Q. I'm currently negotiating renovations with my landlord for a larger apartment that I'll be moving into shortly. The previous tenant lived there for 40 (!!!) years and the floors look like wet cardboard. I'd like the landlord to pay to refinish the floors but he cites the 80% carpet "rule," claiming that the floors will be substantially covered by carpet, it's not a big deal. My question has two parts:
(1) Do landlords commonly enforce the 80% carpeting rule, or only when there are noise complaints? My experience has been that the rule is only enforced when downstairs neighbors complain. It's an easy way for a landlord to intervene without getting his or her hands dirty.
(2) How can tenants who have an 80% clause in their lease negotiate for the landlord to refinish hardwood floors? Even if a tenant commits to carpet 80% of the floor, why should the remaining 20% look like garbage? If the landlord can't dictate where the 20% of uncarpeted floor is, do tenants have some leverage in requesting that, at the very least, certain areas are refinished?
A. Our experts agree that your first observation is correct.
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“The so-called ‘80% rule’ is not mandatory, and a landlord and tenant can negotiate whatever they want, practically speaking,” says real estate lawyer Cory Weiss. “If the downstairs neighbor doesn’t complain, you will probably never hear from the landlord on this issue.”
The 80% rule is, in fact, a handy crutch for landlords, says real estate lawyer Eric Goidel.
“Most landlords do not wish to be the carpet Gestapo and will generally only enforce the carpeting requirement when necessary to deal with noise complaints from a neighbor,” says Goidel. “It also gives the landlord ‘cover’ to be able to easily deal with nosie complaints in an objective manner and be able to assuage the complaining tenant by telling the tenant that the landlord has compelled the noisy one to carpet the apartment.”
(Interestingly, notes Goidel, co-op and condo boards can be more proactive, “even going so far as to set up an inspection 60-90 days from the start of a new tenancy. Some take a hefty move-in deposit, which is retained in the event it that the inspection reveals bare floors.”)
As for part two of your question, a landlord is only required to provide a habitable, damage free apartment, says Weiss.
Translation: Floors must be functional, not aesthetically pleasing.
Whether you can convince your landlord to refinish or replace the floors “is generally the product of which party has the leverage in the transaction,” says Goidel. “It would not seem unreasonable, however, for a tenant to ask the landlord to refinish a designated area of the apartment.”
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