Please help me get apartment management to actually fix my leak & mold ... now, not two weeks from now
August 20, 2011 1:00 PM   Subscribe

Discovered a leak last night in the closet of my apartment (yeah, the same one I wrote about before). The carpet is damp, and there is some mold. Stopped by the management office twice today to ensure it gets taken care of ASAP, but am not feeling super-confident that anything will happen anytime soon. Can you sanity-check my intended next step, or suggest additional actions I should take?

I have had nothing but bad experiences in getting things fixed by the company that manages the complex I live in. Recently it took a week and a half to get a dead fridge replaced (apparently the first person I left a maintenance request with didn't even submit it - and that's not the first time that has happened). So now that I've discovered a leak that has made the carpet (and some shoes/clothes) in my closet wet and moldy, I feel like I need to be assertive in getting something done immediately.

Towards that end, I dropped by the management office in person to ensure a request was put in. The Property Manager is not in today so I spoke with the leasing agent, who said she would contact maintenance and call me back when she heard something. That was 5 hours ago, so I just went back and discovered that maintenace did come by while I was out, looked at the leak, and did nothing - the leasing agent said she would find out why on Monday. Instead I asked her to call him then to find out concretely what was going to happen; while she was on the phone I asked that she get him to commit to not only re-checking the leak on Monday, but actually fixing it and doing something about the moldy carpet and walls.

She did get the maintenance man to agree to this, but based on my previous experiences I'm not at all confident that it will happen. I'm ready to escalate things if need be, but obviously I would be happiest if they just did what they said they'd do on Monday - therefore, I'm thinking of writing up an email to both the leasing agent I spoke with, and the property manager, documenting our discussion from today. Does this make sense?

My letter reads something like, "Thank you for talking with me today. Due to the potential health issues and possibility for continued property damage (see enclosed pictures), I'm disapointed to know that [management company] will not address the leak and mold in my apartment today. However, I am glad that you were able to assure me that this would be completely resolved on Monday. My understanding of our discussion is that on Monday, maintenance will do [X, Y, and Z]; if I am mistaken about any of the above, please let me know." My goal with this is both to get something into writing, and to ensure that both the leasing agent and the Property Manager are aware that things need to be fixed now and not two weeks from now, while still refraining from empty I'm-calling-my-nonexistent-lawyer-right-now -style threats ...

Does this letter seem like a reasonable/useful thing to send? Are there other things I should be doing beyond this? Finally, if I do end up needing to escalate, just who should I be contacting? I have the number for the company's (remote) Resident Services hotline and will certainly involve them if need be, but are there also state licensing boards I can file a complaint with? I'm in South Carolina; is the SC Real Estate Commission (as suggested in my last question about this) likely to help? The Department of Health (for the mold issues)? Um ... the Better Business Bureau?

Again, I hope it doesn't come to needing to involve additional parties, but I would like to know who I could turn to if need be. I don't want to be the tenant from hell, but I just can't seem to get management to do anything without repeated efforts on my part. I hate this.
posted by DingoMutt to Law & Government (10 answers total)
That draft email seems pretty comprehensive to me. I would slowly work up the chain if nothing is done (not contenting anyone outside of the company until you're sure it can't be easily resolved). Good luck.
posted by Paul Breeze at 1:16 PM on August 20, 2011

Copy that email to everyone, the leasing agent and manager but also maintenance and any owners or anyone above the manager's head. A leak is an emergency. Let them know you want it taken care of as soon as possible. If there is anyone below you, their unit is in danger of damage as well, and I think they are crazy to wait until Monday, i.e. 48 hours! I would have called the resident hotline after the 5 hours were up and I still had not heard anything.

When I had a similar situation, I contacted the housing inspector for the city I lived in and asked them to inspect the building. I also had to keep on top of the office about letting me know wtf was going on in my own apartment. I finally ended up insisting on a new unit and moving out of the complex at the end of my lease. Based on the previous incident, you should move out of this building.
posted by soelo at 1:42 PM on August 20, 2011

"if I am mistaken about any of the above, please let me know"

You know, I might reword this part. ASSUME that your version of what you talked about is correct, and say something like "management will do blah blah per our conversation. If management cannot fulfill this agreement, please let me know asap." or something along those lines.

Don't give them any wiggle room to say you really were mistaken.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 1:44 PM on August 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: The quantity of mold you described in your last post was a bit surprising. They have apparently not addressed the underlying water problem, plumbing problem, or roof leak. I would begin to consider moving out.

Do not worry about being the tenant from hell. Just state the facts and your position. This is not about emotions. It is about appropriate building management and a landlord's responsibilities to renters.

In your letter, I would not agree to the delay. I would be specific about the repairs that are needed. I might also memorialize the earlier situation and ask for health protections. This letter is not a friendly email. You are writing it to protect yourself. Say only what serves you. Do not thank them for things you do not actually appreciate (like "I look forward to the repairs on Monday," as you wanted the repairs to occur today).
"Thank you for talking with me this morning about the leak and mold in my bedroom closet. As I explained, this situation threatens the apartment's habitability, my health, and my property. The leak needs to be addressed immediately to prevent further damage and to stop inhibiting my use of the apartment.

In our discussion, you stated that you will be unable to take any action to remediate the situation until Monday. At that point, you stated that you will have maintenance do [X, Y, Z].

(Optional paragraph.) This is the second instance of a water leak and mold in my apartment. During the December 2010 repairs of my bathroom ceiling, my bathroom was filled with moldy construction debris, which I had to clean to safely access my bathroom. I ask that you address the underlying cause of this water intrusion, take full mold safety precautions, and clean up all construction debris.

Your Name
Besides their building services department, you might try escalating to your city's code enforcement department or housing department. You may also wish to talk to your nonexistent lawyer, or read about renters' rights, including the rules in your city and state. The real question is, how much of your effort do you want to spend trying to convince this corporation to maintain its property? You are a renter and presumably could leave at any time. The second link above suggests that you state you will move out in 14 days if the repairs are not made, which you may wish to consider. While the dangers of mold may be exaggerated, it is still not healthy. Best of luck to you with this situation.
posted by slidell at 2:48 PM on August 20, 2011

Response by poster: Thank you so much for your answers so far - after spending far more time than I'd like trying to deal with this company, it gets hard for me to find a way forward that strikes a balance between being so incensed I make unreasonable demands, and being so inherently nonconfrontational that I'd really like to just brick up my bedroom and go hide in the (as-yet un-leaky) kitchen until this whole blasted problem goes away.

Paul Breeze, thanks for the friendly well-wishes and confirmation that I'm on the right track (it's so helpful to get an outside perspective when I'm all riled up!). Soleo, thanks for the suggestion that I cc' my email to everyone involved that I can. I was originally going to just send it to the person I spoke with and the local Property Manager, but now I've also cc'ed the corporate 'Services Manager' as well. SuperSquirrel, thanks for your suggestions to change that "if I am mistaken" part - I did change that and like the resulting letter much better. Slidell, thanks for your even more assertive approach - I'm kicking myself now, as I only saw your suggestion just after I sent a revised version of my original note (why didn't I think to bring up the December problems?? Argh) ... I am wishing now that I had found a way to be more insistent that something happen today rather than Monday, but given this place's track record it will be quite the miracle if they actually do something on Monday without further pushing on my part. At least now I know what to say when it comes to that.

I certainly would like to move out of here, and realize that doing so would be the ideal solution here; however, as a grad student with little income that would be very difficult right now. We're hoping to leave SC altogether by next summer, and doing so will take every penny we can spare, so if we can make the place we're currently paying for liveable for the next 8 or so months it would save us the expense of an interim move ... again, I'm not entirely ruling out leaving if we absolutely have to, but that option would also pose a lot of difficulties that just shouldn't have to happen so I'm hoping we can get things settled here in a satisfactory manner. At any rate, once again I am so grateful to all of you who have responded, and if anyone has any additional advice I'd be glad to hear it! I'll post an update on Monday ... hopefully with good news.
posted by DingoMutt at 3:39 PM on August 20, 2011

Just to clarify what I think you should expect, all porous materials (including sheetrock walls, wood floors, carpet, etc.) that have remained damp for more than 48 hours should likely be entirely removed and replaced. When dealing with water damage "getting to it after the weekend" is just a poor option. I'd encourage you to document the extent of the ceiling walls and floor that are still moist before they come and ask that they remove and replace those materials (not just clean or paint over them).
posted by meinvt at 8:36 PM on August 20, 2011

Response by poster: Update: So maintenance actually did come today while I was out, repainted over the mold (I know), and supposedly fixed the leak, which they claimed was coming from an upstairs unit. After a lot of back-and-forth they also got someone out to clean the carpet today (initially management was planning on waiting until tomorrow, on the grounds that the cleaner "is an outside contractor not scheduled to come by until tomorrow"). Not exactly the ideal solution (meinvt, I absolutely agree with your expectations but apparently management does not), but in weighing my "mental/emotional effort + time spent dealing with these people" against whatever likelihood that I would actually get more, or the benefit of -getting- that more ... I would have been willing to settle for that bare minimum and be happy to be done with it.


I've just gone back to check the affected areas and they're even wetter than ever, so whatever supposed "fix" was done today was anything but. So now I get to go back to the effing office again tomorrow and go through yet another round of indifference and empty promises ... I'll do it because what other choice do I have, but I hate feeling so freaking powerless to actually get anything achieved. I need to figure out a way of getting my mind off of this because it's really starting to eat into me way more than it should ... arrrgh ....
posted by DingoMutt at 5:46 PM on August 22, 2011

You sure you don't want to spend the equivalent amount of effort figuring out how to get them to foot the costs of your move to another place to live? This place sounds awful and unhealthy. More stuff in your closet is going to get moldy if it's wet in there. And if the leak is your upstairs neighbor's water drain, have you ever considered what might be in that water? IANAL but do know that letting water leak into apartments from the apartment above is a real no-no in housing law. Good luck. Whatever path you take is going to be a pain. These guys are running a business; they are taking your money; and they are not giving you what you paid for (e.g., a usable closet). If it keeps getting worse, at a certain point you might try to see whether you can get any of that money back.
posted by slidell at 1:37 AM on August 23, 2011

Response by poster: I appreciate the suggestions, slidell - I would love to figure out how to get my money back, or how to make them foot the costs to move to another place; I have no idea how to go about that, though, and no money to get an actual lawyer involved. I suspect that's the case with most of the people in this complex, which is why they can get away with running things the way they are. I'm about to go talk to them again about the leak - if something isn't done today maybe I will look into filing a complaint with whatever commissions I can, and finding some sort of lower-cost lawyer referral service ...
posted by DingoMutt at 6:38 AM on August 23, 2011

Any luck?
posted by slidell at 11:50 PM on September 13, 2011

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