Ask Lucas 024: Do I Have To Fix That Window?
Leah is asking about a landlord’s responsibility to fix issues that might affect habitability verses cosmetic issues.
Ask Lucas, episode number twenty-four.
Lucas: Hey, what’s up everyone? Welcome to Ask Lucas. I’m Lucas Hall, from Landlordology and Cozy, and this is a bite size Q&A show, where I answer your questions about landlording and property management. I am a landlord. I live it day-to-day. I love helping people, and I love talking about landlording. I know. It’s a funny combination, right?
Today we’re going to talk about a landlord’s responsibility to fix issues that might affect habitability versus cosmetic issues that don’t. Habitability, that’s a tough one. I always stumble over that. Anyway, if you have a question, just go to AskLucas.com, and leave a recorded message, or call us with the phone number that’s on the site and leave a voicemail, and I’ll try to answer it in this podcast.
Today’s question is from Leah in Boston, and she has a very unusual situation, but it does strike a chord in me. It touches on basic landlord responsibilities, which I think is critical for everyone to understand.
If you’ve listened to the show before, you know that landlordology is a free service, provided by Cozy, and Cozy is an online property management tool that helps landlords and managers screen their tenants and collect rent online. The best part is, it’s completely free. It really, really is free. It’s what I use to manage all of my own properties, and I love it, and it’s truly saved me hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars every year, because I switched over to Cozy.
One of the perks of listening to Ask Lucas is that sometimes I will fill you in on happenings before they come to pass. For example, soon, Cozy is going to be releasing a new set of features. One of the most common feature requests that we get from managers is that they love using Cozy for rent collection, and they want to do more with it. They actually want to use it to collect one time fees, like late fees, or utilities, or parking charges, or storage fees, or anything else that might come up during the rental period.
As a landlord, I completely agree. I would totally use that, too. Guess what? In the next week, Cozy will be adding these features as part of its newly redesigned lease ledger. If you’re not familiar with what a lease ledger is, it’s the central point of tracking all the finances and the accounting pertaining to that lease, so that relationship between a landlord and a tenant, and what that lease balance is. That lease ledger is critical to get right, and we have spent the last twelve months really refining it and tweaking it so that it’s extremely useful, and extremely accurate, and extremely to the point.
I’ve seen the mock-up of it. I’ve seen the test. It’s awesome. It’s simple to use and easy to understand, and, honestly, we’ve looked around. There’s not another tool out there that displays it and makes it as easy to understand as what we’ve just done. No more complicated spreadsheets, no more outdated software that wishes it was a spreadsheet, but keep your eye out for that announcement on Cozy’s website. It’s really a game changer, and, again, Cozy’s completely free, so check it out at Cozy.co. That’s C-O-Z-Y.C-O.
Now let’s hear from Leah in Boston.
Leah: Hi. My name is Leah, and I’m from Boston. I have a tenant at will, who has a month to month lease, who is now complaining about a hole in a stained glass window. She’s lived here for about two years before she started complaining. The tenant is living in an apartment that I grew up in, with that same hole in the stained glass. I left the apartment well over twenty years ago, but my dad continued to live with that same hole until he died four years ago. I’ve completely remodeled the apartment, everything except for the stained glass, and she is paying way below market rent. She would never find an apartment like this for the rent she pays.
Anyways, when she first started complaining last year, I told her I grew up with that same hole, and my father has lived with that same hole, and the apartment is as is. She responded that it is my responsibility, the landlord, for all windows and yadda, yadda, yadda. Since it’s now fall, I decided to look into it today, and found out, surprisingly, that the cost to fix that quarter size hole is eighteen hundred dollars.
My question is, can I tell her that I’m not fixing the hole, and if she can no longer live with it, she should move. I’d love to take the apartment, hole and all.
Thanks, guys. I hope you can help me with my question.
Leah: Hi, Leah, and thank you for the question. Welcome to the show. I am excited to answer it, because it does touch on basic landlord responsibilities, and so let me just recap for the audience. We have a tenant in your house. Lived there for two years, and has just now started to complain about a quarter size hole in a stained glass window, and that hole has been there for over twenty years, and has not caused a problem in that time, but all of a sudden, now it’s a big issue.
Let’s talk about your options. I think your question was, do you have to do something about it, and you went ahead and got a quote, and that quote was eighteen hundred dollars, which doesn’t surprise me at all, because stained glass windows are sometimes very complicated and very fragile, or fragile, as I like to say. With that said, it’s difficult to swallow that pill. Eighteen hundred dollars for a quarter size hole in something that’s been there for twenty years. I don’t think so.
What do you do about it? I think it’s important to distinguish between two types of situations. One is whether or not that window is an outward facing window, exterior window, otherwise. If it’s an exterior window, and there’s a hole in the glass, then potentially the house is not sealed from the elements. It’s tricky, because, yeah, a quarter size hole is not that big. A squirrel is not going to go through that, but maybe a little mouse could, and definitely cold air, and rain or snow, or anything else could potentially get in. It just makes the house uncomfortable.
If that’s the case, then you probably should do something. I do know that most counties do have laws that state that a landlord is responsible for sealing the house, reasonably sealing the house. That means all the windows have to shut correctly. Sometimes they even make you have screens on the windows, every window that opens, and so there are usually specific laws about that, and they don’t ever like to see holes in things, whether it’s doors, or windows, or screens, just because bugs get in and cause infestations, and it gets nasty.
If you do have the window, and it’s between two interior rooms, like sometimes there’s a decorative stained glass window that separates a living room and a dining room, then you don’t have to do anything about it. Seriously, that’s just a cosmetic issue, and it’s not hurting anybody. As long as it’s not super sharp, then there’s no reason to touch it. I would say if it’s an interior window, I would just tell the tenant, “Hey, listen, the cost is eighteen hundred dollars. I gave you a courtesy of getting an estimate. I’m not fixing it. End of story. You’re on a month-to-month lease. If you don’t like it, you can leave. That’s just how it is, and if you cause a lot of major issues for me with this, if you continue to cause issues for me, I’m just going to terminate your lease and find somebody else who is not such a pain in my side.” That’s harsh, but I think it’s ridiculous that she’s complaining about this thing that she’s lived with for two years, if it’s not an exterior window.
Going back to the exterior window, if it is, then I think you should try to fix it. I’m not saying you spend eighteen hundred dollars, but what you should do is talk to a window person, or a glass manufacturer, or somebody, or even just get a handyman, to cut either a small piece of glass that’s the size of the broken area, and seal it around that broken area, so that the light still comes through, and it’s clear glass, and it doesn’t affect the color of the stained window, or go ahead and get a larger piece of glass that fits into the actual frame of the stained glass window, and put it on the exterior side. I think that’s a great solution. A single pane of glass, even thick glass, is only going to cost you somewhere between twenty and forty dollars, and then to seal it in, you just need some window caulk or window glaze. It’s something that any handyman could do in a matter of maybe thirty minutes, and now you have that seal. The weather’s not getting through, and it’s not affecting the color of the window at all.
I think that’s a great solution, and not only are you making the tenant happy, or at least silencing the tenant, I should say, you are, also, sealing up your house better, so it will create a better environment for everybody, and prevent water damage later on, and protect the window, too, from outside forces like baseballs or anything else that might potentially damage it.
I hope that helps. That’s a crazy situation, and I wish you the best. I hope that your tenant just doesn’t cause you any more issues on this. Good luck, and hopefully you’ll get your apartment back some time soon. Take care.