Do I Reconsider Renting a Renovated Residency?

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I’m moving out of the dorms into a house with some friends. It’s my first lease, my first roommates I’ve chosen on my own: all the good stuff. But now I’ve learned that my landlord wants to remodel our kitchen. I’m ok with throwing out our old 90s stove and getting rid of a creaky, leaky fridge, but we’re talking about new cabinets and ripped-out plumbing. I learned this before I have signed the lease, which is a good thing. I haven’t consented to it yet, but I’m worried about finding another place to live all of a sudden. The town my college is in is pretty small. Housing gets snatched up quickly. The house is in a good location, and it is the right size and price. I just don’t know about living there while work is going on. If I were to live there, what would it really involve? Can they do something like this? How do I decide if I should do this or not?


The answer to your question depends on what you are willing to live with. Since you haven’t signed the lease yet, your potential landlord has the right to sign it to somebody else if you don’t want to live there. If you do want to live there while they remodel the unit, we recommend that you ask for the scope of work and timeline. It sounds like the scope of work is extensive, if they are going to change out the cabinets and replace plumbing. That type of work could take months, and during those months you won’t have a kitchen. Maybe you eat every meal in your school’s dining hall, so it isn’t a problem whether you can cook or not, but living in a construction zone should give you pause.


If you choose to live in this house, we strongly recommend trying to negotiate a discounted price. The last thing you want is to live in the unit at its full price while it is being remodeled. Living in a house during a remodel is a major inconvenience. There may be health concerns. If the house is an older one, the work may disturb lead paint or asbestos. Remodeling a kitchen is categorically different from installing, say experts behind residential hot tubs & spas. And according to Lyndhurst Lumber, a company that does residential construction in Lyndhurst, OH, a kitchen remodel can involve a complete redesign of the kitchen space. You, as the tenant, will have no say in the result of that redesign or any idea of what your kitchen will look like, and you won’t know the functionality of that space until it is finished.


You should learn as much about the redesign as possible, including an architectural plan of the final design if you haven’t seen that yet. Ask for a remodeling contract, knowing the difference between a good one and a bad one. You should also ask for a list of who they are hiring. Your safety and the safety of your home could be jeopardized if they try to cut corners. A permitted electrical contractor, for example, won’t blow out your fuse box, and every state has a searchable licensing board. The electrician licensing board is linked above, but licensing boards represent nearly every trade, and if you are going to live in a house under renovation you want to be sure the contractors are legitimate.


Another reason to familiarize yourself with the scope of work is to learn exactly what your house will look like once it is finished. The landlord may upgrade the kitchen—in which case, good for you!—or they may shrink the cove for the fridge and put in a smaller sink. If that is the case, at the end of work you are left with a kitchen that is less impressive than the one you signed the lease for. You should define what the terms of the remodel will be in your lease when you sign, delineating the scope of work, the length of time they will take to complete the scope of work, and the reduced rent price.


You have the right to “quiet enjoyment” of your property. Your landlord has a right to repair the property. For example, if the previous tenants broke the stove, your landlord has the right to come in and replace the stove, even if that means scheduling a repair job when you would rather be asleep (8 AM on a Saturday, for example). However, your rights include a right to be notified 24 hours in advance of your landlord conducting repairs. Construction will involve contractors entering and exiting your home on a daily basis. Optimistically, your landlord will communicate to them how important it is that they respect your boundaries, but if you have any issues or complaints consider that you are not the one paying the contractor. You will have to go through your landlord, hoping that they will bring up your issues with the builders. As you can probably see, your right to enjoyment and their right to repair are in conflict, but there are ways to ameliorate that conflict.


If you sign the lease, you can’t make the water flow back uphill and stop construction once it has started. If the property becomes uninhabitable, you do have the right to break the lease. Alternatively, you can petition your landlord to help you find alternative lodging. Either way, if you sign the lease you should anticipate things not going the way they were planned. This is a truism of construction: everything will take 50% longer than it should and cost twice as much. You do not want to be the one paying those overages.


If you sign and the landlord ends up in violation of your lease, you will want to retain an attorney. While you may be concerned about cost, according to the Ann Arbor Attorneys, the cost of retaining an attorney is rarely a set rate, but instead fluctuating based off of factors like location and ability to pay. Knowing the law will also protect you against potential abuses. Ask your school, as many colleges provide legal services that could recommend an attorney for you.


Finally, if you do not want to live in the house while it is being renovated, talk to your landlord about other available properties. We imagine they would be loathe to lose a customer when they already have somebody interested. If they don’t have properties available, or if nothing that they have will work for you, most landlords are willing to suggest other landlords who might have properties. While the search for a new apartment might stress you out, you could be happy that you did. Or, you might be happy to live in a house under construction at a reduced price. The choice is up to you; just be sure you know what you are choosing before you make it.


“It’s not what you achieve, it’s what you overcome. That’s what defines your career.” –Carlton Fisk

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