How to Handle Unsafe Facade Conditions Caused by Tenants
Tenants can cause unsafe conditions on your building's façade, especially during the summer months. Tenants may start placing items on the window ledge, such as plants and flowers, for the sun exposure. Tenants may attach something to the façade itself, such as a clothesline to take advantage of the heat to dry clothes, or they may improperly install air conditioners in the window to escape the heat.
Tenants may even start setting up makeshift recreation areas on fire escapes to enjoy cooler night temperatures outside. Any obstructions on a fire escape are a problem because a fire escape is a critical part of a building's emergency plans. You hope your tenants never have to use it, but if they do, it needs to be ready and reliable.
The Building Code and New York City Local Law 11/98 mandate that the building's exterior and fire escapes are to be kept safe. So at a bare minimum, every five years an engineer or architect performing the Local Law 11 façade inspections looks for any unsafe conditions. Considered unsafe are any items or debris, such as flower pots, blocks or bricks (such as those used to secure window air conditioners), personal items, or anything that could fall from windows, fire escapes, or obstruct egress. These unsafe conditions could be a big problem for you, says attorney Todd Nahins. If the item falls down and hurts someone, you could be liable.
In addition to opening yourself up to personal injury liability, if a DOB inspector finds an unsafe condition on his own, you could also get hit with a violation of Section 27-127 of the city's Administrative Code, which requires you to maintain your building in a safe condition. Either way, even though the tenant is causing the condition, you're the one who'll get hit with the violation. For these reasons it's important for you to act quickly to get the tenant to remove an unsafe façade condition that he's causing.
Eviction Is Last Resort
If you discover that a tenant is causing an unsafe façade condition that could result in a DOB violation, you can seek the tenant's eviction as a last resort, says Nahins. Most leases bar this type of tenant-caused façade condition, he says. Also, if tenant-caused conditions lead to violations being issued against you by a city agency, you could seek the tenant's eviction for this reason.
But before you spend the time and money suing to evict a tenant, try to get the tenant to voluntarily remove the unsafe façade condition. Here's what to do.
Get Tenant's Compliance
Take the following four steps to get the tenant to comply:
Step #1: Check lease. Causing an unsafe façade condition violates a common lease clause that bars the tenant from attaching items to the windowsills or exterior walls of the apartment. Also, most leases have clauses requiring the tenant to get your permission to install an air conditioner. Your lease may bar the tenant from changing the air conditioner without the owner's permission or may bar the tenant from installing an air conditioner without the owner's consent. Therefore, you can deny your consent to an air conditioner installation, or grant it on the condition that the air conditioner is properly installed (for example, by requiring the tenant to hire a professional to install it).
If your lease has a clause like this and the tenant has improperly installed an air conditioner without your consent, you can ask the tenant to remove it or to hire a professional to install it.
Step #2: Give oral warning. Ask the tenant to remove the unsafe façade condition. If the tenant has improperly installed an air conditioner, have the tenant hire a professional to properly install it.
Step #3: Send polite letter. If, despite your oral warning, the tenant refuses to correct the unsafe façade condition, send the tenant a polite but firm letter asking him once again to do so. We've provided two Model Letters: Get Tenants to Remove Unsafe Façade Condition, that you can adapt to your situation.
Step #4: Send “get-tough” letter. What if your polite letter doesn't work? You'll have to get tough. Send a second, more forceful letter. This letter reiterates the points made in the polite letter more emphatically, threatens eviction, and warns the tenant that he may be liable for any damage or injury caused by the unsafe condition. This is important, says Nahins, so the tenant understands that he too may be the subject of a lawsuit by an injured person.
Be prepared to follow through quickly on your eviction threat if the tenant doesn't remove the unsafe condition. If someone does get injured and sues you, a court may rule that you're liable, since you knew about the condition and didn't take quick action against it.
See The Model Tools For This Article
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