How to handle a goober for a landlord?
September 30, 2009 5:49 PM   Subscribe

I've got eleven months to go on a lease, and a whole slew of problems with a new (to me) apartment, and a cheap, possibly negligent landlord. How do I remedy them? LOTS of details inside. But if you don't want to read the whole kit-and-caboodle inside here are the Cliff notes: (a) Landlord took more than weeks to fix the unusable bathroom sink; blamed the repairman. (b) Landlord expects me to find/select/transport the washer/dryer he’s obligated by lease to provide, and was missing on our move-in, and for less than $200. (c) Landlord flat-out refused to clean disgustingly smelly carpets we encountered on moving day (d) Landlord reneged on verbal agreement to replace crappy kitchen linoleum (e) Landlord made repeated, guilt-trippy and borderline abusive calls about first month's rent, and (bonus) (f) makes (super odd) references to lesbians. [Way too many details inside; you probably don't need to bother reading unless you want specific specifics]

After long and futile summer craigslisting, my girlfriend and I went to a realtor to find us an apartment [Boston area] for one year, beginning 9/1. The realtor found us a fair (not exceptional) apartment for a fair (not exceptional) price. Since it met our needs (though not, as I’ve said, exceptionally) we took it. I forked over a lot of money up front (first month, last month, month security, and half-month’s fee to realtor) totalling about 5K. Since then we’ve had a number of issues with the landlord. In order of occurance:

[The sink] The landlord was unable to do a walkthrough until September 5th, though we moved in on the 1st. On the 5th we informed him the sink was unusably plugged. Stuck full of hair. Wouldn’t drain. Landlord said he’d take care of it immediately. He blamed the issue on previous tenants; “butches, lesbians; don’t know where to wash their hair, always washing their hair in inappropriate places.” But he didn’t do anything. We still couldn’t use the sink two weeks later… at which time I called and asked the landlord what was happening. He said he’d already sent the handyman over, who’d said there wasn’t a problem. After consulting the handyman, Mr. Landlord called me back to tell me the handyman had visited unit number 3, instead of our unit, number 2. Within 24 hours the handyman came to fix the leak, so we considered this issue closed. Until…

[The washing machine/dryer] Our lease specifies we’ll be provided a washer/dryer, though if either breaks they will not be repaired. Due to some miscommunication, the machines vanished with the previous tenant (Mr. Landlord: “girls have no respect for property, got no respect at all, take anything isn’t nailed down, even took the bins in the fridge”). He did not provide replacement appliances at move-in. Girlfriend and I were understanding, and said we could even do without a dryer, as long as we got a washer soon. Mr. Landlord asked if I’d do the legwork and get a washer for him. Stupidly, I said yes. But now he’s asking me to find one for under $200, used, (including, presumably, delivery). I’m not sure I have the time/information to do this on my own. Not to mention, issue number 3…

[The bedroom carpet/THE STENCH!] The previous tenants (Mr. Landlord: “butches, lesbians, who hate men – like some of ‘em Catholic nuns I know I went to school with”) moved out on the last day of August, letting us move a little stuff in before they were totally gone. There were no in-between days for Mr. Landlord to do work on the place. It was left in decent condition, with carpets vacuumed. Not spot-clean, certainly not as clean as I’d leave the place, but adequete -- barely. However: the bedroom stank. Stank like stagnant poop residue in the corner. Or a dead animal in the wall. Or a pet’s tank overturned on the floor. Badly enough that girlfriend and I had to buy an air purifier, and have to air the room out all the time. During the walkthrough (9/5), girlfriend and I told Mr. and Mrs. Landlord that we were bothered by the stench, and wanted the carpets professionally cleaned (nothing in the apartment had been touched by landlords at all, remember). Mr. and Mrs. Landlord flatly refused, on the grounds (a) they claimed not to smell anything (b) “that is definitely the tenants’ responsibility.” Since then, we have been trying to live with the smell (which has abated a bit, but is nevertheless unpleasant...) and would probably have just rented a steam-vac, but for…

[The kitchen floor] Prior to signing the lease, when still considering the apartment, I remarked to the realtor that the kitchen linoleum was in terrible shape: cracked, scratched, buckled, patched, broken, beat-up. [Pics on flickr here]. And still before signing the lease for the apartment, I asked the realtor if he'd relay to the landlords that we wanted the linoleum fixed. He picked up the phone immediately and called the Mr. and Mrs., asked if they'd be willing to make this repair. They said they hadn't seen it in a while, but that conditional upon it being in bad shape, they'd take care of it. Satisfied, the realtor hung up the phone, we signed the lease, paid the money, and we got the apartment. I did NOT get a clause about the linoleum put in the lease; the realtor said that it would diminish my chances of getting the apartment if I appeared too needy up front. During the walkthrough on 9/5, Mr. Landlord said he ‘could get around to replacing it sometime’ but not immediately, or soon, or (I’m guessing) during my tenancy because expenses were tight. Honestly, I wouldn’t have moved into the place if I’d known he’d be so disagreeable. But the straw that broke the camel’s back was…

[The rent check issue]
(i) (9/29) I got a call yesterday morning, from Mr. Landlord saying he didn’t get my half of the rent. I explained that my girlfriend would be paying all of the rent this month, because I’d paid all of the fees on the place before move-in, and cash was a bit tight. He was irritated, and said he expected rent by the 25th (as it says in the lease). I explained that my girlfriend had sent him two bank checks on the 20th, and that he should take another look around – at least one showed as ‘delivered’. This actually took three phone calls, because landlord does not have his ‘money girl’ on hand.

(ii) (9/29)Another call from landlord, yesterday afternoon, saying the checks /did/ come in the mail. Followed by a tirade about how expects it on the 25th, as outlined in the lease. I explained that it was mailed on the 21st, and that, frankly, 4 days was ample leeway for something to arrive by mail from one end of town to the other. And that next month I will send it earlier.

(iii) (9/29) Received another chiding call from landlord about an hour after (ii) concluded, telling me that I had seemed initially like a nice person and he didn’t expect this kind of thing from me. Told me I had him over a barrel, and how was he supposed to pay his bills if our bills weren’t paid on time. And how is he supposed to pay his mortgage on the place if we don’t get him our rent by the 25th (or 17th for an out-of-state check)? I tell him I don’t know… my girlfriend sent him two checks on the 20th, mailed on the 21st, etc., etc., etc….

(iv) (9/29) I ignore a call at night from the landlord. I’m sick of talking to him.

(v) (9/30) I ignore a morning call from the landlord. I’m sick of talking to him.

(vi) (9/30) I call the landlord back, feeling guilty and a little harassed. Landlord starts in on my ‘irresponsible behavior, because it turns out my GF’s checks are from an out of state bank (though they was a cashier’s check sent directly from Bank of America), and that as explained in the lease, out of state checks are due on the 17th, and that we’re ‘off to a bad start’ and that I’m causing him ‘a lot of stress and anxiety, stress and anxiety, because how am I gonna pay my stuff if you pay your rent late?” Yet again, I explained I had not sent any check, that he needed to talk to my girlfriend, but for what it was worth we’d get him everything on time next month. [[This means that if we’re going to pay with out of state checks, and need to allow him ample time to process the paperwork, and need to mail them more than 5 days in advance we will need to post the checks around the 10th of the month prior to the month for which we are paying. Am I nuts? Is this incredibly high maintenance? ]]

Metafilter, what do I DOOOOO? How do I get my issues fixed? Do I stand a chance at getting this resolved?
posted by mr. remy to Home & Garden (21 answers total)
Response by poster: i could write an equally long post critiquing my lack of editing the first post. sorry for sloppiness ^^^
posted by mr. remy at 6:02 PM on September 30, 2009

The sink: you notified him, the landlord sent out a tradesperson in a timely manner (although it didnt' go to plan, this was the tradesperson's fault not the landlord's). You waited two weeks then notified him again, he sent the guy out again in a timely manner. I don't see an issue, you're the ones that waited two weeks.

The washing machine/dryer: It's not the landlord's fault the stuff got taken. Then you agreed to sort it out, you could have refused. Yeah he's being kind of a pain but, again, you already agreed. Also you didn't give him a chance to do a walk through after the prevous tenants left so how was he suppose to know it was gone?

The flooring: you moved in before the previous tenants even moved out. That was the window to get stuff fixed. When was the landlord supposed to notice the quality of the flooring if the place wasn't empty for him to inspect? Not getting the lino thing in writing means you're pretty much out of luck. He said replacement was conditional on it being really bad, he doesn't consider it to be bad enough to care, you're already living there, and he has no legal obligation to do anything. Yeah it sucks. Next time do a walkthrough before you move in and get everything in writing.

The rent cheque: you paid your rent late. Doesn't matter when you posted it or how he made you feel when he rang, your rent cheque still arrived after the agreed on date.

He is being a diffcult landlord and the comments he makes are clearly unacceptable. But you're also getting worked up over at least some stuff which isn't his fault and right now I'm sure he sees you as difficult tenants. So maybe take a deep breath, try to forget what an arse he is, either sort out the washer or tell him you can no longer do it, clean your own carpet, focus on getting the lino replaced, and let the rest go.
posted by shelleycat at 6:12 PM on September 30, 2009

Response by poster: Also you didn't give him a chance to do a walk through after the prevous tenants left so how was he suppose to know it was gone?

I asked him to do a walkthrough; he refused. I indicated I would be happy to rent the machine myself and do the cleaning myself if only reimbursed for rental expense; he refused. Am I honestly to believe that I cannot expect an apartment I move into to be clean? To be sanitary and free of odor and pet filth? Does this mean it is within my rights to leave the apartment as stinky as I want without fear of repraisal? Not that I would, but... it smelled like a feral cat's rear-end.
posted by mr. remy at 6:23 PM on September 30, 2009


Kudos for starting to document things (pics of the kitchen floor). Keep that up and start expanding it to include telephone calls, etc.

Check the terms of the lease; does it really say you have to give extra time for out of state checks? (And, really, is Bank of America out of state in Washington?)

Check with a local tenants' rights group. It might be that you can withhold rent until the landlord comes through with the things promised in the lease. You might even be able to pay for things (repairs, etc.) and use the receipts as rent payment. Additionally, if the landlord isn't complying with the lease, then you have grounds to vacate and sue for your deposits back. Of course, that's the expensive way of doing this.

The local library probably has a Washington/Seattle tenants' rights book; it might detail whether a landlord is required to clean the carpets between tenants, etc. If so, then have the carpets cleaned at his expense (send him the receipt as partial payment of your rent).

(As a somewhat sneaky way to avoid talking to landlord, if you have a cell phone number for the landlord, try using SlyDial to call him back. Google it. You can leave a message without the cellphone actually ringing.)
posted by LOLAttorney2009 at 6:25 PM on September 30, 2009 [2 favorites]

Am I honestly to believe that I cannot expect an apartment I move into to be clean?

Of course not. Just that you've made things hard for him and weakened your own case all at once (paying your rent late surely doesn't help either). If it was really unlivable you shouldn't have moved in until it was fixed, now who's to say that you didn't make the smell yourself? (note: not suggesting this is at all true, but still, try to look at this from the landlords point of view)

I do think the flooring is the only area you have any traction though, and that you may have a better time of trying to sort it out if you're not all grr'd up from the other stuff.
posted by shelleycat at 6:38 PM on September 30, 2009

I don't live in your area, so this might not be applicable. But at least where I live, the law requires that certain things are done to apartments between tenants. Those things include painting, new carpet if it's over 2 years old, cleaning carpet if it's less than 2 years old, and so on. Further, leases dictate exactly to the letter how rent is to be paid and how promptly repairs will be done. Also there's an addendum, which is basically a move-in/move-out checklist. This allows you to mark what's wrong before you move in (to be fixed or negotiated) and allows them to mark what's wrong after you move out (to settle up any charges).

Did the previous tenants have a move-in/move-out checklist done? Did you? Does your lease address issues like postmarks on out-of-state checks, and responsibilities and promptness for repairs? Do your local laws or health codes prohibit things like dirty carpets, or moving in before the landlord has a chance to clean the carpets?

Your landlord sounds like a bigoted ass, but you can't move out with monies refunded to you just because of that. Check all your paperwork and the laws.
posted by Houstonian at 6:50 PM on September 30, 2009

Now you know to follow up the day after you arrange with the landlord for his handyman to come fix plumbing problems and do repairs. You also know not to agree to do any of the landlord's work for him (i.e., arranging major purchases like the washer/dryer). Most importantly, you know when your rent is due if you're paying with out of state checks--and you know that your rent is considered late according to your lease if you pay with an out of state check after the 17th. This is all good stuff to know, but from what you've written, it doesn't sound as if your landlord has actually violated the terms of your lease, whereas you, technically, have.

It seems you have a leg to stand on with regard to the linoleum floor. It's clearly in need of repair. However, since it's not in your lease, it would probably be more effective to let it sit for a couple months and take that time to make peace with your landlord: pay your rent on time, return his calls, don't complain, be nice. Then, after you've established that you're a good tenant, bring up the linoleum issue.

I don't mean to be harsh, and I can see why you're unhappy with the situation, but from the landlord's perspective: he just got rid of tenants who stole major appliances, the new tenants moved in and immediately started demanding repairs, and then! the new tenants failed to pay their rent on time.
posted by Meg_Murry at 8:07 PM on September 30, 2009

Keep documenting everything. It obviously will cover your butt if you wind up in court over this someday, but hopefully you can avoid that all the way around. Even if you don't need it for litigation, the documentation can be incredibly useful a bit farther down the road. If he whines about rent, just send him the printout from your bank confirming your payment. If he won't give you back your security deposit, hold up the receipts for all the expenses you've incurred for things that were supposed to be his job. Paperwork is your best friend here.

With the rent issue, you need to come to a clear understanding with him as to how payment will work and then do that on time, every single month without exception. If you wind up withholding a portion of your rent at some point, you still pay on time and submit a detailed accounting each month of what you're doing: Paying $x, Withholding $y for reason A, Total amount withheld to date $z. Make it clear that you very much want to pay on time, tell him what you're going to do (e.g. have your bank set a reoccurring payment for the appropriate amount to be delivered by such and such a date), and ask if that works for him. After the check should have arrived, call him and follow-up to make sure he's completely happy with this arrangement. Overburden him with information and show that you very much want him to be happy with your rent paying practices. This may give you a bit more lee-way when it comes to getting things done.
posted by zachlipton at 8:08 PM on September 30, 2009

Response by poster: I don't know how to say this any other way: The rent was not paid late. It is being held by the landlord's bank for reasons unknowable to me.
posted by mr. remy at 8:17 PM on September 30, 2009

If you (or your bank) sent an out of state check on the 21st, then according to the terms of your lease, the rent was paid late. It sucks that you didn't know B of A sends out of state checks, and yeah, the landlord's rules are odd, but neither of those things changes the fact that technically the rent was late.
posted by Meg_Murry at 8:35 PM on September 30, 2009 [1 favorite]

It sounds like your rent was paid late, because you paid with an out-of-state check, and, as stated in the lease, it was due 4 days before you actually sent it. Get it in on time next month, there's nothing left to do.

As for the washer and dryer, send him a letter through the mail stating that you have no washer and drier, cite the section in your lease where it says that you will have one. state that you are expecting him to provide you with a washer and drier. phone him and let him know that you don't have time to pick one up.

as for the stench and linoleum.. call your state's tenant board and see where your rights are on these issues. I feel like the linoleum does not look that bad? Depends what the rent is, I guess.
posted by pintapicasso at 8:53 PM on September 30, 2009

You should look up your city's tenant/landlord law. A city will often mandate that certain repairs must take place within 3 days, 1 week, etc.

Assuming you're in Seattle (checked your profile): City Website

Tenants Union of Washington State--Repairs Page
...including Tenant Rights Hotline
posted by moreandmoreso at 10:14 PM on September 30, 2009

The poster says he's in Boston. So unless this is some neighborhood in Seattle and not the city in MA, all these Washington links are going to be kind of pointless.
posted by dilettante at 4:27 AM on October 1, 2009

people--the 9/21 payment was for october's rent--she's paying in advance. there is no late rent.

your landlord is right--you really have him--by your checkbook. he needs your money, so make him work for it. say things like 'the lease said there were appliances, but they're not, so i need appliances or i'll have to deduct it from the rent.' repeat as necessary.

don't be too demanding. go ahead and clean the carpets yourself. ride him about the lino, but don't sweat it if he doesn't repair it. you should have put that in the lease.

the out of state nonsense? not your problem.

also, i'd hold rent the second to last month, too. if their finances are so tight that they can't replace the vinyl flooring, they have probably already spent your security deposit. you won't get that back until they rent the place to someone else.
posted by lester's sock puppet at 6:33 AM on October 1, 2009 [2 favorites]

how is he supposed to pay his mortgage on the place if we don’t get him our rent by the 25th (or 17th for an out-of-state check)?

This is a big red flag. It indicates that your landlord may not be the best at money management.

the out of state nonsense? not your problem.

How do you know that such a clause in the lease is unenforceable?
posted by oaf at 7:34 AM on October 1, 2009

Thanks for the input, everybody. I am the irresponsible girlfriend who sent out the October payments late. I need to clarify something - the landlord considers the rent late because he says that his bank is holding onto the funds, as in the actual balance in his account is not yet reflected in his available balance. However, these checks were fully funded - so it should not matter where they came from. Statement from my bank: "Bill Payment checks are debited from your account on the issue date and disbursed as guaranteed funds." From now on I guess I'll be sending out the payments way in advance so he can't say anything. It just seems like our landlord is strapped for cash and the direction he moving in is getting tenants to pay more than a month early. He wants October rent paid by mid-September... and so forth? He should have just *clearly* put that in the lease. That's what gets my goat. Baaaaaaaaaaaaa.
posted by handabear at 7:46 AM on October 1, 2009

I think I know why your landlord wants the rent checks so early, and it may or may not be helpful for you to know.

The Expedited Funds Availability Act puts forth the time limits a bank can hold a check. Here's a wikipedia entry about it; I found this (see also this) government website to be easier to read and understand.

If he deposits a non-local check, the bank can hold the funds until the 5th business day. An exception to this is if he's overdrawn his bank account within the past 6 months. In that case, the bank can hold the money from your check until the 11th business day.

So, my guess is that your landlord has bounced checks in the past 6 months. That's not your problem, but check your lease to see if his rule (pay by the 17th) is there. If it's not, you could remind him that there was no way for you to know that his bank account had insufficient funds within the past 6 months, as a way of explaining your "late" check and also as a way of making him step back a bit.

This also explains why he's not eager to make any improvements that cost money, and is a heads-up to you that he's probably going to be a problem when it comes time for you to get your deposit back, etc.
posted by Houstonian at 9:13 AM on October 1, 2009

(Please remember that when you confront someone with something embarrassing, they might inwardly feel embarrassed but outwardly be confrontational, angry, belligerent, etc., so be careful with how you approach this, if you do.)
posted by Houstonian at 9:16 AM on October 1, 2009

If he deposits a non-local check, the bank can hold the funds until the 5th business day. An exception to this is if he's overdrawn his bank account within the past 6 months. In that case, the bank can hold the money from your check until the 11th business day.

This, combined with the fact that he's implied that he needs your money two weeks early just so he can pay basic expenses, implies that he doesn't have enough cash on hand to pay the mortgage absent your rent check coming in, and may have guessed wrong in the past when he thought, "Oh, those funds'll clear."

If he's having trouble making his mortgage payment, he may have even more trouble with making timely repairs so that you can have your quiet enjoyment.
posted by oaf at 11:41 AM on October 1, 2009

Backing up LOLAttorney2009, take a look at this website, from a law library in Massachusetts. The first resource it recommends is a book, which is all online, and is published by people who understand the law in your area. It might be worthwhile to read through the whole book, then follow some of its instructions.

There are whole chapters I think will interest you. For example, Chapter 8: Getting Repairs Made.

In that book are not only information, but also forms. For example, there's a checklist for the housing code.
  • Your sink is mentioned here, with this note: "If any of the following violations exist in your apartment, they must be fixed within 5 days after the landlord is notified of them. If your landlord does not fix them, they become conditions that “materially endanger” your health and safety and you may withhold all or a portion of your rent."
  • Your flooring is mentioned, as an item that must be fixed within 30 days.
  • I'll bet you can find other things, using this list.
On this form is a Statement of Condition. It says that if the landlord took a deposit, he had to complete one of these and give a copy to you. If he didn't, you can do it (and the form is right there).

This form is about the security deposit. It has an interesting sentence: "As required by law, the security deposit is presently or will be held in a separate, interest-bearing account."

I would guess that with this book, a pen, a camera, and good note-taking, you could get this situation resolved.
posted by Houstonian at 5:46 PM on October 1, 2009

Oops, sorry about the unhelpful comment! I checked location in your profile rather than reading the post carefully. I'm also in Boston--hope we don't have the same landlord!
posted by moreandmoreso at 6:11 PM on October 7, 2009

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