Territorial cat wins pissing contest. How do I exit gracefully?
December 3, 2008 3:24 AM   Subscribe

How should I go about approaching my landlord about breaking my loosely adhered to lease for a living situation that is no longer agreeable? Rental drama ensues..

Forgive me for being overly verbose. I've slept two hours in the past two days and am exhausted & upset.

I rent an apartment within the landlady's home and share a bathroom with another tenant who rents a single room located on the same floor. I have my own bedroom, kitchen and living room.

I was out of town ten days for Thanksgiving and when I got home, entered my apartment and got ready for bed, I noticed a peculiar and unpleasant odor. I investigated with my nose and found that my bed cover, blanket, sheets, pillow and foam mattress pad were soaked with urine. I was completely irritated and assumed it was the dog that lived here since the entire area of the bed was stained. I spent all night cleaning my bedroom, and had to remove all my bedding for laundering.

I really like the dog so I was not upset with her, just irritated about the situation. Apparently, while I was gone, my apartment had been accessed by the landlord (twice that I know of) for legitimate reasons, though not entirely the kosher way to enter a tenant's apartment. One was to fix the slow dripping faucet (no advance notice given, I didn't even know she knew about it) and then to remove the portable heater from my bedroom (again, no notice of entry and certainly no exigent circumstances).

In the large scheme of things I don't mind her entering my apartment, but essentially, my door being opened and likely left open so the cat could get in and piss all over my bed and my chair has caused me significant headache and cost me about $300 in damages.

Okay. Fine. Cats are animals, and I also like the cat. The person living on the same floor as me is the owner of the cat. I know exactly why the cat pissed on my stuff -- I moved in with my cat and while I kept him inside my apartment to slowly introduce them, there are some obvious territorial issues. I took my cat to my parents house while I was out of town but naturally the other cat was interested in getting in to my apartment.

I told the Landlord what happened and I didn't want to make a big deal of it since I own a cat and would be horrified if my cat had done the same thing. I had told the cat's owner in passing earlier that morning that my bedding had been peed on, the dog being the culprit. (Sorry dear heart, I didn't mean to blame you!) I spent 6 hours after I got home from work today laundering my bedding. My chair and my mattress pad are hopeless since they are made of foam and can't be cleaned. I was resigned to this fact and spent the evening mentally calculating where in my budget I could accommodate the replacement of my things.

I was very good about making sure my apartment door was shut all day and the only time I let the cat in after the incident was when I was saying hi to my housemate who was standing in the hallway with his cat. He asked if I wanted his cat out of my apartment. Since I was there to observe/supervise the cat I told him it was a good idea for the cat to leave it's scent in my apartment for when my cat returned so they could become aware of each other's presence. I read that was the way to do it somewhere, but it seems to have created a turf war.

After about 15 seconds of the cat rubbing her head on various surfaces and peeping into an open closet door (always in my sight) she left and I closed the door. That was the only time to my knowledge the cat was in my apartment today. With getting the laundry finally done and put away, I crawled into bed only to discover a huge wet spot of urine on my wool duvet! This being the only warm blanket I have in a house that currently does not have heat.

This was it. I just lost my nut. I started to cry out of frustration, irritation, anger and at what felt like futility. I did every thing I could to ensure that my personal property was protected from further damage and now I have possibly ruined a duvet that can only be dry-cleaned (does that even remove urine?) and my mattress. Needless to say, I'm concerned about the cat continuing to gain access to my apartment and potentially ruining more furniture. I just moved my new couch in today.

This situation is the culmination of a handful of mildly questionable things that have arisen since my tenancy here. First was when I was moving stuff in (lease signed, rent paid, etc.) I came by one day to find a sleeping bag and an open suitcase laid out in my living room. There was somebody squatting there. I was kind of surprised but again, didn't make a big deal of it. When I came back the next day to move more stuff in, the person's stuff was still there. The landlord was letting someone stay in my apartment.

There have been multiple instances of the landlady entering my apartment without my knowledge and it's always been obvious by things put in, taken out, etc. While I appreciate her efforts, I don't feel like I have any privacy. The landlord is really lovely and I am glad to know her, but I just don't see how I can live here without feeling hostage to a territorial cat and helpless to prevent the destruction of more of my property. Tonight was the final straw. I'm not confident that my things are going to be safe and really, at this rate I cannot afford to live here (at the rate I'm having to replace things).

Is it reasonable for me to expect that this situation is one where it would be appropriate for me to move out without losing my deposit/security? I'm three months rent into a six month lease and I've no intention of risking any more of my stuff. I keep my door shut at all times. That should be enough. I shouldn't have to wonder who's been in my apartment and what for, I don't think anybody should be opening my door and leaving it that way so the cat can get in, and I'm just wondering how much of the financial responsibility I should bear to replace my damaged things. I just want out of here.

I like my landlord and was really excited to have found this place but it's turning out not so good.

Advice? Sympathy? Reason? How should I deal?
posted by loquat to Human Relations (15 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
lawyer up?
posted by sunshinesky at 3:39 AM on December 3, 2008


You need to move somewhere where your space is respected.

I'm reading between the lines and guessing that you would be uncomfortable in demanding your deposit returned. For me- I'd have words with the landlord and see if I could recover some of the deposit etc- but my decision wouldn't hinge on the outcome - I'd chalk it up as one of life's lessons and just move.
posted by mattoxic at 3:43 AM on December 3, 2008


Do you have a tenants' rights organization in your area, or a free legal clinic, or some other resource that can tell you what your rights are in this situation? (Your profile says PDX, and a quick google search turned up this organization, but someone local to you can probably give better suggestions.)

Because I think you should definitely move, as well as ideally be compensated for the cleaning and replacement costs. But I can remember how powerless it can feel sometimes as a renter, when the landlord is holding the deposit and making legalistic threats, and you don't have the money to simply pay rent on two places at once. But a tenants' rights group, or a legal clinic, can let you know how to extricate yourself in a way that isn't crippling to your situation.

That sounds like a terrible situation, and I wish you all the luck in resolving it.
posted by Forktine at 4:13 AM on December 3, 2008


What about just getting a lock for your door? Stops cats from getting in, and stops the landlady from letting the cats in (and incidentally wandering in herself, but you can blame the cat).
posted by aeschenkarnos at 4:19 AM on December 3, 2008


Graceful exit? You like your landlord? This is nuts. Let's make a list:

1) Your landlord allowed another person to live in your apartment while you were paying rent on it.
2) Your landlord frequently enters your apartment without notice or evidence of an emergency situation.
3) Your landlord frequently removes articles from your apartment without notice or consent.
4) Your apartment is currently without heat.
5) After your landlord enters your apartment without notice, she fails to properly secure the door, allowing an animal to enter at will and damage your property!

I don't know where you live, but I believe in most jurisdictions a landlord is at least responsible for supplying minimal services including running water and a means of heating your apartment. Not sure if a space heater cuts it, but if she wanders in and takes that heater away without notice or providing some other means of heat, that's pretty weak.

IMHO, you need to be reimbursed for the damage to your property, your deposit back in full, and out of there. Find a local tenants rights organization to see how you can make that happen.

PS: Dog piss is not such a big deal. Cat piss is another thing. It's a much more nasty, acrid smell. I'm not sure if laundering will eliminate it completely without a few rounds of bleach thrown in. Even if you can't detect the smell anymore, be prepared for your cat to go nuts trying the cover up the trace odors with his own. Is your neighbor even embarrassed that his cat ruined your only remaining source of warmth in this tenement in which you both live? If you haven't mentioned it, maybe you should.
posted by rocketpup at 4:43 AM on December 3, 2008 [4 favorites]


Definitely contact a tenant's right organization to see what your options are.

Then start looking for a new place to live, for all the reasons rocketpup enumerated. Document all your losses and replacement costs, and once you have a new place lease signed, let the landlord know and find out when you can expect your deposit back.

You sound like a good person wants to be nice and liked by everyone, who feels powerless, and as a result has avoided standing up for herself. This landlady has taken egregious advantage of you.

She had someone squatting in your apartment - and you didn't make a big deal about it? You like this landlady - and you have no heat? And she enters your apartment without notice? And you're worried about exiting gracefully?

If a friend told you about this living situation, what advice would you give her?

In the next place you live, if the landlord violates the lease, do not sweep it under the rug. Do not make nice. Be civil, but make it clear that it is unacceptable. If you don't protect yourself, this will only happen again somewhere else.
posted by canine epigram at 6:07 AM on December 3, 2008


As a landlord myself, my advice is to GET THEE TO A LEGAL CLINIC.

Seriously, your landlord is absolutely frickin' horrible and needs to be punished or she'll just do this to the next poor bastard who comes along. It is your duty to nail her on this as hard as the law will allow.

Here in Ann Arbor, you can get your landlord to sign a note saying they will not enter your apartment without your written approval except in emergencies (ie, they smell gas or smoke). Dunno if that applies where you are, but if it does, it's a nice way of making it clear that because you're paying rent, it is YOUR space.
posted by paanta at 6:12 AM on December 3, 2008


I used to be a landlord. Your landlord owes you a new mattress & new chair, and probably new bedding. Cat pee on fabric is pretty much permanent. Kt may wash out of bedding after several washings, but the mattress and chair are likely to be unrecoverable. Leaving your apartment unsecured is totally unacceptable. Legal aid is not a bad idea. However, you can just go to the landlord, explain that you expect them to reimburse you for damages, and give the landlord the opportunity to do the right thing. If that doesn't work, then consider small claims court.

You're being far too nice about this person. I think you'd benefit from being more assertive.
posted by theora55 at 8:24 AM on December 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


Thank you for your helpful and passionate responses. I'm still weepy but feeling considerably less impulsive. Posting here might have been motivated by a need to find consolation as everybody else I know was in bed at 3am not dealing with cat piss! And lack of sleep makes me e-mo-tion-al!

I haven't been able to talk to my landlord, nor the cat's owner yet and maybe that's a good thing since a blubbering delivery of my concerns might appear as being dramatic. My friends who have a little more understanding of my natural inclination to "cut and run" when things go bad are advising me to take less severe action. They also know I am loathe to discuss things with people that might potentially be unpleasant or awkward. Avoidance is one of my biggest problems, but that's a whole 'nother thread!

I will speak with the both of them about my door needing to remain closed at all times and the cat not to have any entry into my apartment. At least not until the cats fall in love (you never know haha) or Jan. 1 when the cat's owner moves out. I am still freaked out about the cat getting in -- especially since I am leaving for a week during Christmas. I feel sympathy for the resident cat for having to adjust (not so well) to a new cat in the house, the cat's owner is a nice guy who I wouldn't want to make pay for my stuff, and the landlord is just a great person who just isn't a "by the book" kind of person.

I feel icky thinking about asking the landlord to stay out of my apt. but I think that's the only way I'll have peace of mind. I don't want to think about what could be happening to my apartment while I'm not there. I know in my head how things work in the real world, reasonable (and legal) rights/expectations, etc. but advocating for my self isn't a skill I've mastered. Reading your responses has bolstered me enough to establish these boundaries with my landlord. Thank you kindly mefites.
posted by loquat at 11:53 AM on December 3, 2008


I'm not quite sure that you've really gotten into the spirit of the comments, loquat. But in the interest of not beating a dead cat, I'll simply say this:

Maybe you are paying far below market rates and you know that your landlord would be cool if you happened to be a few weeks late with rent every now and then. This means you are in something of an "alternative living situation."

If that's the case, you can allow some leeway for the crap you've been put through as long as you can be sure it's not going to happen in the future.

If it's not the case, though, you are seriously being taken advantage of and should re-read the thread with that in mind.
posted by rocketpup at 12:29 PM on December 3, 2008


In almost every US jurisdiction you have the basic right to notice of entry, usually 24 hours, except in the case of provable emergencies (e.g. overflowing toilet). Your landlord is almost certainly violating the law. Calmly sit down and list all of the instances where your right to private "enjoyment of the premises" has been violated.

Additionally, being without heat is flat unacceptable and should make the unit uninhabitable according to law, again, in almost every US jurisdiction. This isn't even a matter for legal aid, this is a matter for the local housing authorities.

What you need to do is file for constructive eviction. This is where the tenant breaks the lease because the property is not reasonably habitable. Obviously, you will want to move immediately -- get your stuff into a storage locker and bunk with a pal if you can. You don't want to risk retaliatory moves or being locked out. Those are illegal, too, but this isn't somebody who seems to have many boundaries defined by law or moral custom.

On top of that, your landlord owes you damages, but you will probably have to file a civil small claims suit to recover. (Good luck with that.) In a few jurisdictions that could get bundled with your constructive eviction claim.
posted by dhartung at 12:52 PM on December 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


Heat isn't by the book, it's by basic human decency. Really. You might have a tendency to cut and run, but in this situation, almost anyone would give you their blessing and tell you to GTFO.
posted by sondrialiac at 1:30 PM on December 3, 2008


Dwellings in private residences fall under a special category. For example, if you were renting out a room in a private house, the landlord could say something like "no single women" or 'single men only". You cannot do that if you are a general landlord with an apartment building (I'm greatly generalizing here, and protected classes are still protected classes, you can't become a racist when you're advertising your spare bedroom, but you can say things like "working Christian man" without getting sued).

So this is why you need to find a tenant's association to find out what the laws are in your area for rooms in a private house... if that's what you're basically doing. I had a friend who rented a room with an outside entrance and a kitchen and a bath... BUT the landlady asked if she could maybe get a p.o. box and not have mail sent there, to call attention to things. whatever, she was broke and it was cheap and temporary. the landlady there had an incentive to fix whatever broke because if my friend ever made a stink about it, the landlady would be busted for an illegal apartment.

The fact that the landlord is cool and lets you be late with rent doesn't negate the laws of the state. It does maybe factor into reasons you won't want to pursue the complaint formally, but it doesn't mean you aren't entitled for your private space to be YOUR PRIVATE SPACE. i don't believe there's a state in the country that allows a ll access to your unit for any reason at any time without permission.

Don't talk to them about this. Write them both letters. That way it is also documented, as well as removes any emotion that will come up when discussing someone else's pet and your ruined stuff.

For the record, heat is NEVER EVER NEGOTIABLE. THey can require you to pay for it, but IT'S NOT NEGOTIABLE IN DECEMBER, ANYWHERE
posted by micawber at 6:02 PM on December 3, 2008


Uh, yeah, your landlord is breaking the law on numerous fronts.

She must provide heat. Period. I once had to cite title, section, and paragraph of my local laws to compel a shitty property management company to fix my heat, so I've seen the laws myself. (Citing specific laws, clearly illustrating that the company was violating them, and giving a specific deadline for remedy was very motivating for the company, by the way; my heat was on the next day. No landlord wants a reputation as a convicted slumlord.)

She must not enter your apartment without notice.

She certainly must not let some random dude stay in your apartment while you're paying rent.

I feel icky thinking about asking the landlord to stay out of my apt.

What the hell? You're paying rent on the place. She is obligated by common decency and (almost certainly) city, county, and state law to respect your privacy. You don't have heat. What on Earth do you have to feel icky about? Stop being a doormat.

Here's what you do, and I'm dead serious: find the section of your state legal code that deals with landlord/tenant issues. You can find this online. Take note of the relevant sections and clauses.

Then approach your landlord, and tell her you'd like to terminate the lease early. If she's difficult about it, you say "sure, I realize that I agreed in the lease to stay for six months, but you agreed in the lease to abide by Title XVII, Section 8, Paragraphs 4 through 9 [etc.], and you have not done that."

You are not asking to leave, you are not threatening to leave; you're just leaving, and how she reacts to that is her problem. Hopefully she'll be agreeable when you ask to break the lease, and it won't ever come to this. If it does, though, you are firmly in the right. She probably already knows she's breaking multiple laws; she'd have to be utterly insane to try to prosecute you for walking out on the lease.

mildly questionable

Gross understatement. Your landlord is a freakjob.
posted by greenie2600 at 7:20 PM on December 8, 2008


Part Deux:

So I thought I could move past the cat piss situation. For the most part, things have been okay. I always lock my door and keep my head down. It's been difficult to live here because she sucks me into her drama every time we end up talking so I avoid her whenever possible.

Last Thursday, I was on a conference call in my bedroom. I heard a knock on my door and the landlady calling my name. I was in the middle of speaking when I heard her enter my apartment and then walk to my bedroom door which she opened. I jumped up in surprise and blocked her from entering the room. She just wanted to ask me a question and was apologetic for "barging in". I gave my 30-day notice that very night.

She left me a note the next day telling me she would be showing my apartment (giving me 24-hour notice) and "to measure, etc." I haven't talked to her since I gave notice and that's not unusual, we have different schedules and I'm in my apt. when home.. but the other night I was walking to the house and she was in her car. I kind of waved to her in recognition but she totally ignored me.

I set my mind to riding out the rest of the time I have left here, only tonight I think I've reached my limit. My entire bedroom was filled with pot smoke coming up from the vent. None of my bedroom windows open. I'm not a fan of the war on drugs, but I'm recovering from a bad cold with coughing fits and it irritated my lungs so much I can't sleep for coughing. I'm sure the landlady can hear it -- she told me days ago if she heard me coughing one more time she'd kill me!

I'm so angry about this living situation. Do I have a legal right to vacate my apartment sooner than my move-out date by citing "exposure to illegal substances"? How do I document this? It's not like she's going to admit that she just smoked a bowl. Especially since she runs a preschool in her home! She is putting her job and house at risk. I already expect that she's going to give me problems with my deposit. With her track record and irresponsibility, she probably doesn't even have it to refund.

What is the best solution here? I know I should have made a run for it at the first signs of crazy, but I really just tried to make it work. I want my pro-rated rent for leaving early, and my full deposit since I have taken exceptional care of my apartment. I want out of here. I am expecting her to try to screw me since she's already obviously upset about me moving out and because she's got two rooms to fill in April, which could make things financially difficult for what she describes as her "piss poor" self.

A couple days after the cat urine fiasco, the landlady told me the dryer in the basement was making odd noises. Apparently the guy who owns the cat "broke" it by over filling it. She then got on me about how I did four loads of laundry. (Laundry which I HAD TO DO TO REMOVE THE URINE!) I was told that if I wanted to do heavy laundering, that I should go to a laundromat.

It's just ironic because she puts more in the the washer and dryer than I ever have. Additionally, I've had to remove items like a soggy diaper (gross), a bunch of moss, tons of sand and dirt from the washer because nobody cleaned it out. I told her if she felt that I had somehow contributed to the damage, we could discuss repairs. She didn't pursue it after that. Now almost any time we use the dryer, it makes a screeching noise. If she didn't get the dryer fixed in all this time, it is still "functioning", can she try to take this out of my deposit? The dryer is more than 5 years old, I didn't break it but she inferred I helped it on it's way.

I'm just stressed and worried here. This is my first rental experience and while I've heard worse stories, I think I've had a bad time of it. Do I need to get a lawyer? Now? Should I wait until I move out (early), request my pro-rated rent citing the condition that made my apartment uninhabitable (drug use) and then wait 30 days to see if I get my rent and deposit back? I'll definitely be doing a walk through with her and getting her to sign and acknowledge any "problems" or "repairs" needed.

Any tips or even legal referrals would be appreciated.
posted by loquat at 12:33 AM on March 11, 2009


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