Apartment Guru: Living in an Unfinished Building

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unfinished apartment adviceDear Apartment Guru,

I moved into a new building before some major parts of the shared areas were completed. Our elevators only work occasionally and electricity is turned off and on at random during the day. There is still no carpeting in the hallways and sometimes I find the front door has been propped open by workmen.

I pay a lot for this "luxury" space and believe that someday the building will be completed and lovely. But for now, can I ask for a lower rent or do you have some other suggestion for helping me to muddle through this?

-- Getting Less Than What I'm Paying ForDear Less Than,

It sounds like you are at least on the right track hanging on to the belief that "someday the building will be completed and lovely." It might help you to take things a step further and actually check with your building's management to see when that belief might turn into a reality. While most of the time they can't provide you with an accurate schedule of construction for power outages and unplanned hikes up the stairs, at least knowing when to expect both completion and loveliness will help you to maintain sanity in the meantime.

Zev, a construction foreman working on a new building in Brooklyn, N.Y. says, "Sometimes the trick is getting to know the crew (working on your building) a little bit. That way you might be able to get a little extra TLC during the construction process."

You don't have to do much, just show a little concern. Ask them how they are and how the job is going. Offer them the occasional cold drink on hot days and hot drink on cold days. A dozen doughnuts will turn you into a superstar.

"You can probably get them to knock on your door to let you know the electricity is going out so that you can be prepared," Zev suggests. "Or they might even check to see if you need to go down or up on the elevator before they close it."

If you realize, however, that things are just flat-out unbearable or that you have no interest in becoming buddies with a construction crew, you are not entirely without options.

Gary Dunn, a real estate lawyer in Garden City, N.Y. suggests, "The first step is to review the lease." There might be some reference to the problems you are facing which will make it easy to have your rent reduced. Otherwise, Dunn says, a tenant can "approach the landlord and request a reduction of rent based on a breach of Warranty of Habitability, in that some things are not working properly."

Dunn does caution, however, that withholding rent is a bad idea. "It might be a basis on which the landlord may commence eviction proceedings." In other words, you might get kicked out.

While a less-than-luxury hallway isn't the end of the world, the frustrations of living in a construction site is a complicated proposition for even the most optimistic of us. So while you believe that someday your home will be lovely, Less Than, today it is simply a pain in the walk-up (a walk-up for which you did not sign on and are paying too much to put up with!)

So, any steps you take to make yourself feel better in the meantime are not only suggested, but encouraged.
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