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Allergic to apartment. How to proceed?

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Allergic to apartment. How to proceed?

Postby shrimmyy » Sun Dec 20, 2020 4:45 pm

My partner has asthma and is allergic to dust mites. She lives in an old building that has been causing severe symptoms: irritated eyes, itchy/flaky skin, violent coughing/sneezing fits that wake her up in the middle of the night, even nausea and headaches.

We've tried everything: vacuuming regularly with expensive vacuums, dust mite killer spray, wrapping furniture and mattress with plastic, etc. I don't have any known allergies and even I still have bad symptoms within an hour of being in her apartment.

We've contacted her landlord, who said they can consider an early termination 6 months from now, but no sooner. This obviously isn't a good option.

What's the best way for us to proceed? We've considered the following:

* The bathroom does not have any ventilation, which is required by city code (and the moisture is probably contributing to the dust mites). Possible to invoke a violation of the "warranty of habitability," and give them 30 days' notice of our plan to move out?

* We're starting to look for a lease assignment / sublet, but unlikely during COVID.

* If all else fails, she could just break her lease and leave anyways. What's the likelihood of her being sued for unpaid rent? Or ending up on a "landlord blacklist"? (The landlords are a single building mom-and-pop.)

Thanks in advance for your help.
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Re: Allergic to apartment. How to proceed?

Postby TenantNet » Sun Dec 20, 2020 5:27 pm

We certainly do not know the science of dust mites and allergies. My understanding is that mites are present almost everywhere. So maybe you have someone who is greatly allergic and a space where they congregate. The Americal Lung Association has this page:
https://www.lung.org/clean-air/at-home/ ... dust-mites

Has your partner been allergic to mites in other situations?

You don't say, is the unit rent stab?

You say you've tried everything ... including a HEPA air filter?

As for the lease, you can move out whenever you wish, and the LL can't stop you. The problem is that the lease is a contract and unless there are grounds, the LL may claim you are responsible for the rent for the remaining months -- whether you live there or not.

You might get some relief because of COVID.

Do you think the mites have something to do with the space, or with the carpets and furniture you have brought in? If the former, if there is something the LL can do (and hasn't), you might be able to claim a violation of the Warranty of Habitability. Of course you will need to document anything you attempt, and letters to the LL.

The bathroom ventilation issue might depend on when the building was constructed. Most bathrooms will have a window or a ventilation duct.

Check the new rent laws. You might not have to give 30 days notice. (that's for ending the lease, not physically moving out).

If you "break" the lease, the new laws require the LL to attempt to mitigate his/her loss. Given the COVID situation, I don't know how that would fly. And of course, that only is an issue if you are in court. Some LLs will sue, others will not.

Given all that, keep in mind the LLs as you state, are small LLs who are less likely to be able to take a hit. We certainly have no love for LLs, but they have bills to pay too. Not suggesting that you suffer for six months, but negotiate.
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Re: Allergic to apartment. How to proceed?

Postby shrimmyy » Sun Dec 20, 2020 7:06 pm

Thanks for the response. Neither her or me has been allergic to dust mites in other situations, only in this building.

The unit is not rent stabilized.

We do have a HEPA air purifier in the room.

We think the mites have something to do with the space, not the furniture. Impossible to tell tho.

Any advice on how to negotiate? What things make sense to ask for / are likely to appeal to LLs? Early cancelation fee, helping to find another tenant, all the above?
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Re: Allergic to apartment. How to proceed?

Postby Friendly_Order_420 » Sun Dec 20, 2020 7:48 pm

Hi TenantNet! This is shrimmyy's partner.

Just want to add that the building was built in 1900 and that the bathroom does not have a window nor ventilation duct.

It does have a skylight but it is not operable.

I would think that this is a violation of the Warranty of Habitability? Unless older buildings are exempt from today's bathroom ventilation requirements.
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Re: Allergic to apartment. How to proceed?

Postby TenantNet » Sun Dec 20, 2020 10:40 pm

I often see ventilation ducts that are maybe 4" x 4" -- pretty small, but it likely has a duct or airway to the roof, and probably no fan. You might see a pipe sticking out of the roof. However, I do not know if it is legal. In general, if something was legal when the building was constructed, there is no requirement to upgrade to today's standards unless other renovations are taking place. For ducts, understand they have to do through interior spaces in the building and might not be possible, especially if there are other units above.

It might be a violation if the skylight in the bathroom is not able to be opened for air exhaust.

Friendly, have you taken tests with results for allergies before, i.e., do you have a doctor's note? Years ago, I went through such a test and they put various substances beneath the skin on my arm, sort of a pinprick, then looked at the results about 7-10 days later. It was basically a way to see what I might be allergic to.

There might be specialists that can check the air quality or environment within the apartment. I don't think engineers would do it. I just googled, "dust mite testing apartments NYC" and got a list of responses. That might cost some money, but would give you some leverage. You could also contact the NYC Department at https://www1.nyc.gov/site/dep/index.page and poke around their pages to see what they offered. They do check for gas and such. HPD has a dog to check for bedbugs. I went to the DEP site and searched for "dust testing" and got a list. Look around and see what they find.

Look to the fine print of your lease - they often detail things like early cancellation. Of course, I would notify the LL in writing via certified mail so they can't claim they don't know about the problem. You don't need absolute proof as you are not an expert, but describe the conditions and ask then to take steps to alleviate the problem. In the letter make reference to any previous contact with the owner, either in person, in writing, email or by phone. Detail everything. Also acknowledge his/her offer of six months release, but explain why that is not good for you.

You might offer to sublet or assign the lease, but that realistically would depend on how much time is left on the lease. Google "NYC rpl sublet assign"
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Re: Allergic to apartment. How to proceed?

Postby Landlords Boy » Mon Dec 28, 2020 1:37 pm

I'm allergic to dust mites, too. They prey on human skin flakes. The usual solution is to wash bodies, linens, and clothes frequently, vacuum and wash carpets, and so on.

If you've tried these things and they don't work, I'd suspect that something else is causing the allergy problem. A neighbor with a pet cat or bird, perhaps? But I'm not a medical professional. You should consult with one about your next step.
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