To Sue or Not to Sue?
July 17, 2012 10:47 AM   Subscribe

We've been living in a house in Oregon that has been converted from a four bedroom to a two bedroom plus pottery studio. We've recently had some major issues with the landlords regarding a plumbing issue (see previous question). Well, the landlords wanted us to pay half of the plumbing bill. I said "Hell No" then they asked us to move. They have found new tenants and I don't want the owners to get away with the shit they pulled on us.

Here are some basic stats of our rental unit:

-The previous two bedrooms now function as a pottery studio. The landlords use it as a business, teach classes, run an art camp all without a permit or business license. They advertise all over the internet and around town.

-There is no separate electricity/water meter and they "reimburse" us every month; about 10-15 bucks. This includes electricity use of: lights, kiln, stereo, and whatever power tools they decide to hook up to our electricity outlets. Our average water/electricity runs over 200/mo for a 100sq ft. house

-There was never any permit to convert the house from a 4bdr to a 2bdr. They use the front door while we use the back door leaving us with only one exit. It was brought to my attention that that is a major fire hazard.

-They are ALWAYS on the property. There is a garage out back full of my landlords shit, and he is always tinkering out there. There is also no more than 5 VW buses parked out front and back, along with what I call the "hippy shit pile" of broken down furniture that they chop up and burn, in my yard

-Since my agressive refusal to be responsible for any of the plumbing bill, my landlord has given my dirty looks and even once told me to "fuck off" in front of my three year old. He is ALWAYS in front of my house, and I have to walk by him all damn day long. Lots and lots of dirty looks.

-The landlady has had me sign multiple "Oregon Lease Termination" since they decided that we are not a good fit for their faux hippy commune. I don't believe they can even legally rent the house to people who are not employed in their business (pottery)

Some have suggested that I sue. We are looking for a new place and are having an awful time since there are so many university students moving to the area to attend school in the fall. We asked for more time to move, but the landlady found a new tenant who "agreed" to move in on the 15th of August, so that is when we need to be out.

Advise me, should I just get the fuck out of here, or should I talk with every city official to make sure this doesn't happen to anyone else? And I will honestly say that I had no idea the pottery studio was a means when we first moved in; I thought it was a hobby space. Boy, how I was wrong.
posted by ohmansocute to Home & Garden (25 answers total)
Leave. Toxic environment. But you don't have to leave until the end of your lease. On the page referenced you said you just signed a new lease on June 8th.
posted by Gungho at 11:01 AM on July 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

Yes, then I signed a lease termination.
posted by ohmansocute at 11:03 AM on July 17, 2012

If you're just trying to screw them over as you leave it might be easier just to call the city permit office/codes/zoning and the tax assessor, fire marshall, IRS, anyone you can think of and rat them out rather than suing.
posted by ghharr at 11:04 AM on July 17, 2012 [5 favorites]

Why did you sign a "lease termination"?
posted by Goofyy at 11:04 AM on July 17, 2012 [2 favorites]

Absolutely call code enforcement the fire marshall and any other city agency you can think of on your landlord, enumerate everything you've told us here. You think he's pissed off NOW? Just freaking wait.

Arrange for a storage locker to store your stuff on the off chance that you don't find a place (although I think you will, you've got a month.) Start packing now.

I don't know what you'd sue for. You got adequate notice. If they have your deposit, document the shit out of the condition of the unit and insist on a walk-through with the landlord upon departure.

Video the walk-through. Also, prepare a document for your landlord to sign saying that you'll recieve your deposit within X days at your new address. This will cut down on the whole "I didn't know where to send the check" BS that's bound to crop up.

Find your lease and your move-in punch list NOW. Laminate it and copy it, and don't lose it.

If you sue based upon habitability, you lose a bit of your credibility due to the fact that you were willing to renew your lease. Save that as a last resort.

Protect yourself and make getting a new place your new part-time job.

Good Luck!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 11:05 AM on July 17, 2012 [4 favorites]

We signed a new lease, then immediately after the plumbing problems started.
posted by ohmansocute at 11:05 AM on July 17, 2012

There's a bunch of stuff going on here. IANAL, but I've had a lot of experience with a tenants' rights organization, so it might help to break out your concerns;

1) You signed a lease termination. That trumps your lease for termination of lease terms only. That is; you are entitled to live in your space until your lease ends per the termination date. If you were coerced into signing the lease termination (blackmail, threats...), contact a lawyer. If you weren't, you have until then to leave. Presumably that's August 14th.

2) You think the landlord is illegally renting their space or using their space. Not your problem, tenancy-wise, at this point. Call the city permit office if you want to stick it to them, but if an inspector comes and sees the lack of exits, etc., before your tenancy ends, you may be out of your home sooner than August 14th.

3) You believe that the landlord is cheating you out of money, via the electricity bills. Not your problem anymore, and probably cannot be recovered. Cut your losses here.

4) Your landlord is rude and annoying to you. Not your problem anymore. Cut your losses here.

It sounds like there's a lot of personal stuff which is making it hard for you to go with the lease termination and making it feel really unfair and unjust. I agree - it is really unfair and unjust. But you've got a family to think about. It's not safe to raise a kid somewhere with a bunch of burning furniture in the yard, with strangers coming in and out of the business on site. Concentrate all of your energy on getting out and getting a new place to live, even if it means putting everything in storage and finding a place on AirBNB until you find a new place.

Even if you talk to every city official, it is still going to happen to someone else, via these landlords or other landlords, as long as people need roofs over their heads and someone is there to provide them. Don't burn yourself up trying to extract justice here. The amount of time and energy you'd spend is better spent finding a new place to call home, and supporting your family.
posted by juniperesque at 11:12 AM on July 17, 2012 [12 favorites]

You'll need to talk to a lawyer to see what, if anything, you can sue for. Sounds like it'll be hard since you voluntarily re-leased the place, and then voluntarily terminated your lease. It'll be a big hassle, cost you money, you seem unlikely to recoup much, if any of it, and you won't be able to let it go when you feel like it.

Instead, report their misdeeds to the various government agencies charged with enforcing them at your leisure. Write, don't call. Make sure you are succinct and stick only to things that are actually relevant to the agency in question. After that, I'd just forget about it and move on.
posted by grouse at 11:15 AM on July 17, 2012

What is your time, energy, and mental health worth?

That's what I thought.

Just move, and be more careful in the future.
posted by HuronBob at 11:31 AM on July 17, 2012 [2 favorites]

You're really stressed, no doubt. I don't know what made that apartment the best choice in the first place - you've been living in sub-optimal conditions for so long that you may not realize that you don't have to make that choice again now that push comes to shove. (And, based on past questions, the plumbing, graduate school, a partner at some distance, no family close by, not getting the job you wanted and raising a very little kid? I don't doubt that this is the last thing you need.) If you stay, and fight to stay, there is no joy here. Whatever joy there was to begin with has either evaporated or become tainted. You can't be truly happy there again, really. This is the kick in the pants to get out, literally. A change is as good as a rest.

Maybe you're not recognizing the universe is telling you "Run, ohmansocute, RUN!" Just drop what you can, and switch to moving mode. You don't have to fight every battle, you know. Where do you have peace in your life? Not there. You need a peaceful home. You don't need to further engage these people who've already treated you badly with legal issues and more time wasted (think of all those hours cleaning a poopy tub!) and possibly financial issues that you can ill-afford. Focus all your energy into finding a new place. Do everything you can to protect yourself from further claims by the landlords. Document, document, document. Research what you can really get them on, and write the various agencies if it feels good, but don't waste valuable time beyond -- that and submit as you're leaving, so you don't wallow in it and don't attract more poor treatment from them. Suing them isn't going to get you a better quality of life, in this case. It sucks to find a new home, and while this was good enough while it lasted, you can do better now. Follow Ruthless Bunny's move-out advice and get going!
posted by peagood at 11:35 AM on July 17, 2012 [3 favorites]

Good grod, just walk away. Spending time further enmeshing yourself with these people and this arrangement you find objectionable just further postpones your getting on with your own existence.
posted by phearlez at 11:41 AM on July 17, 2012

Thank you everyone. We are inches from getting a new house- listed on the National Register of Historic Places, no doubt.
posted by ohmansocute at 11:47 AM on July 17, 2012

Move as soon as you can --- you've signed that lease termination, and your landlords are BEYOND toxic: considering their past and probably future behavior, getting out will make your life considerably less stressfull and more peaceful.

As for the stuff about no business licenses or remodeling permits and their trashed eyesore of a property, move out first and get your deposit back --- then, if you still want to, THEN you can report them to the various zoning authorities.
posted by easily confused at 12:21 PM on July 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

Visit the Oregon State Bar's website and ask for a referral. You can get a consultation with a lawyer for $35. If they think your landlord might be liable for more, they will negotiate a fee with you.
posted by tacodave at 3:41 PM on July 17, 2012

The battles you choose can define your life. Walk away from this one.
posted by LarryC at 7:00 PM on July 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

Do not sue unless you value revenge over your piece of mind. It could take months and go nowhere.

For future reference, I believe landlords cannot bill for utilities unless they're separately metered, in California at least. (There might be exceptions I'm forgetting.)
posted by slidell at 9:06 PM on July 17, 2012

i'm confused—if all this was happening since you moved in, why did you sign a new lease in the first place?

i mean, what is the outcome you would like to have happen? call the city after you're out and have your deposit back if you really want to stick it to them—and if that's something that will make you feel better. otherwise, yeah, just let it go.
posted by violetk at 9:12 PM on July 17, 2012

Clarification: all this happened AFTER we signed the new lease. I only wanted to stay here to avoid the emotional and financial strains of moving in a city with a super competitive rental market.
posted by ohmansocute at 10:16 PM on July 17, 2012

seriously, if the property owner owns the garage, what is the problem with him being in there? Does their use of the front door keep you from using it as an emergency exit? If any of this was a change in your agreement, yes, then you have a problem, but it kind of sounds like this just wasn't a good fit for you (aside from the plumbing). Unless I don't understand and they actually took away the 4 bedrooms you were renting and took 2 of them for themselves and kept charging you for the rent of them? Then you probably would have a breach of contract.
posted by Vaike at 11:47 PM on July 17, 2012

Also FWIW you were paying WAYYY too much for electricity. I have a 4 bedroom house with electric dryer, dishwasher, and run two computers 24/7, and my bill never exceeds $50.00/month He's supposed to have separate meters for each apartment. So you know there is a problem with permits.
posted by Gungho at 6:41 AM on July 18, 2012

I only wanted to stay here to avoid the emotional and financial strains of moving in a city with a super competitive rental market.

If this is Portland, when I was up there I dealt with that by moving to Milwaukie. People hilariously regard it as "out of town" even though the drive up 99E to the bridges would be a comically short commute in LA.
posted by snuffleupagus at 6:51 AM on July 18, 2012

Vaike, if you do any research at all on rental housing and building codes, you'd understand. I don't know what kind of state you live in, but there are regulations here regarding what homeowners can rent out, and these people cannot legally rent this house.
posted by ohmansocute at 10:15 AM on July 18, 2012

Clarification: all this happened AFTER we signed the new lease.

so they all of a sudden started using the other bedrooms as their business, storing their junk, etc after you signed the new lease? was it stated in their lease that they would be doing that?
posted by violetk at 12:16 PM on July 18, 2012

Do you have windows? If so, having two exit doors may NOT be a requirement. You can find links to some building code in this question.
posted by slidell at 9:14 AM on July 19, 2012

Sorry, I misunderstood quite a bit of the question and thought he was there as well, and most of where I have lived has always been multi use, etc.

But I am still just think you should leave. The rest of it just doesn't seem worth it. Agreeing with others to focus on moving forward.
posted by Vaike at 3:40 PM on July 19, 2012

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