Q: In January, I moved to a commercial two bedroom apartment on the Upper West Side. Days later, an intestinal rehabilitation began in the apartment above me, which flooded me with noise all day. As a high school teacher, I had to leave home to teach my Zoom classes elsewhere. My landlord is not going to tell me when the job will be done and today the contractor informed me that the demo caused a leak in my ceiling. I don't know what to do right now. Please help.
ON: Your landlord should at least fix the leak and let you know when construction will be completed.
"It doesn't make sense that they don't give you a schedule," said Michael Mintz, executive director of MD Squared Property Group, a Manhattan real estate manager.
Your landlord could make your life more tolerable in other ways during this process. Mr Mintz suggested giving tenants noise-canceling headphones to drown out the noise, setting quiet lunchtimes for workers to take lunch breaks, and granting rental concessions if necessary.
You may feel powerless, but you have leverage. You could potentially terminate the lease and request a constructive eviction as you cannot be in your apartment during the day. "It is usually quite difficult for a tenant to prove that the conditions in the home are leading to a constructive eviction," said Jennifer Rozen, an attorney who represents tenants. "But during Covid, if the tenant is expected to spend most of their time in the apartment, the judges may be more lenient with this defense."
If you moved out, your landlord would be trying to find a new tenant in a market where rents are falling and vacancies are rising. Most likely, your landlord needs you. So keep this card close to your vest. You may need to use it.
Request in writing at short notice that management fix the leak and repair damage to the ceiling immediately – and you will receive a schedule. Also, ask for a rent reduction as the constant noise can violate your habitability guarantee, a state law. You may even be able to obtain an injunction against the landlord to stop the work or complete it within a set period of time if the conditions turn out to be disruptive. Your case would be stronger if the landlord rented the apartment to you because they knew the work was going to start and wouldn't disclose that information, said Robert J. Braverman, a Manhattan real estate attorney who has handled construction defects cases.
Another way: call 311 and ask the Department of Buildings to dispatch an inspector to look for violations, dangerous conditions, or illegal work. The department could issue an order to stop work if hazardous conditions are found. That would bring you some peace of mind.
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