Do we have a right to break our lease?
September 22, 2012 12:56 PM   Subscribe

We want out of our apartment. What is the best tactic to take?

My wife and I have lived in our apartment in Atlanta, GA for almost two years. (Our second, year long lease is up Dec 31.) At this point it seems very unlivable to us.

Major problems:
-Cockroach infestation that is almost unbelievable. We have had their contracted exterminator out to spray 3 times (free) and bought every roach product known to man, practically, at our own expense. I am sure the whole building is infested - I see them walking in from outside/the hallway. (It is an old building and there are big cracks around the doors, under the cabinets, etc.) They are everywhere - even crawling around on the floor, walls, etc in daylight hours. When you flick on the kitchen light at night it is like a horror story. (And yes, we keep the sink/counters free of dirty dishes, food out, etc.)
-No working oven. (The stovetop works - or, 3 of the 4 burners do.) The one we had broke months ago (early May.) The first time we asked maintenace for help - no response. The second time - someone came out, confirmed it was broken, said it would be replaced. It wasn't. The third and fourth time - no response. (We put in requests about once a month.)

Minor problems:
-shower clogs constantly, we buy Drano to fix it.
-the bathroom floor used to be tile and is collapsing, they "repaired" it by putting in some plywood and putting a cheap linoleum over it that is hideous and already ripping.
-people frequently park in our (private) parking lot leaving us with no space or a far away space.
-the electrical outlets in the kitchen are broken (save 1) and there are none in the bathroom.

We have other issues too with the apartment but they are just personal things (like hating the old, dirty carpet, annoying neighbor, 1.5 square feet of counter space in the kitchen, etc,) so I'm not mentally including them.

We would like to leave ASAP. We looked in our lease, but don't understand it (I'd be happy to email it to someone more knowledgeable.) It possibly calls for 1 months rent when breaking the lease, but I'm not sure.

We are calling them on Monday, but I want to be armed with information. I'd be happy to pay 1 month's rent to just be done with it, but I don't want to pay more. Pretend that when I call them they say we must pay 2 or 3 months - then what do I do?

Are any of these "offenses" breaking tenant's rights in Georgia, or do they legally justify the breaking of a lease? If our living conditions are not actually illegal, does it seem likely they'd let us out anyway to avoid bad publicity or do landlords not really care about that kind of thing? Should I pursue that angle, or just play nice and say we're moving out of state or something and beg for mercy? Does anyone have experience getting out of a lease?

I'd like to do this with as little bother as possible, but of course I have to weigh finances as well and paying the last 3 months concurrently with a new apartment is really a last resort.

*Despite how it sounds on paper, our apartment is not in a slum and they are not slumlords. It's actually in a very nice neighborhood near tourist attractions surrounded by expensive condos, townhouses, and some other apartments. The management company owns several properties in various areas of Atlanta and have always been lackluster in communication, even when we were trying to move in. (Lesson learned.)

Thanks for any advice.
posted by ohsnapdragon to Grab Bag (7 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
You've put up with if for two years now, and your lease expires in December.

Personally, I would say just put up with it for three more months, and have a new place ready to go January first (and if you can afford it, giving yourself a month of overlap between the two places will make the move a LOT less stressful).

If you really want to make a fuss, though, it sounds like you have enough problems to have the building all-but-condemned. Give the management company your list of problems (forget the stove, and stick to your health and safety ones - Bugs, mold, collapsing floors, faulty electrical wiring), and tell them to either make it all better within a week or let you out of your lease, or you'll call the local code enforcement / building inspector / health and safety / whatever applicable agency you have in your area. FWIW, having the building condemned will get you out of your lease.
posted by pla at 1:29 PM on September 22, 2012 [3 favorites]

Step 1: Read your lease. There should be a section that mentions the length of notice necessary to break your lease. (Usually 30 days, but could be as much as 90 or more.) Obviously you want to leave ASAP, but you also don't want to give them any reason to come back at you. There may also be a clause regarding the landlord's responsibility for maintenance, including keeping the premises rodent/pest free.

Step 2: Read the Georgia Landlord Tenant Handbook. Note that on page 9 of the GLTH, it says that a working stove is not required by law-- but that it may be in your lease (i.e., your landlord has stipulated in the lease that x, y, z appliances will be maintained by them for the duration of your lease.) Check your lease.

Page 51 states that in GA, landlords are not required to provide pest control unless otherwise stipulated in the lease. However, since your situation sounds like it might be in violation of local heath and safety ordinances, you may be in luck (so to speak). On page 4, there's a list of Legal Aid Society offices for Atlanta. Call the one for your county. Ask Legal Aid for the specific laws regarding this (I can't find them quickly online).

Shower, bath floor, and parking are not major issues as annoying as they may be. The electrical outlets not working is potentially bigger risk safety-wise than you think; it may mean your wiring is faulty/broken in the outlet but still 'live' in the wall, which is a fire risk.

I'd recommend calling legal aid before calling your landlord just to make sure you have all of your ducks in a row and don't potentially open yourselves up to additional liability. You are correct that you deserve to live in a place better than this; hopefully GA law agrees.
posted by Flamingo at 1:39 PM on September 22, 2012

Write a letter enumerating their offenses in language that is neutral yet firm. List things that are potential health and safety violations (i.e., things they would not want a building inspector to come out and notice). Include dates for the many times you've contacted them for help and been ignored. Mention that you are "not currently" planning to pursue legal action against them and would like to resolve this issue as quickly as possible. Conclude by stating your expectation that you will be released from your lease immediately with no fees. Format the letter in proper business format and email it to them as an attachment or fax it to their office.
posted by crackingdes at 1:42 PM on September 22, 2012 [2 favorites]

If the bathroom floor collapses that IS a major issue, as is the water damage and mold the plywood is hiding.

Call legal aid. You have serious violations in your building. You need the facts on how to proceed.

If it were me, I'd go into their office (secretly armed with factual info about the violations and where to report them) and talk with the management in person.

For whatever reason, they don't want to fix the infestation, the electrical, or the structural issues. Talk to them nicely, play dumb. Mention that you would much rather move out now, rather than staying on and fighting about the repairs, reporting the violations, etc.. Ask them if they would be willing to let you out of the lease under the circumstances WITHOUT PENALTY.

See what they say.

Yes. I'm pretty sure if you go through the documentation and reporting of the violations process for your jurisdiction, at some point you can legally walk away from this disaster. By then it will be December.

Just go talk to them in person, calmly. Be nice even when they are jerks. Keep it up, nicely, until they agree to your terms.

Good luck.
posted by jbenben at 2:02 PM on September 22, 2012

Or do it the way crackingdes suggests! Either way....
posted by jbenben at 2:04 PM on September 22, 2012

It might be a good idea to have pictures of any violation if you are going to contact any agency to complain. If the deal gets nasty, you will have proof.
posted by Cranberry at 3:12 PM on September 22, 2012

Before you even call the Atlanta Legal Aid Society (404-524-5811), see Georgia Legal Aid's relevant guides: "Tenants Rights," "Rental Housing: Terminations and Renewal," and "Repairs in Rental Housing". The latter two are collections of documents on those themes—I suspect you'll find answers there. Good luck!
posted by waldo at 8:08 PM on September 22, 2012

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