Q I am the president of a new tenants organization in a multifamily complex. What benefits come with being a tenants organization? What are the kinds of things we can expect to gain from our new association? I was told that once you are an organization, the landlord can not make any changes with first consulting with the organization. -- Germantown
A The biggest benefit of having a tenants organization is to gather strength and unity so that residents' collective complaints or ideas carry more weight in the eyes of management. In Maryland, a tenants' organization does not specifically force apartment management to do anything, but as an organized front, tenants are likely to be more effective in their dealings with landlords.
Since a mass of unhappy residents is more threatening to a management company's bottom line than one person, chances are an established association will have more success in dealings with landlords, forcing compromises or eliciting responses tenants may not otherwise get.
For example, a tenant group may find more power in complaints about repairs; help come up with a solution to parking problems; clarify rules and regulations in the building and inform tenants about their rights on the local, state and federal level; deal with management about rent increases; or initiate building-wide safety measures.
In the most serious instances, a tenants' organization might instigate a multi-tenant lawsuit.
The organization itself can work with building management to help foster a good community by holding occasional social events or by acting as an unbiased mediator for neighbors who have disputes with one another.
But just because an organization is in place doesn't mean a landlord will (or has to) consult with the group before instituting new policies or changing things around the complex.
"The tenant group has safety and power in numbers. It has the opportunity to respond" to management's actions or changes, said Michael Denney, Montgomery County's landlord tenant administrator.
"Tenants do have rights and can meet with landlords regarding any issue they feel is relevant or important, such as maintenance issues, rent increases, crime or lighting," he said.
If a group of tenants challenges management on an issue by taking legal action, Denney said, then a judge can grant relief only to those who are members of the tenant association. So if you live in a building with a tenant association but choose not to participate, you may not receive the benefits for which the group fights.
Denney says tenant associations in Montgomery County have the following rights, as enumerated by Chapter 29 of the county code:
* To organize.
* To assemble in common areas of a building.
* To freely distribute materials throughout the apartment community.
* To file complaints.
Similar rights exist in other jurisdictions, and your city's or county's local housing office will be able to answer specific questions about the rights of tenant associations in other areas. Often, staff members can help guide residents interested in forming a tenants associations through the whole process and then advise them on issues they may have with building management.
If an association is strong and obviously serious in its mission to make the lives of tenants better, it will probably wield more bargaining power with management. A powerful association generally is incorporated as a nonprofit organization, counts a majority of tenants as committed members, meets regularly and communicates well with management.
I just moved into a basement apartment in a rowhouse in the city and am running into a few challenges with living mostly underground. The worst is how my physical location hinders my cell phone service, which in turn hinders my social life. Every time I go out for a night on the town and am in the middle of text messaging the guy I am interested in, I have to cut off fun, after-hours banter when I return to my apartment. Do you have any ideas about how to keep this guy's attention even after I get back home? -- Washington
The biggest complaint of most basement-apartment dwellers is the lack of sunlight and consequent gloominess of their below-ground abodes. So, first, congratulations for being different, or at least for caring more about your social life than about potentially killing your plants or developing lack-of-light-induced depression.
If you do not already have a land phone line in your apartment, you should consider getting one, if only for emergency purposes. Assuming that you are facing this dilemma because you are much more comfortable text messaging your crush than calling him, the easiest solution would be to send him a final message of the night telling him that you are going home to sleep. Or, if you want to be more honest about the fact that you would gladly give up sleep to send him flirtatious text banter, you could send a message specifically telling him you live in a basement apartment that inhibits text messaging and will type tomorrow.
Sure, sure, it takes the fun out of the text dance, but do you really want to move apartments just to land a guy who likes to text message you rather than call you or hang out with you in person?
Besides moving, another solution to ensuring better mobile phone service is to test out how other cell phone carriers work in your apartment.
I'm not encouraging a seemingly impersonal world where people communicate solely via electronic means, but you could also continue to text your special friend late into the night in the comfort of your own home by going online and sending messages over the Internet, thereby not interrupting any late-night earth-shattering exchanges. If you're tech-savvy enough to rely so heavily on text messaging, then chances are you can figure out how to do this.
That said, while you're figuring out how to maintain your social life in the basement, you may as well make sure you have lots of good lamps and bright bulbs in your apartment in case your special texting friend or anyone else wants to spend some actual face time with you.
You could also contemplate placing mirrors around the apartment to reflect the light; putting up regular-sized window treatments over your windows, even if they are tiny, to make the place feel less underground; and adding fake or hard-to-kill plants or flower arrangements to brighten things up.
Do you have questions, comments or ideas about apartment life? Contact Sara Gebhardt via e-mail at email@example.com or by mail, c/o Real Estate Editor, The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071.