‘Can my apartment legally be called an apartment?’: Concerned renter asks TikTok to weigh in on basement unit

A student renting out a basement apartment has turned to TikTok for legal advice, and now, people are begging her to report her landlord.

TikToker and grad student K(@graduallypollutedmind) gained over 914,000 views and 750 likes when she uploaded a tour of her Philadelphia apartment — which she suspects isn’t exactly legal.

K’s shady rental situation isn’t the first we’ve seen go viral on TikTok. Recently, a tenant gained over 5.3 million views when she caught her landlord in a skeezy security deposit scam. Before that, an NYU student was horrified when the ceiling of her dorm bathroom completely “gave up.”

Now, K’s side-eye-worthy apartment is inspiring an important conversation about tenant rights all across the country.

According to K’s video, she began questioning the legality of her living situation after reading up on laws about basement apartments — specifically, those surrounding windows.

In K’s apartment, there’s only one tiny window in the entire unit — a window that she claims measures less than 20 inches. Additionally, the window is externally blocked by a deck.

“If I had to crawl out of my window, I can’t fit through that,” she says, pointing to the tiny crawl space where her window is located. “I don’t think it’s legal.”

TikTokers were quick to weigh in on the comments.

“This is a slumlord modification,” wrote @greta.harbinger.of.gloom.

“I hope your rent is cheap bc this isn’t safe,” commented @kristiananoel.

“for your safety move! if there is a fire or flash flood you might not be able to get out,” advised @mrsdlight.

According to Curbed Philadelphia, basic tenant rights in the city include:

  • A flush toilet in a room with a door

  • A (ventilated) bathtub or shower in a private room

  • A kitchen sink

  • A safe gas or electric cooking range

  • Running water and hot water

  • Heat at 68 degrees minimum from October through April. If you have control of your own heat (i.e., a thermostat), the landlord is not required to keep the heat at 68 degrees minimum.

  • Electricity

  • Windows or a ventilation system in every room

  • Two electrical outlets in every “habitable” room

  • Lighting in all public hallways

  • All repairs, including roofs, walls, windows and so on, have to actually do their job, and it is the landlord’s job to maintain them.

  • Landlords are responsible for extermination or vermin control before or after leasing.

  • Functional doors and windows

  • A lead paint certificate that assures you as a tenant that the property is lead safe, when the property was: 1) built before 1978 and 2) any new occupant is age 6 years or younger.

If Philadelphia residents’ homes do not meet one or many of these basic requirements, they recommend first reaching out to the landlord. “If that doesn’t work, it’s time to call 311 and report your complaint to the city,” it is stated.

“In the case that your landlord finds out that you made the complaint, you still have rights: Your landlord can’t retaliate by raising your rent, shutting off utilities or attempting to kick you out by abruptly terminating your lease. If that happens, reach out to the city’s Fair Housing Commission.”

As for the specific laws about basement windows in Pennsylvania, The Great Egress reports:

  • The window must be openable from the inside without the use of keys, tools or special knowledge.

  • If there is more than one sleeping room in a basement, a means of egress is required in each sleeping room.

  • It must provide an unobstructed opening with a minimum area of 5.7 sq. ft. (This requirement drops to 5 sq. ft. for grade floor or below-grade openings).

  • The height of the clear opening must be at least 24 inches and the width must be at least 20 inches.

  • The sill height must not be more than 44 inches above the floor.

  • If the sill height is below grade, the window must have a window well.

  • If required, the window well must be at least 9 sq. ft. in an area with a horizontal projection and a width of at least 36 inches each.

  • Window wells deeper than 44 inches must have permanent steps or a ladder that do not impede the opening of the window.

In a follow-up video, K explained why she lived in that apartment despite the potential safety risks.

Desperate to find an apartment before classes started and unable to tour any spaces before moving in, K grabbed the basement unit when it popped up on Zillow.

“Is it a nice place? No. But I didn’t think to look up all the laws in the area … I didn’t think Zillow was going to be listing an illegal apartment,” she states.

As for moving out, K explains that she’s a full-time student working two jobs, and she “doesn’t physically have time to do anything.”

“I get maybe five hours of sleep every night … Moving takes a lot of time … Moving also takes a lot of money,” she states. “Please don’t just come to renters telling them that they’re stupid for staying … You don’t understand their circumstances.”

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