Help – “I Live in the Loudest Basement In DC”

Photo by PoPville flickr user brunofish

“Dear PoPville,

I live in the basement apartment of a homeowner who is my landlord. A few weeks ago, my landlord threw a wicked loud party that raged on late into a Tuesday night. When I sent her a text message about it (at 12:00am), I received no fewer than twelve angry text messages in reply, ranging from “I can’t wait until you move out” to “Do not contact me again”. I was instructed to contact the property manager (her close friend) about issues moving forward. He and I had a lengthy conversation, the result of which was basically in addition to being her birthday that night, the landlord is having “personal issues”, so her response was warranted given the context. I’m over that, though a little bitter. I was given the option to break the lease and move out, something I’m considering for January. Needless to say, the tension certainly is enough.

Now, she has turned on the ancient forced heat furnace. She alerted me to this and added a caveat that the furnace has a “hum”. Apparently, that “hum” is a loud, constant, high-pitched ringing noise that permeates through the concrete walls. What’s more, it seems to resonate through the vents in my apartment – and it’s still freezing cold in here.

I measured the noise at a peak of 75 decibels inside my unit, furthest from the furnace (using a smartphone app, efficacy unknown). According to DCRA, any mechanical equipment noise will be measured at the property line (so, outside). I can’t hear it from there, so I wonder if going to them would make any difference. I have sent a text message to the property manager and have not heard a response.

I worry that first, there is a real issue with the furnace. I also wonder which will explode first – the furnace, or my brain.

Do I have any recourse here, except the noise cancelling headphones I just purchased? How’s the rental market in January (or next week, for that matter)?”

55 Comment

  • might as well move out – your relationship with your landlord will never work….

  • the good news is that the rental market between now and january is excellent. not much competition and a fair amount of turnover. start looking!

    • Tons of good deals to be had by renting in Dec – Feb as there is very little competition. There’s also not as much selection, but there’s plenty to choose from and you won’t be showing up to open houses that are total zoos.

  • WOW, please move out! The rental market is GREAT right now and unless she is PAYING YOU to live there I do not see why you would stay. Last November we found a place in Navy Yard and we received 2 parking places and free storage for a year as rental concessions. Plus new apartments are flooding the market right now so you should be able to find a deal–month or two in free rent. Personally, I would never want to live somewhere if the landlord said “Do not contact me again.” I feel bad for the next tenant!

  • Yikes. This sounds bad on multiple fronts. I have a basement tenant, and I can’t imagine hosting a party that went later than 11 on a school night.
    Sounds like it would make sense to start looking NOW and to move out ASAP.

    • +1
      I also have a basement rental apartment and it’s very important to me to have happy tenants. Helps attract nice and sane people as tenants, and has the added benefits that tenants stay longer so the place is occupied, and tenants wont freak out about every little thing.
      I would NEVER have a loud party on a weekday (unless the tenant was 100% on board) and would not speak to them as yours did.
      very sorry you are dealing with this crap, and good luck finding an awesome new apartment!

  • Break the lease!! Not worth the mental anguish you are going through!

  • From experience, I’d say just move out as soon as you can legally do so. Your landlord sounds nuts, and I wouldn’t want to be around that any longer than I had to.

    That said, if you’re just looking to be a vindictive pain in the butt or (more charitably) win further concessions from your crazy landlord who is causing you a significant inconvenience, depending how cold your unit actually is, that may offer you some leverage. By DC law, ” Heat: If a tenant cannot control heat settings within the unit, the landlord must insure heating equipment maintains the temperature at least 68 degrees Fahrenheit during the day and 65 degrees Fahrenheit at night in all occupied rooms and bathrooms.”


    • Yeah, tell the property manager the heat isn’t working and needs to be fixed ASAP. Regardless of when you move out, you should be able to be warm in your apartment.
      Sorry you’re having to deal with this – ugh!

  • Aggressive landlords trying to justify sub-par living conditions are the worst. I have been there and definitely sympathize. Sorry, but I have to join the “get out” chorus. Your landlord sounds disturbed. Once someone has acted that unreasonably towards you and refuses to see any problem with doing so, the relationship is broken. Moving on before things escalate is the safest move.

  • Is it a legal rental? I know this is harsh, but you may need to get dcra involved

    • Yah, if you have a furnace in the basement, most likely it’s not legal…. you have to have a certain distance between a heating unit and a bedroom. Mostly, apts can’t deal with that regulation and therefore they are “under the radar” like the vast majority of basement apts in this city.

      • Not true. Virtually every row home in DC has the furnace in the basement, including legal rentals. There’s no requirement that the furnace be upstairs.

        • S/he means the lateral proximity to the basement apt bedroom.

          • But that’s not what s/he said. S/he said: “Yah, if you have a furnace in the basement, most likely it’s not legal.” Simply not true. Virtually every legal basement in the city has the furnace in the basement.

    • Second this. My guess is the unit isn’t legal anyway, which makes it even more astounding that the landlord is behaving so horribly. Report her so no one else has to go through this. And move out ASAP! Good luck !

  • Move out. You’ll be a lot happier dealing with a normal landlord. Fighting your way to stay and fix thing does not seem worth it.

  • If in DC, does the landlord have a Business License? A Certificate of Occupancy?

    • Nope! I was thinking of that too, but don’t want further retaliation. Though I may, to be a bitter jerk, after I move out.

      • Just move out and then move on with your life. Life’s too short.

      • Report her so that no one has to go through what you’ve just gone through. It’s not vindictive, it’s just putting awful, unlicensed landlords out of business.

        • Just because the basement doesn’t qualify for a certificate of occupancy and because the landlord doesn’t have a license doesn’t automatically mean the landlord is awful. In this case, the landlord is, but plenty of people live in not-quite-legal basement apartments with sane landlords without any problems.

          • I agree, but I am always baffled why a landlord would take on such a high liability risk for having an unlicensed rental unit. Interested to hear if anyone has better insight into this, but I can envision a scenario where a tenant starts a fire while cooking and it burns the whole house down, but the insurance doesn’t cover it because they didn’t tell the insurance company about the rental unit.

          • Great point, Abcd. What would be the ramifications if there was an incident? Would insurance reject the claim? That would scare the crap out of me.
            Why do they do it? Probably because they bought too much house and need the rental income to afford their lifestyle.

          • You can definitely get insurance that covers the liability of a tenant without having the business license, in the same way that you can report your rental income to the IRS without having a business license. Or you can buy umbrella policies that cover any personal liability. Your insurance company is not likely to either know the local regulations regarding licensing, nor talk to DCRA to check up on you…

          • Good point about insurance companies not checking on licensing at the outset. But if the house does burn down and the owners file a claim for $500k to $1m or whatever it costs to rebuild, won’t the insurance company investigate permits before paying out a huge sum like that? A BBL probably isn’t what would concern them, but the Dcra permit for a two family dwelling (a legal basement apt) would, because there are safety inspections that have to happen before that permit is issued. I mean, as a policyholder I would hope that insurance carriers would not pay big bucks to bozos who don’t follow the rules, especially mandatory safety rules. And that’s why I scratch my head when I hear about all these illegal basement apartments.

          • I wonder if a landlord’s policy specifies that you have to adhere to all city laws concerning landlords. It wouldn’t surprise me. Not exactly the same thing, but to Abcd’s point, years ago I used to practice law in MA and back then it was very common for people to try to save on auto insurance by registering their cars at relatives’ addresses either in a safer town in MA or in another state altogether (NH was very popular among those also dabbling in income tax fraud). Over my 2 years at one particular firm we had about dozen inquiries from potential clients whose cars were either stolen or totaled in accidents. In each of those cases in order to save $10,000-$40,000 or so the insurance companies spent maybe $200 to have an investigator do a quick residency check. In some cases they sent a guy to “neighbors'” houses with a photo and in others they’d spend an hour following the customer home from work. Not a single one of those cases was winnable for the client and we politely declined them.

      • At least if you report her then there is something out there even if it too late for you.

  • Ugh! Get out get out get out! Moving sucks, but you’re going to do it eventually under these conditions, so you might as well do it now before things escalate. With a landlord that unreasonable, and with the unrelenting headache you’re nursing, escalate they will. In the mean time, you do have rights. There’s something about the right to the “enjoyment” of your rental, I think, and you definitely have the right to heating that works. It might be worth it to go to the Landlord Tenant Resource Center at DC Superior Court to talk to a lawyer for free about what your rights actually are and what recourse you have to improve your situation in the mean time. Don’t let that impede your search for a new place, FAST.

  • I don’t see that the legality of the unit really matters in this situation. The OP has been given the option to break the lease (with no penalty, right?) — at this point, it’s in his/her best interest to spend time/energy looking for a new place, not on reporting the landlord.

    • I wouldn’t trust the landlord’s word that OP can break the lease. I would get it in writing before doing so. LL does sound like someone who doesn’t have their s&*t together, but I wouldn’t chance it.

      • This is a great point! I will seek written confirmation.

        • burritosinstereo

          If your “landlord” doesn’t have a certificate of occupancy, then I’m pretty sure she can’t go after you in court if you break the lease early. So you should be able to move out whenever you want….

      • Agreed. This landlord sounds like the type of person who would keep the OP’s security deposit.
        PS – why would someone pay a management company to manage their basement rental? Seems like a stupid waste of money.

      • If they don’t let the tenant out of the lease, DCRA might be the next step. Report it as an unlicensed rental with potential safety hazards. I’m guessing that the most you’d lose is your security deposit.

    • If the landlord’s doing things illegal and behaving like this then go ahead and report them. If you don’t report them then you’re just letting someone else blunder into this terrible (possibly dangerous!) situation. You have a duty to your fellow humans to do something about it!

  • We often joke about the rare post that unites all of PoPville, but it looks like this is the extremely rare one that not only has united everyone, but has united everyone in sympathy for the OP. And I’m no exception. I agree with all of the advice here, especially the comprehensive post from Anonymous @ 2:13. Pursue your rights, sure, but also pursue a way out. It’s the only way to assure your sanity here.

  • Thank you everyone! I’m on the hunt. Now accepting leads for move-in on Dec. 10, as well as an donated baseball bats for this furnace.



  • I’m so sorry you’re going through this– I had a bad, tense relationship with a previous landlord and it’s pretty upsetting living in constant dread.

    There are apartments available now in my building in Cathedral Heights if you’re interested! I found the off-season market pretty amenable in general, especially with landlords eager to fill up unexpectedly empty units.

  • Most stock leases have some language about “right to quiet enjoyment” or similar. Does yours? Sounds like the landlord violated the lease. Contact OTA, file a complaint with DCRA and then GTFO.

    • Lease or not, a tenant’s right to quiet enjoyment is inherent in DC law. And that applies regardless of the unit’s legality, whether the landlord is up to date on registration, etc.

  • It sounds awful but, honestly, if you have the chance to move out then just do that. Any “recourse” is going to probably be a difficult, drawn out process and I really doubt you’ll come out ahead, even if you win.

  • Not sure where you’re looking to move, but I was apartment hunting about a month ago…

    I was offered:
    -1 month free rent and waived amenity fee at Quebec House in Cleveland Park
    -2 months free rent + $1000 visa gift card at Elevation in NoMa

    And waived move-in and/or amenity fees basically everywhere. It seems to be a good time to be a renter.

    • maxwell smart

      I have a friend in Quebec House – it’s a nice place and a great location that’s both quiet and close to the metro, but you can expect the rent to increase every year by the maximum amount they can. So a good deal today might not be so great in 2-3 years.

  • haha. DCRA has a checklist for those renting out their places #N was “Is the heating system operational and in good repair? (2006 IPMC §602.2) ” and two of the required certifications deal with heating and cooling.

    • maxwell smart

      Interesting. Apparently my ceiling heights (6′-8″) don’t meet code. Not that I am complaining. I kinda love my cave.

  • thanks for posting this, now i know what questions to ask before signing my lease. good luck

  • Life is too short! How are you going to entertain in a freezing basement with a high pitched hum? Ridiculous.

    • I do have a hot date tonight.


      Seriously though folks, thanks for your support. My furnace is silent (so, off). Chilly notwithstanding, perhaps the LL is an avid reader and saw the blogosphere wasn’t on her side of this issue. Definitely looking to move as soon as the budget permits, and hoping the heat is fixed before the polar vortex sets in.

      Thanks PoPville! I knew I could count on you.


  • I’m sorry but personal issues don’t give her the right to take it out on you. When she agreed to become a landlord, she agreed to the responsibilities that come with being one. Get out now while you can, it’ll be easy to find something else this time of year with little competition.

  • Be sure to get that offer to break the lease without penalty in writing!

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