Recently, TLP Instructor Michelle Itkowitz was interviewed for a national article entitled, “Worried your landlord is taking advantage of you? Here’s how to make them take you seriously!”, in hellogiggles. Below are some of the tips Michelle shared with Morgan Noll for the article.
Tips for Woman-Renters When Dealing with Male Landlords
(1) Know your basic tenant’s rights before you have a conversation with your landlord.
The number one way for woman tenants (or men tenants!) to have successful interactions with their male (or female!) landlords, is for the tenant to know her rights.
Many landlords are good people. But some are not. And a bad landlord will try to take advantage of the knowledge gap between himself and his tenant. Your landlord does housing all day long. It is his business to know the laws and rules about tenant’s rights. You, however, may never have had a bad housing situation, and, therefore, you have no reason to know the finer points of tenant’s rights.
Therefore, the first thing you should do is educate yourself. Shameless plug, that’s what we made the Tenant Learning Platform for, so that tenant’s could educate themselves for a low cost, without a lawyer, and without scouring the internet for piecemeal, dated, and conflicting information. But if the topic you need to brush up on is not something we have a class on in your jurisdiction, then by all means, scour the internet. Read recent articles on tenant’s rights in your geographic area. Other good resources are the websites of your local government agencies that deal with housing and free legal services providers in your neighborhood.
The more educated you are before a conversation with your landlord, the less likely the landlord is to be dismissive of you.
Before a lease renegotiation, check if in your jurisdiction. Here in New York State, for example, your landlord needs to give you a certain number of days’ notice before refusing to renew your lease or raising your rent more than 5%.
(2) Do not be afraid to ask questions and do not be pushed into quick decisions.
That first tip, however, does not mean that you should pretend to know things that you do not. If the landlord says something, and it does not sound right to you, question it! There are no dumb questions.
Recently, I had a tenant client whose landlord told her she had to sign a paper he was putting in front of her immediately, or she would soon be evicted. The landlord was lying. The tenant, however, was intimidated and signed the paper. Unfortunately, the paper said that she was waiving important rights. Fortunately, I was able to eventually get her rights back for her.
What she should have done was said, “OK, Mr. Landlord, I am unfamiliar with this situation. I am going to investigate my rights and get back to you by Wednesday of next week.”
(3) If there is a male roommate or partner in the apartment, you should be the point person with the landlord.
If the husband, the boyfriend, or the male roommate does the initial talking with Landlord…well…the landlord might perceive that this is who is in charge of the housing situation. Consider that it might be a better division of tasks for the woman to be the point person with Mr. Landlord.
(4) Keep interactions brief and professional, you have other things to do!
One of the first things I look at when tenants come to me with a landlord problem is her email or text exchanges with the landlord. Often, I don’t know how else to say this, the tenant is just too nice to the landlord. I am going to give you a real example below, cut and pasted from a real exchange.
“Good morning Andy,
I hope you are doing well and trust you’re ready for the weekend. I know I am. It’s been a long week.
I was wondering if you could tell me when we might be receiving a copy of the lease for our records? I know you said you would be sending it via email, but I wasn’t sure if it should be coming this week or next.
Also, thanks again for having a cleaner come clean the apartment. I appreciate that more than you know.
Sincerely and with kind regards,
I would advise tenants that the above email should have gone more like this:
Please send a fully executed copy of our lease for our records. You said you would send it by pdf in an email.
Your cleaner cleaned the apartment. Thank you.
(5) It’s your home. Do not take no for an answer when it comes to repairs and services.
The laws everywhere say that you are entitled to an apartment that is in habitable condition. There should never be conditions endangering your health or safety.
Know your rights, and if the landlord does not effectuate repairs in a timely fashion, then take things to the next level. In NYC the next step is to dial 311 and a City inspector will come and place a violation against the landlord if the apartment is not being maintained according to the NYC Housing and Building Code. If you want to know more, check out this Tenant Learning Platform class on getting repairs in your apartment.
If you complain to the landlord about needing repairs, the landlord does nothing, and you don’t take things to the next level, then you are just sending a message to the landlord that it is ok to ignore the need for repairs in your apartment. If you are not going to stick up for yourself in this world, who will?!