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msp1518

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Posts: 3
Reply with quote  #1 

We are a couple that moved in early December into a Brooklyn (Ditmas) located apartment on the first floor. Apartment was renovated nicely and is the nicest one in the building. Below it is the furnace/boiler, which is old and has some troubles. Building owner refuses to replace it.

Mid-way through December we complained of filth in the apartment, thought it was likely soot in the air. Evidence was obvious. Management refused to discuss, so we were forced to call 311. City came in and found three health code violations (two "serious") in basement with boiler, shut it down. No CO2 found in our apartment, but it was certainly dirty from soot. CO2 was found in basement at low levels.

No heat or hot water for a day while boiler was repaired. Money was spent to send in cleaners and they cleaned our place, saying on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the dirtiest, apartment was a 5.

It's now four weeks later and there is soot in the apartment yet again! We can smell an oil like oder and are very angry. Plus, I am having some slight breathing problems and am sneezing a lot.

Want out of the lease and full last month + security back.

What are my rights? We cannot live like this. It is filthy and unhealthy! My cats have white fur, which has turned black! Management doesn't care, says they will just fix the boiler again. Won't pay for cleaning our clothes, which need to be dry cleaned to get rid of soot.

There have been plenty of other problems. Loss of heat and hot water on four occassions in Decmber and early January. Problems with the shower. Sink, etc. Lots of shoddy work done in renovating apartment before we moved in. I could list issues all day long, but the soot is the big one and something we just cannot live with.

OHlandlord

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Posts: 3,779
Reply with quote  #2 
If you reported the problem and the LL took prompt steps to correct, there is little you can do.  The LL is required to take prompt steps to correct.  Having the heat and hot water down while repairs are made is expected.  You would have the same inconvenience if you had to repair the furnace or hot water tank in your own home.  If the problem is re-occuring, you again need to notify the owner of the problem and give them time to correct.  Write a letter asking for the furnace to be fixed and the apartment cleaned (they may or may not clean it again).  Send it by certified mail, return receipt requested and keep a copy.  You need to do this for every repair you need done.  State laws usually require you to give the LL notice of any problem and allow them time to correct before you can take any further action (such as breaking a lease).  If the same problem continues over and over again (not just twice), you may be able to take further steps.

If this is an oil fired boiler (and it sounds like it is oil heat) it is normal to smell some oil.  This happens with any oil furnace.  It is a byproduct and a normal part of an oil fired system.  The owner likely can't easily replace it as it will cost many thousands of dollars to replace a central boiler like this.  (It is much cheaper and easier to replace individual furnaces than a central boiler unit!)  He can, however, get the parts to fix it correctly.  The city can tell you if there are any further health or safety code violations or if the boiler meets code requirements.  You may want to inquire if boiler systems need to be checked periodocally in your city, and when was the last time that this one was inspected.

In the meantime, while you are waiting for repairs, buy some filters for the vents to keep the soot filtered out of your unit.  (They sell them at hardware stores and in catalogs.)  This will prevent soot from entering your unit.  The soot is likely from incomplete burning of the oil and can be fixed by cleaning the boiler or replacing the nozzle.  Also, if you don't already have one in your unit, buy a CO detector to be safe.  (They cost less than $20, are battery or electric operated, and you can take it with you when you leave.  Better to be safe!)  This will give you a warning if the CO level is unhealthy.

Request repairs and take steps to minimize the inconvenience.  In your next apartment, research the type of heat & hot water before signing a lease.  Additionally, get renters insurance to cover any loss you have on your possessions for problems in the rental.  If there was a plumbing leak or a fire, you would not be covered for these things.  It may pay off in this type of situation also.  It would not hurt to research this.  This insurance is cheap.

Finally, you mentioned other problems.  Plumbing, a sink, a shower, each sounds as if it is in a different area.  Have you sent the same type of requests for each of these and has the owner taken steps to repair promptly?
msp1518

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Posts: 3
Reply with quote  #3 
OK, we have no idea how the soot is getting in here because this is not an apartment with vents. It's the kind of heat from steam. I don't know what you call them, but they have those medal like units that you turn on or off. How water steam something. Sorry, I am nore sure how to describe. I am having a complete block on this.

The oil smell is THICK. I am not stupid. I know oil burns and can have an odor, but this is not normal. I owned my own home with oil heat and know full well what is or is not normal. It smells so much that it makes us sick to our stomachs and the management refuses to say they can smell anything.

It seems insane that this can happen again and again and it's OK. It's unhealthy and it will ruin everything we own.

We have air filters running in the bedroom and the living room and they are black inside. It's $95 to replace each filter and we would have to do it weekly. How the hell can we afford that? Not to mention it doesn't do a darned thing. My white cat has black for on his paws and belly.

As for the heat and hot water being down, please note this has happened on at least three ocassion that had nothing to do with the boiler being rapaired. It happened because it is old and in terrible shape. It keeps breaking down.
OHlandlord

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Posts: 3,779
Reply with quote  #4 
I don't know what kind of filter you have.  I've never heard of any filter costing $95!  This must be from some type of air purifier or something you own.  Those devices are yours.  I'm talking about any cold air returns you have in your unit.  Put furnace type filters in these to prevent any dirt from backing up through these.  I assumed you had radiators (either hot water or possibly oil fired radiators) in your unit.  But you may also have a cold air return to allow the colder air to drop to the basement.

If you can't figure out how the soot(?) is getting in, how can you attempt to stop it?  There has to be some opening that goes to the basement somewhere in that unit.  Otherwise, there is no way any soot could enter.  Look for one.  If you can't find an opening, ask the owner's furnace/boiler repairman to try to find an opening when he comes.  It could be arround your pipes, a cold air return, cracks under the plumbing fixtures, etc.

The closer your are to the oil boiler or furnace, the stronger smell it will have.  You're as close to it as anyone can get.  And when it is burning incompletely, it will have a stronger odor.  If the radiators in your rooms are also oil fired, they will smell like oil too.  (So you may be getting it from the basement and inside your rooms.)  Check the radiators for leaks also.  (Look, don't touch of course.)

Unless the building inspector says this is hazardous or doesn't meet code, it is an inconvenience.  Please post your state and I will look for other rights you may have under your law.
msp1518

Registered:
Posts: 3
Reply with quote  #5 
We are in Brooklyn, NY.

The radiators are steam heat. They do not smell like oil at all because they are water based from what I can tell. We have not been able to find any air returns at all and believe me, we have looked. The only thing I can think is that the heat unit in the bedroom is walled off with a medal grate that we cannot take off or see through. Perhaps there is a return in there. Not sure. So basically, there are no filters here. I was refering to my own air purifyers, purchased at sears.

There are small cracks and holes in the floor around a number of water pipes and I had the landlord cover them up, though the job they did was poor. Parts of the wood floor in the bedroom are shoddy and there is spacing between the wood. If you shine a flashlight at them in the dark it looks as though you can see right into the basement.

This not just an inconvenience. My wife coughs now all the time. My throat is always sore and my two cats are sneezing. Soot is dangerous. If I take a tissue and wipe the inside of my nose, the tissue is black! We are breathing this stuff in and that is frightening and making us miserable. No one should have to live like this. I've lived in a number of apartments in a number of cities and never come across something like this before.
OHlandlord

Registered:
Posts: 3,779
Reply with quote  #6 
May I ask, how come the "Apartment was renovated nicely and is the nicest one in the building." and yet "Parts of the wood floor in the bedroom are shoddy and there is spacing between the wood. If you shine a flashlight at them in the dark it looks as though you can see right into the basement."  These two descriptions don't even sound like the same place.

Get some expanding foam and shoot in the cracks around every water pipe and gas pipe that comes into your unit.  Put some weatherstripping around all the windows. If you can, put a cheap wall to wall area rug over the bedroom floor.  Then call the health department about whatever is entering your unit.  This does not sound like residue from an oil fired boiler.  Is there an incinerator in the building?  Something strange is going on there that needs to be addressed.  I have lived in many buildings with oil boilers and have an oil furnace in my own home.  There is no residue of this kind, although there is an oil smell.  Even when the furnace was malfunctioning, there was nothing of this kind.  You need the health department there.

Where is the vent pipe for the boiler located?  Go outside and look around the building.  It may be on the roof or on the side of the building somewhere.  Perhaps it is shooting the smoke close to a window?  Is there one room that is worse than the others?
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