“We just want to know in case they come back at us with a “no”, do we have any sort of tenant rights here for rent abatement?”

shower
Photo by PoPville flickr user District Shots

“Dear PoPville,

We moved to DC on October 28, into an apartment that is owned by a couple overseas and managed by a local real estate services company. Since the day we moved in, our shower has been broken. It only runs at 120+ degrees Fahrenheit or freezing cold. We let them know immediately and the issue is finally being fixed tomorrow, when they can shut the entire building’s water off. It will have been three weeks without us being able to shower in our apartment. We asked for a deduction in our rent ($25 for every day we haven’t been able to shower) and the real estate company said they will have to check with the owner.

We just want to know in case they come back at us with a “no”, do we have any sort of tenant rights here for rent abatement?”

44 Comment

  • This is why you don’t rent condos from people who live overseas. It’s…just…not…worth…it.

    • Tsar of Truxton

      They have a local property management company, so I don’t see the issue. I rented a condo from an owner who lived overseas for 8 years and had no problems getting this fixed when there were issues (which was not very often).

      • burritosinstereo

        My last apartment in DC was managed by a local PM company (I never actually met the owner, yes, it was kind of shady) and they were THE WORST. Like, completely unresponsive to maintenance requests. My upstairs neighbor’s hot water heater broke and it took them like 10 days to finally fix it. I know (hope?) my situation was an anomaly but there are some really crappy property management companies out there that are only interested in lining their own pockets. And for the record, the company I am talking about is Crescent Property Management.

        • Tsar of Truxton

          I guess my point is it doesn’t matter where the LL is when you are dealing with a local property management company. If the LL lived and DC and used Crescent Property Management, do you think the experience would have been better? No matter what, you are dealing with a middle man, so the LL is insulated. If that company sucks, I guess your experience will suck, but I don’t see how the location of the LL matters at all. There are good LLs and bad LLs, and there are good property managers and bad property managers. I am not sure there is any sort of way to predict what you are getting before moving in unless you have a friend who has had experience with one or the other.

        • What does a neighbor’s issue have to do with your experience? Did you have issues with the management company?

      • The issue is exactly what the OP wrote: the property manager had to ask for the rent deduction. If I move into an apartment and the water is either scalding hot or freezing cold, I want it fixed TOMORROW (or at least in a timely fashion). Three weeks is ridiculous for not having a working shower.

        Just because there is a local property owner doesn’t mean jack.

    • I bet it’s not the people, but the rental management company. This is why I am the landlord because I don’t trust these companies. The faucet broke on the bathtub and I had a new faucet there in less than 24 hours. The garbage disposal broke Monday of this week and I had a plumber there that night to replace it.

      • Some are good and some are bad. Ultimately I’m in the perfect middle ground where I find my own tenants and keep in touch with them so if the management company fails, I’ll know about it.
        You did work on your house, so I think you have a better connection with a local handyman you trust; I don’t, so I use them to handle big stuff. Anything small I do myself.

        • I think people fail to take into account that sometimes rent is based on location, luxury vs. plan fixtures, and…service. You don’t pay a burger king price for sit-down restaurant food (or you’re lucky and hsould appreciate it).

          Still, hot water seems like a basic right no matter where you are. I may have a bias after visiting friends -back in the day- when people rented rooms and hte one bathroom had needles on the floor. I’m ok with paying for safety, service, and taking a few compromises along the way.

  • That sucks but couldnt you just pour a hot bath and wait a few minutes for the water to cool off? I’m not sure you have much other than a reason to move when your lease is up.

    • or suck it up and take a cold shower lol

    • Possibly it was a shower stall without a tub?

    • Please! Time is money and taking a bath is expensive! And who takes a bath anymore? Sitting in one’s own filth is so last century! (/just kidding around)
      .
      But yes, assuming the shower issue gets fixed before TOO long, this seems like a workable interim fix. Not terribly convenient but sometime life is that way. I think if it goes beyond a month then it would be a legitimate grievance though. Of course as Artemis said if it’s a shower stall rather than a tub then it is an urgent issue I’d say.

    • Wait…people actually use bath tubs to bathe as adults? This blows my mind and I’m not being facetious…Do adults even fit in normal sized bath tubs? Do you even get clean sitting in your own filth? How do you rinse your hair if the tub is already filled with soap suds? These are all legitimate questions I have.

      I’ve only ever used a bath tub in my adult life for relaxation and always use the shower to rinse everything off.

  • Where did the $25/day figure come from? It’s one thing to ask for a break, it’s another to suggest paying roughly $600 less in your monthly rent for this inconvenience and expecting it to go through without issue.

    • OP here. We figured $25/day was fair for not being able to shower for three weeks. Had the proper inspection been completed by the PM company, we would not have been walking/driving to a friend’s house to shower every few days.

      • Beyond ensuring the property is free of health and safety hazards, the property manager doesn’t have any obligation to inspect the property for you.

  • Id ask to break the lease if I was the owners. Red flags for problem tenants. Shit happens. you mentioned the problem cant be fixed until waterncan be turned off for entire building. So it’s not as if they are neing unreasonable or whatever.

    • You think it’s reasonable that they couldn’t find a time to shut off the water for 3 weeks? I used to live in a 10+ unit building and twice they shut off the water for repairs with about 20 minutes of notice ahead of time. It shouldn’t have taken that long … maybe a couple days, maximum.

    • I’d argue that not fixing an issue like this for three weeks is unreasonable.

      However, it looks like the DC code actually only specifies that residential buildings provide a water heating facility “which is capable of providing sufficient hot water at a temperature of not less than one hundred twenty degrees Fahrenheit (120° F.)” (Rule 14-606.1). Unless I’m missing something, it doesn’t actually mention any water below 120F. Maybe regulators just never thought of this odd hot/ cold split possibility…

      In whatever case, good luck! Hope it’s fixed soon.

  • My building shuts off water for the entire building at least once a week. When we asked that they at least provide us with bottled water on these days they just laughed at us. The DC tenants advocates are super helpful and it’s probably worth it to call/email just to see if you there’s anything that can be done.

  • You could take them to housing conditions court – where the judges may not look to harshly on this (as much of an inconvenience it has been to you) and where you could really only get them to fix it, which they are doing (if slowly). You could also risk not paying rent and forcing them to bring an action in landlord tenant court, at which point you could use the condition as a defense for non-payment of rent… but it sounds like maybe not worth the aggravation either way? And hopefully they will cut you a break!

  • I mean, yes it sucks to not being able to shower, but I’m not sure where you came up with this $25/day figure – that seems a bit steep to me. Some sort of reduction could be possible, but asking for 1/4 – 1/3 of your rent for not being able to shower is a bit overplayed.

    I rented a house with some friends from a couple living overseas, through a rental property company. Our fridge’s cooler broke one evening and was leaking water. After that and a few more times of the manager not responding to our requests, we let the couple know directly we were having issues. We ended up severing the property manager portion of our lease and started paying the owners directly. I’m not sure if this is an option for you, but it’s worth pursuing.

  • Send a certified letter to the rental company outlining what you want, why, and the relevant parts of your lease. Give them a response deadline. If that doesn’t work, file it in small claims court. You can tell them you will do this in the letter you send them.

    I know a lot of people will say to do this or that, work it out this way or that way, call this DC agency or that one, but it could drag on (and on, and on). You’ll eat up a ton of your time dealing with it. I’ve been there and done that and I won’t do it again. So just cut through the BS and get right to it. It will cost you something like $20 and will take < 30 minutes. Very good chance they settle before your actual court date. In the time it will take you to sift through all the responses to this post you could write the letter and prepare the documentation for your suit

  • Stay away from any property or association managed by Tilton Bernstein Management (TBM). They are negligent to the point of being fraudulent.

  • $25/day? Dream on.

  • I think the owners being overseas is not relevant. I rented a place for 2+ years via a management company (Evolve, which became Wexford, THE WORSE) and had TONS of issues. ONLY when I tracked down the email address of the owner (who lives in Alexandria) and she got involved did anything get done. I ended up cc’ing her on EVERYTHING I requested to management company, and only then were they responsive (because she threatened to fire them…) Come to think of it, I moved out 7 weeks ago and still haven’t gotten my security deposit back wtf

  • Call the DC Housing Authority and ask them. Yes, you should get a rent reduction, but I do not know by what amount. I actually called them about something similar a few months ago, and they told me that rent includes the cost of taking a shower at a reasonable temperature. So, “sucking it up and taking a cold shower” or “waiting for the bath to cool down in temperature” is not considered reasonable. The housing authority will even write a letter on your behalf to the pm company if necessary.

  • Having rented DC condos from out-of-town owners, I’d say getting it fixed in three weeks is actually remarkably fast – especially if they had to work with the condo to shut off the water in order to fix the problem. If you expect otherwise, your expectations aren’t in line with the kind of place you are renting (a one-off condo rental). Perhaps there are apartment buildings that fix things sooner – the newer, expensive ones – though I actually don’t know, having rented only condos here.
    .
    On a practical matter, if your landlords don’t own and rent out at least 4 DC properties, you don’t come under rent control, so your landlord can raise your rent a lot at the end of the year – the amount isn’t limited by rent control laws, just by what is market rate rent. Which is why it is generally better to just work to get things fixed as fast as possible, rather than to ask for reimbursement for the time that passes.
    .
    It is really more about what you can negotiate – see how much, if any, you can get the landlord to agree to reimburse you (because really, for them to rent the place in that condition was wrong, it isn’t like it broke mid-lease, and the former tenant would have told them about the problem). The property manager is just a go-between, usually, not a real power. Though if this property manager also rented the place to you, you can see if you can argue that they were also wrong to rent it to you without fixing it first – and/or if they managed the property with the previous tenant in place, it isn’t likely they didn’t know about the issue – the previous tenant would have complained to them for sure – and may have moved out as a result of their not fixing it if they were past their first year’s lease and a month-to-month tenant, as was their right to be once their lease ran out, and will be your right to be once your lease runs out if you want to have that flexibility. They may well have wanted to force that tenant to move out so they could raise the rent substantially – I’ve seen DC condo landlord do this, want a new tenant at a much higher rental rate, rather than offer the old tenant a new rent of a substantially (a few hundreds) higher rent amount, and rather than just raise the amount gradually every year. Since they can’t legally ever kick you out in DC if you pay your rent (barring extreme tenant situations), they do it by not fixing things, which makes tenants eventually move on. I don’t know why they do this – perhaps because maybe they can’t legally raise the rent on a tenant unless all the required broken stuff is fixed – but they often do it. Good luck getting some money, but focus on the future relationship, unless you plan to move at the end of the lease year.
    .
    If you don’t care about being soaked for the money back in your next year’s rent increase, or having your landlord just dig in their heels and refuse to fix the next thing that breaks, you can try taking them to small claims court for a small fee, arguing that the place was not habitable when it was rented to you. It might work – you have a much stronger argument than if it broke mid-lease and they just took their time fixing it, as that is the usual case with landlords. You may even have a case against the property management co if they managed it before and thus likely knew about the shower issue.
    .
    In my limited experience, one-off condo landlords in DC refuse to fix anything during a tenancy, unless it so major that the tenant will move out soon unless it is fixed – like your shower issue. My current landlord relied on the next tenant to walk through the apartment and check everything out, and ask for anything that was a deal-breaker to be fixed (which I did when renting my second place here, with the help of the previous tenant who showed me the place pointing out what needed to be fixed – even then, I only asked for the major stuff to be fixed, as I knew with this type of landlord that if I asked for everythignt that was broken to be fixed, I wouldn’t have gotten the rental.) Which is why you should definitely turn on all the faucets in a place when you are thinking of renting it the next time, as well as check out everything you possibly can, and negotiate what will be fixed before you move in and add fixing those items before the lease starts to the lease – to save yourself another hassle like this. Welcome to DC (meant as ironically as that sounds).
    .
    There are places in DC where you can get free advice advice on how you can proceed – you could try them – you can find them by googling. One is at the courthouse downtown, gives advice to both landlords and tenants, another one is the DC Tenant Advocacy Center – though both in my experience, have been unduly on the landlord’s side, and anti- tenants exerting the rights that they do have under the law, so question them thoroughly about what your options are. Other clinics are staffed by law students and may be associated with bar associations, law schools in town or with neighborhood non-profits that help people – you might find them by googling – I have no experience with them. There is also a small law firm now downtown that represents exclusively tenants that you can find by googling tenants rights center that you could get some advice from for a cheap consultation fee even if you don’t hire end up hiring them to represent you – you can represent yourself in small claims court, it is designed for that, and probably in landlord-tenant court if you have any options there – I found them the most useful in asking about my issue with my previous landlord – it will be hard to find other private attorneys in DC who are remotely on the tenant’s side, even when the law is, in my experience, unless you are already in court fighting an eviction case.
    .
    You will find that while DC is considered to be remarkably tenant-friendly due to things like eviction laws and TOPA laws, that when it comes to regular working, middle or even upper-middle class people who pay their rent on time and are good tenants and are just looking for their landlords follow basic landlord-tenant laws and for their housing to be maintained to an adequate standard, most people who are supposed to give tenants advice in DC can be remarkably UN-tenant friendly, as are all the real estate agents and almost all attorneys.

    • “You will find that while DC is considered to be remarkably tenant-friendly due to things like eviction laws and TOPA laws, that when it comes to regular working, middle or even upper-middle class people who pay their rent on time and are good tenants and are just looking for their landlords follow basic landlord-tenant laws and for their housing to be maintained to an adequate standard, most people who are supposed to give tenants advice in DC can be remarkably UN-tenant friendly, as are all the real estate agents and almost all attorneys.”

      You couldn’t be any more wrong if you tried.

  • Why is it necessary to shut off the water to the entire building if this is isolated to 1 units shower? To me, I’m no plumber mind you, sounds like all you should need is a phillips head and some vise grips. But what do I know..

  • Get a bucket and take a bucket bath/shower. I did Peace Corps and would regularly take bucket baths for two years. So three weeks isn’t a big deal. Plus pour a bucket of nice hot water over your head is one of the most luxurious feelings in the world.

    LP, am I right?

    • Come on, that’s ridiculous. OP is paying good money to live in an apartment with basic amenities, and your advice is, “Hey, don’t worry about it, do what I did in a third world country for two years!” Gimme a break.
      .
      OP, I am in the minority here, but I don’t think $25 per day is unreasonable for this. Not that if it had been on the fritz for 2 days you should get $50 off, but three weeks is ridiculous. You rented an apartment with basic amenities, and when those amenities aren’t available, you deserve a break. I would not file in small claims court, though – that puts the onus on you, and it should be on them. You should call the DC Tenant Advocacy Center, but I would do is withhold the $25 per day from your next rent check, and write them a letter telling them you have done so. You may want to negotiate with them, but that’ll at least get the ball rolling, and they’ll be reacting to you. Plus, I’d definitely plan on moving when your lease is up.

      • Agreed with dcd. I’m surprised that so many people on this thread don’t seem to think that a non-working shower is a Big Deal.

        • But it was working, it was just also malfunctioning, as many people have stated there are numerous ways to bathe in this situation, none ideal and all hopefully temporary. It should absolutely be fixed of course and 3 weeks seems like a long time though there are a lot of moving pieces for this small repair: 1) owner 2) condo assoc 3) property management company 4) plumber 5) notice to cut water to the whole building.
          .
          If OP get’s their own water bill from DC Water this stuff about cutting all the water is probably some BS to buy them time while the cheap plumber finds a hole in his schedule or something.

        • There’s nothing specific in the DC landlord-tenant law that requires that the shower work. It does require that tenants have access to hot water. There’s a good argument to be made that the property does not meet the expected standard (ie you rented a place with a shower and there’s an expectation that it should work properly). That said, there is no strict deadline on when a landlord has to accomplish the repair. Also, the idea that on day one you somehow can start accruing a financial penalty for anything that breaks in your apartment is completely ridiculous. People may feel it’s not “right” or not “fair” or whatever… but you don’t get to randomly assess penalties just because you’re inconvenienced. I’m sometimes boggled by the entitlement mentality. Sometimes things don’t go your way and the world doesn’t stop to take care of you.

  • I just got hot water back in my place after 1 week. They gave me $250 without asking. Offered to put me in a hotel too prior to the $250 credit. But I have a management company and a RICH landlord.