“Do we have any legal rights to ask for this financial concession?”

Photo by PoPville flickr user Erin

“Dear PoPville,

My boyfriend and I recently received notice from our landlord that our large, lovely patio, the sole reason we decided to rent the unit, will be undergoing 18+ weeks of construction to repair brick damage from the DC earthquake a few years back. We can’t go out on the patio for the entire 18 weeks, and will need to leave our blinds closed due to dust and falling brick risk. We recently moved into the building, so are very frustrated none of this was shared with us prior to moving in: we wouldn’t have signed a lease if we knew we’d be living in a construction zone for 4-5 months so soon after moving.

We think we are entitled to a rent reduction to make up for the patio loss, noise, and dust we’ll be experiencing – we determined the price per square foot we pay for the patio, and want it removed from our rent. Do we have any legal rights to ask for this financial concession? We’ve emailed the DC Office of Tenant Advocacy but have yet to hear back. Has anyone else out there had a similar experience? Thank you for any advice!”

81 Comment

    • Butter fingers…

      We had a similar situation about 2 years ago, although we were in an apartment building. We rented a 2 BR with a 1,000 sqft terrace. It was under construction within 2 months of us signing a 13 month lease. After many calls, emails and office visits, threats to terminate our lease (bluff) we finally got $250/mo off our rent. Not sure legally what you’re entitled ask for, but it seems like you have nothing to lose at this point.

  • Check the terms of your lease, but I suspect you’ll be out of luck here. Typically, a lease contains a provision allowing the landlord to make necessary repairs but without any obligation to reduce the rent, compensate, etc. If your apartment becomes unlivable as a result of the repairs, the landlord has an obligation to find you alternate lodgings for the duration of the work.
    You can always ask for a reduction. Your landlord may be reasonable and provide you with a discount.

  • How about you start out non-adversarial and non-“entitled.” Talk to your landlord. Explain that the patio was a big factor in your decision and you are disappointed, especially since this is prime patio season. Maybe they could shift the work to winter. The earthquake was several years ago – why the urgency now? It just might be that your landlord is a decent person and will offer you a rent reduction. If not, you can politely suggest they offer a reduction. Then, if the landlord refuses, you can pursue your legal rights.

    • +1. Self-righteousness will beget self-righteousness.

    • +1. Also, with regard to “[W]e determined the price per square foot we pay for the patio” — you can’t count the patio square footage as though the patio is an extra room in your unit. Certainly the patio is worth some dollar amount per month, but the value of a square foot of patio is not equal to the value of a square foot of indoor space.
      If you get to step #3 (or whatever it is) in Victoria’s suggested sequence of events and politely ask the landlord for a rent reduction, go with a reasonable amount, like $100-$200 per month.

    • I agree, play nice until you are forced not to do so

  • Not at all.

    Play nice with your landlord and maybe he’ll cut $100 off your rent for a few months. But if the landlord has any sense, (s)he had you sign a lease that gives him the right to make necessary repairs.

  • You *might* be entitled to exit your lease, which depends on what your lease says, but you are unlikely to be “entitled” to a reduction in rent. Using the former, you might get the latter, but it’s highly unlikely you’re entitled to it.

    • Also maybe see if he can delay the work until after the weather isn’t ideal for using the patio. There’s no reason it cannot wait until October or November if he’s waited this long since the earthquake.

      • He could have only discovered the issue. You’re assuming this is something he’s known about. If he’s just discovered loose bricks, etc, then he may have to do the work now. Using the patio could be a risk for anyone out there. I’m thinking about some of the bricks falling off the façade at Saint Ex. If I’m a landlord, I don’t want that liability.

        • Admittedly it is a little unclear here what is being fixed…from the sound of it, I was assuming they were basement apartment renters and the patio was “above” their windows to some degree, based on OP’s comment of falling debris/dust.

          I’m not sure what damage could happen to an outdoor bricked patio from an earthquake that happened four years ago that is just being discovered but can definitely be pinpointed to the earthquake as a cause. But okay, sure.

          • When I was looking to buy last year (in April), I looked at a condo in Columbia Heights that was currently having the façade worked on because of the Earthquake. The building was painted, so the cracks weren’t immediately visible so the HOA had only just discovered it.

          • For the record, I’m not saying that landlord didn’t know about the issue, only that the LL may not have. The LL could quite easily be a scumbag who didn’t want to scare off potential tenants or take a reduction in rent.

  • So your concern is that your landlord is making needed repairs? If only we could all be so lucky to have such ‘problems.’

  • Am I the only one who thinks 18+ weeks is an awfully long time to repair a patio?

    • It sound like the LL is doing brick repairs to the entire back wall of the house (repointing?)

    • I agree, 18 weeks is completely nuts. Even repointing the entire house should only take a few weeks. Unless you are living in Versailles that is an insane amount to time to repair a patio.

      • The initial post is very unclear and really makes no sense. I had to repoint the entire back & side of my house – with scaffolding etc. and it took one week. (And I compensated my basement apt. tenants for the hassle.)

    • The repointing guess is likely more on-point. Repairing a patio for 4+ months makes no sense for the minimal amount of earthquake damage that happened several years ago. OP should explain this more clearly, but I’m assuming there is some kind of building structural work going on overhead and the patio must remain closed given the risk of falling stuff.

  • This is really scummy by the landlord. They recently signed a lease and he did not volunteer any of this information. Such information would strongly drive the price negotiation between tenant and landlord. The landlord purposely withheld material information about the state of the residence and accessibility of amenities.
    If the landlord does not reside at the property, my guess is that the landlord is fixing the damage to get it ready to sell. In which case, you’ll probably need to move out within a year anyways.
    Honestly, I’d first politely yet firmly ask for a rent deduction. Calmly explain your reasons and how you came to the reduction amount. If he is unwilling to acquiesce, I’d break the lease and start looking for new accommodations. If he threatens to not refund your deposit, I’d probably just not pay the last month’s rent.

    • You’re assuming that he’s know about this issue for a while or at least longer than the OP has resided at the apartment. There’s nothing to support that.
      It might not be about selling the property. If there’s a risk that falling bricks and other debris could injure people, then I would imagine he doesn’t want the liability of not dealing with it.
      This could be a conscientious landlord, just encountering an issue, and deciding to fix it immediately. Without knowing what the exact work is (18 weeks makes me think it is major work) and when the landlord knew, it’s hard to judge the person harshly.

      • Except the LL is citing the earthquake. There is no way anyone could find loose bricks on a house randomly four years after an earthquake and know for certain that damage was caused by the earthquake. Either the LL has known about it the entire time, or it could just simply be that work needs to be performed. Based on the OP’s complaint, it seemed clear that they haven’t lived there long and it is unlikely this was something discovered after they moved in.

      • Apparently landlord has known about it since the Earthquake. So the damage has been there for years and now the landlord decides to make repairs. Look, I get that you have a bit of empathy for the LL, but it’s a total scum-bag move. These folks deserve to know before signing their lease that they will be living through 4.5 months of renovations. What if they work from home? What if they work nights and need to sleep during the day?
        They made the decision to live their with a big piece of information missing from the equation. At the very least, the landlord should let them out of their lease without penalties.

        • Can’t assume landlord knew since earthquake. Damage may have been uncovered recently, or damage changed over time so it recently became more apparent.

          • I think what people keep pointing out here is that damage “uncovered” recently cannot possibly be attributed to the earthquake. Any damage existing now could have had a number of causes in the 4 years that have passed. Furthermore, that’s basically a statement of negligence on the part of the landlord: “I’ve not done any rudimentary inspection in 4 years, despite there having been an earthquake. I just got around to this recently (apparently).”

        • I recently noticed damage to my own home that can only be explained by the earthquake.. Will have to look into what’s involved to repair. That wouldnt make me a “scumbag” if I had renters. I’m looking to rent my place which is what called for the detailed inspection revealing the cracks in the closet. Something I normally wouldn’t see because my wardrobe hides it.. Inconvenience of not having a lanai for the remainder of the summer is so minimal. Ask nicely, maybe your landlord will cut you a break. Then cheers that you have a lovely place to love with an almost brand new patio.

      • And what facade work takes four months to do? I’ve lived in two rowhomes that were repointed and it took a few weeks at best.

        • 1. Cheap, 2. High Quality, 3. Fast turn-around. You only get to pick two.
          It sounds like the landlord picked #1 and #3.

          • Sorry – meant #1 and #2

          • To “The OP Anon”: Nope, your response still doesn’t make sense. How is something both cheap and high quality? Maybe you meant #2 and #3?

          • You can get cheap and quality work done, but it will be done slowly (thus prolonging the pain and hassle)
            You can get high quality work done quickly, but it will be expensive.
            You can get work done quickly and cheaply, but it will be crappy quality.
            As I understand it, this is the trilemma of home renovations. Though who knows – maybe the LL is getting crappy quality work and it’s taking a long time! Sounds like a lose/lose situation.

        • Agreed. The timeline makes me think there’s more going on that just working on the façade. Repointing should be very quick. 18 weeks makes me wonder if there’s significant structural damage under the façade….and if so, is it safe for the OP to remain in the building?

          • Regarding the vague description of the work — am I the only one confused as to how closing the blinds is meant to keep out dust and falling brick?

          • Agree – not sure how closing the blinds is protection from falling bricks (and if the work is being done on the patio, bricks would need to fly up to go in through the window).
            Not sure if landlord is saying blinds should be closed or if this is what the tenents think needs to be done during the brick work.

          • I wonder if that’s more about privacy for the tenants? I agree that it does seem like a strange suggestion for avoiding dust.

          • Yeah, I don’t get the blinds thing. Don’t they have windows to keep the nasties out?

          • Emmaleigh504

            We had some brick work done in my building and my closed window, closed blinds, and closed curtain didn’t keep the brick dust out. But I live in a building with an awesome management company, so they sent someone to clean it up. Same with the time that pipe broke. I so love Bernstein Management.

    • Assuming the property is in DC, the tenant does not have to move out when the landlord sells, unless the new owner plans to live in the unit.

  • I think if the damage was a non-disclosed, pre-existing condition of the house, you have grounds to void the lease.

  • Slim to none..BUt…there is a way, if you can finagle it, show and/or give reason that the patio is a huge and vital need to your peace of mind and general health and well being living in the congested city.
    One particular high condo complex I know of off Connecticut Avenue N.W. had a similar issue; elevator being replaced due to age. Instead of inconveniently impacting residents you as a resident were offered to relocate ‘temporarily’ until the issue was resolved or in this case repaired. There no one was fully hurt due to lack and all that there was, was a slight move to a temp space until back to normal. BUt, you had to prove, peace of mind, health and well being reasons being the sole motivators. I’d talk it out with the landlord. There has to be a middle ground.

    • I’m not sure why they would need to go as far as demonstrating a need for health and well-being. (1) They signed a contract to rent property which includes a patio. (2) They will have no access to this patio, or presumably the back yard for that matter, for a non-trivial amount of time. (3) The repairs can’t be too “necessary” if they weren’t addressed in 4 years since the earthquake. They are either non-critical, or the landlord was negligent in assessing them sooner and subjected the previous tenant(s) to risk. (4) They should be compensated, at the least.

  • One question based on the OP’s description: How do blinds protect you from dust if the windows are closed?? I don’t get why you have to keep them shut for the ENTIRE construction period when having the windows closed would solve the problem…

    • The window might be old and drafty. The blinds provide another barrier to keep the dust out.

      • I’m gonna call LL fail on using blinds as a dust and safety measure. If there is dust or danger, the windows need to be sealed properly and the danger needs to be properly mitigated. Blinds do neither of those things.

        • ^ this. Plywood on the outside and plastic with tuck-tape on the inside might be appropriate, but blinds?

        • You don’t know that landlord is saying/believing blinds will protect tenents from dust and from falling brick.

    • Nothing about the original post makes sense. Patios are on the ground. Bricks do not fall up. There may be a little dust from cutting bricks to fit, but it is not like re-pointing.

  • I would say ask nicely first – then check to see if you have a “quiet enjoyment” clause in your lease. If you don’t – never sign another lease without one. If you do have one, you can get our of your lease.

  • I think it’s pretty egregious your landlord wouldn’t disclose something like that to you until after you moved in. Unless it was an emergency repair that was completely unforeseen, he or she should have let you know in advance. Why is he making repairs now 3+ years after the earthquake? Seems strange.
    We rent our basement and have been doing construction upstairs on and off. I let my prospective tenants know before they signed a lease and told them I’d offer them a discount on rent while the construction went on to make up for the noise. I feel this is the least you can do as a landlord (that said- I don’t know whether or not I’m legally obligated to do something like that- I just did it because it was the right thing to do).

  • 18 weeks for a patio repair? This is a facade repair on the entire wall of brick and the patio below the wall is being closed during construction, right?
    If that’s the case, the LL might have been saving up for the ridiculously expensive bill they’ll be paying. Also I’d be more worried about 4-5 months of pounding and grinding. wait, what?!

    • Sounds to me like repair to the façade, not just the patio. There’s no way it takes 18 weeks to repair a patio. I suspect the patio is being closed off to either give workmen access to because the façade above is being worked on.
      Also, when talking about earthquake damage, it seems the façade/structure of a building would be more effected than a patio.

  • I have a question. Is the patio part of your unit (like you sublet a condo/ rowhouse that comes with a back patio) or is it something you simply have access too (Like you rent the English Basement apartment and your landlord says you can have access to the back patio area of the main house). I’ve rented apartments in both situations and I’d guess any entitlement would depend on the situation.

    • Exactly. If the patio is specifically “rented” as part of the unit, and spelled out as such in the lease – the OP has a LOT more bargaining room.

  • Troubling for landlords when they spend money on repairs or upgrades and tenants want to suddenly pay less rent — because the landlord is spending money on repairs or upgrades. The money being spent has to come from somewhere. And it comes from rent.

    • The key issue here isn’t that the landlord is spending money on repairs, the key issue is that the landlord may or may not have failed to disclose important information about the condition of the property. That you can’t see that is troubling.

    • It’s called disclosure. The tenant – when deciding on whether to rent your place – needs to have all the information. And yes, a place under construction should rent for less than a comparable place that’s not under construction.
      Them’s the breaks of construction – similar to how a hotel undergoing construction rents the rooms cheaply to bring in some cash flow.

    • Troubling for tenants when landlords wait to do repairs until they have rented the unit out at a top of the market price to tenants, so that they can use the profit from tenants’ rent to finance those repairs, which will render the unit far less habitable than was represented upon lease signing, especially when landlord knew the unit would be undergoing such repairs as the damage has been long standing, and chose not to disclose upcoming repairs to tenants.
      Forget listening to legal advice on here – you like do have legal recourse – find out your rights.

      • You’re making lots of assumptions about the timing of the repairs and the landlord’s financial situation

        • Well, yeah, any idiot who cares about their property would check if out after that earthquake – if they didn’t, they should have. Anyway, unconscionable to sign the lease not letting tenants know of upcoming repairs.

    • Troubling for tenants when they rent a space expecting a habitable, quiet space and later they’re told they will have to endure 18+ months of loud, messy construction. The money being spent should come from the landlord, who should not own investment property if he/she cannot afford to maintain it.

    • Why is it troubling? It’s the landlord’s property, and he’s responsible for maintaining it. He’s not doing the tenants a favor. Too many landlords in DC think a rental property is just a neat way to get someone else to pay your mortgage. It’s a business, and it carries the same responsibilities as a business owner.

  • HaileUnlikely

    18 weeks to repair a patio is so absurd as to warrant no further discussion. I am assuming he is doing repair to the entire facade of the house. But still, 18 weeks is kind if ridiculous, unless it is a very large house and he is doing the repairs himself on nights and weekends. This just doesn’t add up.

  • “We think we are entitled to…”
    Ah yes, the battle cry of a generation.

    • Yeah, the baby boomers.

    • Unlike previous generation who shall not be named who received entitlement after entitlement and now refuse to sacrifice anything to help the first generation(s) that is not better off than those before it and would rather just call them complainers while continuing to take.

      • life is so unfair !

        • This is a response to a specific comment not a complaint. Life is certainly unfair but I have received far more than my share of good fortune in it. It is the boomers who complain about younger generations being entitled but lack the ability to see their unbelievable entitlement and refuse to budge an inch. It’s the hypocrisy not the general unfairness that I have a problem with.

          comments like yours are true expressions of entitlement

          • That’s a broad brush you’re painting with. Every generation gripes about those before and after them. It rubs a situation the wrong way when one says they are entitled to something only after they’ve given their side of the story

          • as opposed t the paint roller the comment was in response to?

            They said they think they are entitled to… And ask for advice as to whether they are. They were also using it in the legal sense. They could have said they think the law provides for a rent reduction, would that have been better? There is a tendency to jump on anyone who asks what their rights are in a given situation and say: stupid millenenials, so entitled.

  • Wasn’t there a post on this blog a few months back about a couple that constructed a patio themselves in a single weekend? What are they up to?

    • I believe that was ParkViewRes and her partner. Not sure that they want to get into patio-building as a business, though. 😉

  • Legal right? I doubt it.
    Still you can ask (not demand) a concession in the rent during construction.
    The landlord has the right to say no, and if you choose to leave you’d be breaking the lease.
    in my opinon

  • The Office of the Tenant Advocate is a great resource, but my experience too has been that they can be hard to get a hold of. Keep trying to reach them on the phone. It took me several tries, but when I finally reached someone the advice I received was very useful. Sorry you’re facing this issue, good luck!

  • not sure if you have any legal rights, but maybe ask if they can delay the work to end of summer so you can enjoy it until then. Also, 18 weeks to repair a patio? That is a week long job at best including demo and a new patio!

  • This is actually a great excuse to see the very detailed outline and timeline for said project; exactly who will be doing said work and based on what knowledge or exterior architectural experience could one have. I would bring in an independent stone and mason master (google Stuart Dean) and get a few recommendations from significantly tried and true brick layers. The time and the timing seems precarious, I do question that. Ultimately this may just be the perfect excuse to go see Europe, mom and a few long lost relatives you’ve been meaning to keep up with…Good Luck -remain Pro Patio

  • Don’t waste your time. However, talk to him nicely and he will probably let you out of the lease because you’re a potential pain.

  • Hello, lawyer here. Saying someone is “entitled” to something in a legal sense doesn’t have the same connotation as when you say it in everyday sense. It’s very common in the legal profession and isn’t at all obnoxious. Basically, if it’s within your rights, you are entitled to it.

Comments are closed.