Tenants of a Manhattan apartment are seeking over $50,000 in damages from their landlords in a dispute over interior decor.
The landlords, one an interior designer, remodeled the apartment in a swanky building using IKEA products. The tenants complain that while the new kitchen is functional, the cheap price tag of the remodel made them the target of ridicule by well-heeled friends and guests.
As the case makes news and travels across the blogosphere, it is no surprise that many readers view this suit as frivolous. The tenants are deemed “snobby” with misdirected priorities. Yet, these are tenants who were paying more than $25,000 per month for a coveted address. And, they live in circles where litigation has taken the place of the duel in restoring one’s injured dignity. They had precious little choice but to sue!
All joking aside, though, this lawsuit is important for the precedents that could be set for other rental property owners. Is it implied in the rental agreement that the tenant has to like the remodel? Does the landlord have a duty to spend a specific amount of money on upgrades, say for instance, a percentage of overall rent or overall property value? Are wealthy landlords held to a higher standard – and higher remodel budget? And whom should they consult when deciding what constitutes proper taste in a city that has embraced such avant-garde trends as invisible plastic furniture and graffiti art? Hard cases such as these have the potential to make bad law.
These tenants allege that IKEA furnishings and appliances are commonly believed to be a budget brand, and that discerning guests found the overall appearance unattractive. But a cursory look at general opinion, as written in online customer reviews of IKEA products, reveals that the brand doesn’t do all that badly among consumers. In fact, one reviewer suggests that the clean lines and European-style shopping experience at IKEA’s stores account for its recent expansion in the U.S. market.
IKEA may not tout a high price tag, but they have demonstrated an enlightened social conscience, having recently donated over $22 million dollars for children’s charities that have helped combat disease, eradicate poverty and stave off hunger for millions of children around the world. Wouldn’t it be ironic if IKEA kitchens become the latest designer craze in Manhattan?
There’s yet another irony to this case – the fact that high end appliance brands don’t always fare better than IKEA on customer review sites. In fact, the higher the price tag, the greater the expectation, and the more terse the criticism from consumers.
Apparently, the same can be said for rental properties.
Perhaps the landlords could have avoided this lawsuit by not promising to remodel, waiting until after the tenants left, or consulting the tenants about the plans before they started the project – but then the landlords would have had to ask themselves whether the burden of having tenants second-guess every step of the construction would have been worth $50,000.
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Disclaimer: The information provided in this post in not intended to be construed as legal advice, nor should it be considered a substitute for obtaining individual legal counsel or consulting your local, state, federal or provincial tenancy laws.