that we would be able to use all available space in the apartment for our belongings. Your things are occupying valuable space. I would like you to remove those things, or I would like a decrease in my monthly rent because I cannot store my things here.”

    I would just pay the $10 for cable, unless of course the lease stated that there would be 4 boxes and you only got 3.

    • I agree with this- the furniture seems excessive and he should either remove it or cut your rent by the amount of a small storage unit- that way he will hopefully opt to just get one. But 4 cable boxes? Sheesh. You’re lucky that you had the three already included in utilities. I would just pony up the $10.

  • First it’s totally lame that you have 3 people and 4 televisions. Really? That strikes me as ridiculously over the top.

    Second, I agree that the extra stuff around the house shouldn’t be your issue. Even if it wasn’t in writing, it sounds like you were made to expect one thing, and you are getting another. I would send him a note explaining that you all have extra items and that you were not aware that all of the extra storage space would be crammed with his stuff. Maybe there is an easy compromise there.

    On a serious note on the utilities piece, that’s a sweet deal and you shouldn’t worry about $10/month, principle or not. If you complain about this second issue you will sound capricious.

    • 4 cable boxes and televisions is a great way to hit that excessive electric bill in no time. Especially if they all have a DVR. Might as well just put a refrigerator in each room.

      I’d be more upset about the stuff left in there than the cable issue. That seems like something definitely worth discussing but make sure all of you are on the same page. Have a reason why it’s inconvenient.

      • Sorry, what? You think a tv (lets assume a relatively new, LCD), and a cable box use as much electricity as a refrigerator?

        • Actually, they might. A modern frig uses about 50 kwh per month. A DVR uses about 30 kwh per month. Add a 42 inch LCD used 3 hours per day and you get to 50 kwh per month.

          Refrigerators have become really efficient, and DVRs and large screen TVs are power hungry.

          • How often would the DVR need to run to consume 30kwh/month? A lot. a HELL of a lot. It would be recording a lot more than you can watch in 3 hrs/day.

          • These devices draw a lot of power even when they’re turned off. Of course, if you unplug between uses you won’t have to worry about it, but few people do that.

          • We can put this all to rest. Only one DVR.

          • You think you could get up to even close to 30kwh with standby power on a DVR? Really?

          • Actually some of the motorola boxes are higher and their standby power is nearly the same as their on power.

          • DVRs are notorious for being power hungry when in standby. My numbers were a little high, but not real high. According to energystar, the Motorola DCX3400 DVR uses 27.11W when on, and 25.29 W in standby. Annual consumption is 231 kWh per year, or 19.25 kwh per month.

            So it’s in the ballpark, depending on the refrigerator, TV, and STB. For example, that cable box plus a Panasonic TC­P42G25 (42 inch plasma) are energy star estimated at 413 kwh per year. The GE GSH22JSCSS is energy star estiated at 438 kwh per year.

          • A DVR costs my house about $33/year in energy costs or $2.75/month.

            Assumes 25 watts used 24 hours a day. I get billed at an overall rate of $0.15/kwh.

            That a fridge would cost about as much doesn’t seem intuitively right.

  • Sounds like your landlord is a novice.

    Did you mention a management company?

    • Yes, we have a management co. but so far (the 5 days we’ve lived there) our questions to them have been redirected to the owner.

      Also, thanks for the responses everyone. I guess I’m inclined to agree on the cable, but the furniture and storage boxes are my main concern. Next time I will definitely bear all of this in mind about getting details in writing. I guess we all have to learn that lesson at some point, better late than never.

      • I think you can make an adequate case to the owner that you will either leave, or he will fix the problems.

        • Also, I would seriously consider leaving. If he’s being this difficult/dumb about this stuff, what is goign to happen with your monthly negotiations on what “excessive” bills are?


          Also a Landlord

        • Eh. I don’t know about this. She just moved. I doubt the lease is specific enough on either point that this constitutes a material breach, and threatening to break the lease is just about as scorched earth a tactic as you can employ. There’s obviously something about this place that works for these tenants — why throw that away over something that has a lot of potential to be resolved amicably? It would create a huge — and likely costly (goodbye, deposit!) — headache for these tenants to go that route.

          • Perhaps, but I’d go nuts if I lived in a place with a bunch of someone else’s furniture that i didnt want.

            I think the existence of this stuff is a breach right there.

            As a landlord, I hope its this kind of treatment and circumstances that separate the bargain basement rent prices with the ones everyone else charge. I.E. when there is a GDON Rental Edition and someone says “I can live across the street for 400 bucks less”, there might be a reason.

          • I’m not saying it wouldn’t drive me nuts, too, and it may very well be a basis to escalate when the tenancy is more than a week old. But I am saying that if OP goes straight to threatening walking away from the lease, there’s no turning back, and she would have leap-frogged about 20 steps in the process. Even if she gets the stuff removed, it will be a miserable and tense relationship with the landlord for the duration of the lease.

            Play nice. Until it’s time not to play nice.

  • My dear tenant just sent me a thank-you note (a real note, in the mail!) for waiting at his apartment for the exterminator when he couldn’t be there. A duty I considered my responsibility anyway, and to my condo’s advantage, but it was still awfully nice!

    Good relations are key, and most landlords want to work with you. Talk. And get everything clearly in writing – for both of you – especially the vague utility policy. (Ask for copies of utility bills to determine the actual “average usage.”)

  • As a landlord myself, I think that you should politely but firmly tell your landlord that the “furnishings” in the apartment should be limited to what was in the apartment at the time that you originally saw the apartment and signed the lease. The apartment is not the owner’s storage area.

    I think you’re on the hook for the garbage can.

    As far as the cable goes, pay the $10 a month.

  • Maybe I’m thick-skinned, but I think these are typical things that come up when you’re renting directly from the property owner. I would definitely address the extra “furnishings” with him or the management company– you could argue that the condition of the apartment is not how it was when you signed the lease. Do this immediately.

  • make sure that the house is legally rentable – i.e. registered with DCHD, equipped with a certificate of occupancy, and a business license. you have recourse if the landlord has failed to adhere to these requirements.

  • The cable boxes and trash cans strike me as trivial issues that the tenant SHOULD pay for, but the landlord storing his furniture in your house is not OK. Maybe it was an honest misunderstanding with each of you having a different definition in your minds of “partially furnished” but if the landlord led you to believe that there are items that would be removed before you moved in, and they are still there, I would be very firm that that’s not acceptable, and if the landlord STILL failed to remediate the situation, consider renting a POD to store the things on the front lawn or something, and deducting the cost from the rent.

    • This is on the right track.

      If when you moved in there was a bunch more stuff than was in the house when you saw it, that’s a problem. Landlord should not be using your living space as furniture storage unless it was clear that the house would be fully furnished. Also stuff in closets should go to storage too (who the heck can live someplace without closets?!) If the landlord refuses then I suggest doing exactly what this person says – get a POD storage unit and put the stuff there, notify the landlord via mail and e-mail that you have done so, and get some representation.

      Cable box: unless the landlord said the house is supposed to have 4, then requesting another one is something you should pay for. You want something that’s more than what the house comes with, then you should pay for it even if “utilities are included.” 4 TVs seems a little excessive to me, but to each their own.

      Trash can is definitely also your responsibility, take it inside to make sure it doesn’t get stolen, and your renter’s insurance (you do have it, right?) should cover it.

  • This is why I don’t own a television and don’t generate any garbage (joking about the second part). I do have a DSL modem, though, an I’m convinced that’s 50% of my energy bill – that thing is always roasting!

  • claire

    Here’s the mindset that’s helped me in interactions with my landlord: You are on the same side. It seems like most renters I know think the landlord is trying to cheat them in some way and most landlords think the renters are trying to cheat them, but ultimately you both want the same thing (for the renter and landlord to both be happy and feel like they’re getting a good deal). Once you think of everything as leading towards that goal, it makes things go much more smoothly.

    • +1000 except I don’t actually think landlords think tenants are trying to cheat them, unless the rent is egregiously late. That’s the one thing that causes concern.

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