Please stop yelling at me and just fix my heat.
October 21, 2011 9:34 AM   Subscribe

[Posting for a friend] Please help me navigate my current situation as a renter. My Landlord is, at best, stubborn and terribly difficult to put up with, and at worst running some sort of scam.

I will try and be as specific and reasonable as possible. I'm a bit peeved right now, and so i'll try and forego any petty name calling that would make me feel oh-so-much better right now.

TL;DR: My landlord refuses to fix things, yells at me and tells me to just move out when I voice complaints. The few times the maintenance man does show up, nothing gets fixed. I have moldy windows, a lost cat, and a dangerous heating system. I don't want to give up, but I'm at my wit's end here. I can't afford to lose my security deposit. Is there something he's done that gives me legal right to vacate, without having to forfeit $1400?

Some facts: I live in southeastern Virginia. I am currently renting a condo. The lease started February 1st, I wasn't able to move in until the end of February. Originally there were two couples living together, but since the breakup of one of the couples, there are 3 people currently occupying the apartment.

The back storyWe were supposed to move in February 1st. It was a brand new unit, and were getting new appliances. We had agreed that it was acceptable to move things from our storage unit into the apartment throughout the last week of January, so we could end the lease on that space. When we did so, the appliances hadn't been delivered yet. They were supposed to be installed in the middle of January. We contacted the landlord, he assured us they would be installed on time. The first comes and goes, no appliances, which means no gas, which means no heat. We wait and wait, and after many a frustrating phone call, we move in around the 13th or so.
We do a once over of the house, everything seems alright. We report any minor damages. A few day in, one of the bathroom sinks starts leaking. It takes 3 trips from the maintenance man to fix it, each time saying its been fixed. We also have no hot water in the shower. 2 trips from previous man, plus another from a separate man, and finally it's fixed. We go to install our washer and dryer, and there is no pipe in the wall for us to hook the exhaust to. After calling to complain, with the landlord making repeated "no, it's there you're just girls and don't know how to do it right" remarks, he sends out someone and, lo and behold, the pipe isn't there.
All through the winter, we complain of the heat not working. He sends someone out to fix it, more than three times, and it never truly gets fixed. We complain of the windows being drafty and rattly. He says there's nothing we can do, it's a historic building. Come summertime, we complain about the AC not working. It never really gets fixed. Then come the end of August, hurricane Irene hits, and all of my windows leak. Everywhere. But not just through the window-water got into the side of the building and dripped down from the interior casing. All of the window jambs got water damaged. Water leaked in from the AC unit, causing water spots on an interior wall of the house. We called him while it was happening, just to let him know what was going on. He said he'd send someone out within two days. The next day, while we were trying to clean up, I opened a window to air out the house. The top rail of the lower part of the window came completely off. It was so water damaged the wood fell apart. All of the windows were swollen shut. The landlord sent someone out the next day. The sash was fixed, by hammering the original piece of wood back into place, but no other problems were addressed.

The whole time this is going on, around 4 or 5 different units have decided to end their lease prematurely, due to problems that weren't being addressed in their own units. It seems the landlord has a tendency to say "if you don't like it then move out" after you've made "too many" maintenance requests about a certain issue.

The now story It's been about 7 weeks since the hurricane, and the window issues have not been addressed, and they've grown mold in the meantime. Once about two weeks ago, a man came out to address the issue of our AC unit. It was not an employee of the landlord, but an independent HVAC contractor. He told us that our AC unit was missing several parts, wasn't up to fire code, and had had several "patches" to try and fix the problem, instead of the real work that needed to be done. Finally our AC was fixed.
A few days later, we contacted our landlord asking about the time frame for our windows/the mold to be treated. He said we have to be at the apartment Friday, because someone was coming out then, and if we weren't there it wasn't getting fixed. Friday comes and goes, my roommate waiting around all day, and nothing happens. We contact the landlord, upset. This is about the 4th time we've waited for a technician to show up, and no one did. Every time we call him, he responds very rudely, with a "he'll be there tomorrow you better be there." No one comes.
Then, over Columbus weekend, there was a mixup and our gas gets turned off. A technician from the gas company comes Tuesday after Columbus day, and has to inspect our stove and our heating unit before he can turn it on. He tell us that our heating unit is not up to code. In fact, if we were to try and turn it on, we would most likely get carbon monoxide poisoning. He suggests we contact our landlord, and get our own CO tester before we turn it on. We call the landlord, we set up a time, and again, no one shows. We call him, he says "Be at your apartment between 430 and 530 tomorrow [that would be this past Wednesday] or else we'll have to gain access by any means necessary." The man shows up at 5. He says the wiring is off. He rewires the thermostat. He goes to look at the actual unit, and says that it's hooked up improperly, and he'll have to come back with a wetvac because water has been pooling within the AC system. I tell him that I have a previously existing appointment to go to, because I was not expecting to have to do this today. He does not have a key to my unit, so he leaves so that I can lock the door. The landlord calls, furious that we didn't cancel our plans. He tells us that we have to be home at 430 tomorrow [yesterday] so this can get fixed. I tell him that the earliest could be was 5, since my roommate got off at 4:30, and I would be in class from 4-onward. He says, again, that he was coming out at 4:30, and they would find any way to get in.
My roommate rushes home at 5, and waits around until 7:30. She then has to come pick me up from class. She calls the landlord, tells him that she has to leave. He tells her that he was upstairs in another unit, and he'll be down in 15 minutes. She tells him that she waited around for him, in the time allotted, and now has to go. She'll be back in 45 minutes. He tells her that it's her fault, because she "told him that she wasn't going to even be home that night". She has, in writing, that she told him she would be home at 5. After she points this out, he gets irate and says "well if you leave now I'm just going to have him change the locks on your apartment." She tells him that, no, he will not be changing her locks without any previous notice. The landlord hangs up, calls our other roommate, he leaves work early to let in the maintenance man. I get home, the door is cracked, and the maintenance man in working on our unit [this is a different man than the one we had in the beginning of our lease, who "fixed" it in the first place]. After about an hour or so, he comes out and explains that our unit is hooked up completely wrong, and isn't at all safe. The last guy to work on it did too many hack jobs, and he's going to have to replace a lot more parts than he thought. It' going to take about five hours and won't be fixed until at least this weekend, he just doesn't have the time and parts at the moment, and he doesn't feel safe with what he has to work with.

This morning, the cat doesn't show up to bed fed. We look throughout the apartment, the building, everywhere. He's not here. We make a timeline of when he was seen last-just before my roommate got me from school. We come to realize he snuck out when the maintenance man left the door open. I contact my landlord, and very politely, though a bit sternly, tell him that I am very upset about how this whole situation has gone down. I am sick of waiting for maintenance men who never show, and am sick that I then have to change my plans last minute time after time, because it never gets fixed the first time. i ask him for his cooperation in finding my cat, I ask him to send a mass text to my building asking if anyone had taken him in for safe keeping. He replies with "Fuck off, it's not my problem, I'm sick of you bitching to me about shit that needs to get done. If you don't like it move the fuck out of my condo." This is not the first time he's said "if you don't like it then you can leave" when we've put in maintenance requests or voiced complaints. Hence all of the other tenants moving out early. I'm not saying he intentionally sucks so he can keep the security deposit, but his go-to fix for something is "If you don't wanna deal with me anymore, then forfeit your security deposit and move out."
I told him his response was completely unreasonable, he called me rude and said he didn't want to hear it any more. If I was fed up, then just move. I told him, no, I am not forfeiting my $1400 dollars. I'm not going to fall into the scam you pulled on everyone else who just gave up their money. I'm not just going to leave so you don't have to make repairs, it wouldn't be fair to the new tenant anyway. He told me I was being ridiculous, "hun", and that my "measly deposit" didn't mean shit to him, and I just needed to stop talking. I told him not to patronize me by calling me hun, this is a business situation and he needed to try and act with some respect. He told me to leave him alone because I "was just pissing him off."

Within the conversation, when I asked him why no one had been out, he said that people had been to my apartment, I just wasn't there to see them. Not 2 minutes later, when my roommate talked to them, he said that no one had been out because they didn't have keys, which is why he threatened to change the locks. I asked him which story was true, he got irate again and virtually told me to shut up.

So, now I'm stuck with moldy windows and a heating system that's in dangerous disrepair, with lows in the 40s/50s the next week.

I cannot afford to lose $1400, I'm a college student and that's somewhat of a big deal to me. Do I have any recourse in the legal system? I read over the VA tenant act this morning, and it states that if there is an HVAC system, he has to keep it in good repair, and it also states that he has to deal with mold. Any other problems I have with the apartment are basically "tough luck". But those two, it says, *have* to be taken care of. It doesn't really say what happens if they aren't.
So, now what do I do? I really can't handle this for another 4months. But, even more so, I can't afford to forfeit that money.
posted by shesaysgo to Law & Government (20 answers total)
You're a college student? Does your school have any type of 'stduent legal services' office? Often a school will have someone on staff to help you navigate the lease and other issues such as this.
posted by Think_Long at 9:50 AM on October 21, 2011

Best answer: First, do you have documentation of any of this stuff? Collect whatever you've got, even if it's just dates and notes scribbled in your appointment book. Write out the dates and times of all contact you can remember. Find any evidence you have to back up these dates and times -- e-mail, notes to and from roommates, etc. Then contact one of the legal organizations listed in this document. Look carefully at your rights as listed on this site.

From here on out, try to communicate with your landlord in writing. Save voicemail messages from him, and save anything written he sends you.

You do have rights. Take a look at the rights regarding the warranty of habitability for Virginia, which it seems to my untrained eye your landlord may be violating.

I am not a lawyer. You should get a lawyer. The lawyer may be free or very very inexpensive. She or he will help you get your security deposit back, and might even be able to help you recover some of the rent money you've paid this guy.

Good luck! I'm sorry your landlord is a scofflaw jerkface, but good on you for not letting him get away with it.
posted by brina at 9:50 AM on October 21, 2011

Best answer: Call the Building Inspector and see if your local area has a Tenant's Union.
posted by rhizome at 9:51 AM on October 21, 2011

My Landlord is, at best, stubborn and terribly difficult to put up with, and at worst running some sort of scam.

I didn't read most of it because there is nothing I can do or say about it except "go talk to a local lawyer". Thats the only thing that will help you.

And yeah..its more affordable than $1400.
posted by hal_c_on at 9:52 AM on October 21, 2011

First, find your cat. That's not really the landlord's fault, btw.

You could do a timeline for documentation, formal complaint, etc, but I would by-pass all that and lodge a complaint with the buildings and safety department of your jurisdiction.

For whatever reason, your building sounds on the verge of being declared officially unsafe.

I bet the electrical is a mess, too. But the mold and carbon monoxide are really really bad news for your landlord.

Try to drop the indignation. It won't serve you when filing complaints.

The facts will help you. Stick to those.

Other people will pop in with specific agencies to contact, but whoever inspects building code in your jurisdiction will handle this most swiftly.

Your local fir department might tell you exactly who to contact regarding the carbon monoxide. Pop into your nearest firehouse and ask them.

Oh yeah. You can by a carbon monoxide alarm/tester from the hardware store for like $15. Do that so you don't get sick or die in the meantime.
posted by jbenben at 9:56 AM on October 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: In case it got lost in my answer, you want a buildings inpector from what is often called "buildings and safety dept." They have nothing to do with tenant/landlord disputes, but they have everything to do with making sure the building you live in won't harm or kill you.

Buildings and Safety. Stat!
posted by jbenben at 9:59 AM on October 21, 2011

IANAL, but:

This is exactly what a lawyer is for.
posted by juniperesque at 10:01 AM on October 21, 2011

Get friendly with your neighbors, his other tenants, and fight this all together. Multiple calls to the building inspector from multiple tenants with the same problem will get their attention. Don't just ask them about the windows, but the HVAC systems as well.
posted by soelo at 10:07 AM on October 21, 2011

If all you want is to not lose the $1400, then plan on moving and do not pay the last month's rent. Since the Landlord likes to tell stories I would just tell him the check is in the mail...
posted by Gungho at 10:13 AM on October 21, 2011

It is not a good idea to withhold rent to get back at your landlord for poor maintenance. You can get evicted for that if you haven't gone through the proper channels (often you have to put it in escrow with the court) and/or you can get a black mark on your renter's history making it hard to get another place. If he refuses to refund your deposit after you have moved out, then you take him to court. All of your documentation will help you there. Your local tenant's union or a lawyer will be able to advise you how to handle rent withholding if that is what you want to do.
posted by soelo at 10:20 AM on October 21, 2011

IAAL; IANYL. Also, tl;dr.

Get thee to a lawyer familiar with landlord tenant issues. The college may have a legal clinic or be able to refer you to a legal-aid type lawyer who will maybe provide help at low or no cost. The lawyer will tell you if you can withhold rent (save it in a separate account in case you have to pay it back) or whether you can just have repairs made yourself and deduct the cost from the rent.
posted by Hylas at 10:49 AM on October 21, 2011

Best answer: This is a lot of words and I did not read them all, but lack of heat south of the Mason-Dixon line is almost always a major issue and frequently a recoverable situation. When I lived in a (different) southern state, we were entitled to prorated rent every day after 24 hours that the heat was out and it was below 40 degrees; the landlord had to put us up in a hotel if it was below X degrees and the heat was out so many hours (72?); and lack of heat was an "emergency condition" that they had to take calls on 24 hours a day and repair within a day or pay penalties. SOUTHERNERS CARE A LOT ABOUT HEAT.

Here's some Virginia renter's rights information. Particularly:
Virginia law requires that the landlord:
Meet the requirements of local building and health codes concerning the condition of your apartment.
Make the necessary repairs to keep your home in livable condition.
Keep all common areas shared by two or more apartments of the property in clean and safe condition.
Maintain in good and safe working condition all electrical, plumbing, sanitary, heating, ventilating, air-conditioning units as well as other facilities and appliances, including elevators, supplied or required to be supplied by the landlord.
Make a reasonable effort to prevent the accumulation of moisture and the growth of mold.
Provide and maintain good quality trash cans and trash pick-up services in common areas of the apartments.
Supply running water and reasonable amounts of hot water at all times as well as reasonable air conditioning, if provided, and heat when needed.

You have the right to speak out
Your landlord cannot take actions against you for joining a renter organization or complaining about the conditions of your apartment to him/her or to any government agency.
More regarding heat:
The landlord does not supply heat, water, hot water, or essential services
If your landlord willfully or negligently fails to supply heat, running water, hot water, electricity, gas, or other essential service, you must have a lawyer or the court give a written notice to the landlord stating the violation. If you follow the steps under this section of the VRLTA for correcting the situation, you have the right to recover reasonable attorney fees and damages.
See VRLTA Section 55-248.23
There's contact info and resources at the bottom.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 11:27 AM on October 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

Also, yes, as a practical matter, I personally would speak with an attorney -- try the housing office at your school and see if they have an ombudsman or a list of local attorneys -- and tell him my goal is to get enough from the landlord to pay for the lawyer, get my security deposit back, and move the hell out without lease penalties. You may be entitled to more compensation, but focus on what an acceptable outcome is and pursue that. If you try to pursue every last thing you're entitled to for everything, it's going to be long, frustrating, and you'll end up disappointed. Figure out what your goal is and pursue that.

I think you should leave. This landlord is not going to do more than the minimum required by law, these issues are going to continue, and now he views you as a problem renter. Also, stop trying to educate your landlord on manners. You're getting bogged down in the fact that he won't behave like a human being and is a shitty person. Stop that. (As your mother doubtless told you, the world is not fair.) What you want is what you are legally entitled to; ignore his horrible manners and slow non-entitlement repairs. If you want to get away from him as a shitty person, you need to move out.

You're probably not going to get anything for the cat. (Also, did you have a sign or sticker on the door saying "DO NOT LET CAT OUT"? That might help, but you're probably just SOL on that.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 11:34 AM on October 21, 2011

Nthing the housing office at your university, which ought to have someone available who will at least guide you to a reputable lawyer. (You may need to take this guy to small claims in order to get your deposit back, depending on how he reacts to lawyering.) And call the local building code inspector. Bear in mind that from what you describe, you may well wind up being forced to leave if the condos are as out of compliance as you describe them (another reason to contact the university housing office in case you suddenly find yourself in need of a new home).
posted by thomas j wise at 12:09 PM on October 21, 2011

You can also go to small claims court over the $1400 bucks.
posted by Aizkolari at 12:35 PM on October 21, 2011

Eyebrows McGee makes a very good point about cutting your losses and deciding exactly what you want a balancing that with what you are likely to get. Then think about what it will cost you to get those things and decide if you need to lower your expectations. Getting your deposit back, having working appliances, heat that will not poison you and a mold-free place to live are important. His lack of respect for you (swearing and time-wise) does suck, but it not likely to change and isn't something you should put much energy into fighting.
posted by soelo at 1:46 PM on October 21, 2011

Response by poster: Thank you all for answering! We called the building inspector and they are coming out this week. Our landlord is currently denying that the HVAC system was faulty when we moved in. He denies that the original maintenance man did any damage to the system. Today the maintenance tech who told us that the system was hacked and dangerous came out and fixed it properly. We told him that the landlord denies any problems, and that he blames all of the issues on the storm. The tech told us that it was not caused by the storm, there's no way. We asked him to sign a statement saying that the damage was pre-existing, and partially caused by faulty work. He refused, fearing for his job if he were to get in a legal battle on the wrong side. He did say that he would talk to the landlord, and tell him that all of the damage had been here since February. [at least now the landlord can't plead plausible deniability].
We're still going to have the building inspector come out, and just make sure it's all right. We also need him to look at the hookup of our dryer, because we think that was another thing that got jerry-rigged, and isn't up to code. Then, if things aren't fixed, were getting a lawyer and servicing him a notice that if they are not fixed within 21 days, we're leaving in 30, according to the VA tenant and renter act. That way, if the problem pops up again, we serve another notice, and we're legally allowed to vacate in 30 days. No more slacking off for him!

Also, I did find my cat [yay!! he broke into a vacant unit and hid on top of the hot water heater]. And, I know it wasn't the landlords fault. I was just frustrated because I asked him for help, and he gave me a big ol' "go fuck yourself". And, yes, Eyebrows McGee, we did have a sign posted on our front door stating we had pets. Though even if we didn't, he had left it open for a long extended period of time, in the fall, at night, when I don't have any heat. But, alas, all is better[ish] now, so we can let it go.
posted by shesaysgo at 3:08 PM on October 23, 2011

Yay for CATS!!!!!
posted by jbenben at 12:08 PM on October 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Update:
We called the city inspector and she came out (only a day after they finally fixed the heat!) and wrote up our windows. Our landlord called our other room-mate and informed him that our lease will not be renewed when it's up at the end of January because we called the city.

We're not interested in staying anymore (duh!) but were wondering if that might be another point we can take against him.
posted by shesaysgo at 2:29 PM on November 10, 2011

Call the Building Inspector for everything you can think of finding for the next two months. Suspect black mold, leaky doors and windows, the whole nine.
posted by rhizome at 10:57 AM on November 11, 2011

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