Is reduction of rent warranted in this situation? If yes, how to proceed
February 23, 2013 10:23 AM   Subscribe

I'm asking this for a senior citizen friend. Does he have a right to ask for a reduction in rent for a situation wherein he warned management of criminal activity......but was ignored?

My friend Dave is 78 and he lives alone with his cat in an apartment in Oregon. The apartment is in a large multi-unit complex.

For several months Dave and some younger people have been in a battle over a handicapped space that my friend usually uses. My friend talked to management several times about the situation and they were no help. I researched it and found that there was little he could do as the complex is private property and apparently they don't have to enforce laws pertaining to handicapped spaces. Still, of course, my friend complained here and there to management, because the people using the space seemed hale and hearty and not handicapped.

The younger people also didn't seem the type to live in this particular complex, because they were seedy types. Dave reported suspicious things to management several times over the course of several months. Each time he told the apartment manager something he was blown off and told that because of confidentiality issues, she could not discuss the other "tenants" with Dave.
Dave never put his concerns in writing and he didn't call the police himself, because he only had suspicions. He reported to management, for example, that he saw a guy go into the apartment with a "ton" of tubing.

Yesterday the police raided the apartment in question and found a meth lab. When the meth lab was discovered Dave had to leave his apartment for the day. He was told to take his cat with him, but the cat went into hiding with all the commotion..he had to ultimately leave the cat behind. He worried, of course, all day about his cat.

When Dave was in the Apartment manager's office and other neighbors were talking about the situation Dave was told NOT to talk about what he knew with others. He has always been given this admonition, because management has "rules" about "confidentiality". This "confidentiality" thing is what he was always told each time he complained about people who did not seem like they were legitimately on any kind of lease. He specifically told management months ago that he thought the people downstairs were making drugs (and he was blown off).

Well, today Dave is back in his apartment and except for some residual vinegar smell, all is well. The cat is fine. Life can continue as usual and my friend is happy the bad guys are gone. He likes living there. Here is his question. Can he ask for money off of his rent for all the inconvenience of this? The fact that Management allowed the situation to continue after repeated complaints seems like a it?

If Dave wants to approach the apartment complex about this matter, should he put his request in writing? What would be adequate compensation be for a situation like this? Is he entitled to something? Does he have any legal grounds to ask for this? Should he take this to people above the manager who ignored him? Thank you for any advice.
posted by naplesyellow to Law & Government (16 answers total)
Maybe a lawyer could find some way to make this work for Dave without a paper trail of complaints in writing. But as a layman, not having documentation seems to make this a dead end.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 10:26 AM on February 23, 2013

It sounds like the parking space is not assigned to a particular tenant. Is that correct? So it's not that they were using his space?

I suspect he might be able to argue for deducting one day's rent because of being asked to leave the house -- I've had landlords do that in the past when the heater went out, for example -- but I'm not sure that would be worth the time.
posted by jaguar at 10:34 AM on February 23, 2013

Dave can ask for whatever he wants, but Dave doesn't appear to have any leverage and will probably get bupkis.
posted by jon1270 at 10:39 AM on February 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

Meth labs are incredibly dangerous, so my first priority wouldn't be "inconvenience," it would be safety. Have the apartment and the building been tested for chemical residue? Is the building making arrangements for professional cleaning of affected areas? Residue from the chemicals used to make meth in amateur labs is highly toxic and can cause serious healthy problems. The fact that the apartment now smells like chemicals would make me very nervous. Your friend needs to make sure that the building is dealing with this, for the health and safety of the residents. If management seems not to be taking it seriously, I'd start making phone calls to local tenant's rights organizations, the city housing inspector, the health department, and other people empowered to help him force them to protect his health.

Unless his lease has a specific "confidentiality" agreement in it that prohibits him from talking to other residents about building conditions, or unless local laws prohibit it (which I find highly unlikely, though IANAL), Dave should not be bound by any "rules" the management chooses to impose on itself for its own protection. Assuming that neither of those conditions is true, Dave should talk with the other residents and work to mobilize and organize to force the management company to clean up the building and to compensate residents for any financial hardship they incur. But the first priority is ensuring everyone's safety, and I would not trust this management company to do that unless they're forced to.
posted by decathecting at 10:45 AM on February 23, 2013 [12 favorites]

A meth lab needs specialist professional clean-up. The chemicals used and created in meth labs are highly toxic and can contaminate walls and common ducting between the units. Instead of asking for rent discounts, I'd be asking for proof that the apartment was properly remediated and cleaned by professionals who know what they're doing with meth labs. I'd want proof that the apartment and common wallspace/ducting was tested after cleaning and given a clean bill of health. Things that smell like vinegar aren't necessarily vinegar and I'd be worried if I could smell chemical fumes in my apartment. If the management can't provide that and let me have copies, I'd move. If his unit is close to the unit in question (same building) he has a right to know this information. It sounds like the management's idea of tenant confidentiality is limited to CYA.
posted by quince at 10:50 AM on February 23, 2013 [5 favorites]

I don't really see how having to leave the apartment for a day constitutes an inconvenience warranting a rent reduction or credit. They have an obligation to provide a safe unit, long as that's happening, not a lot of leverage.

I think that even if the management company feels it (and employees) has an obligation of confidentiality towards its tenants, irrespective of the legality of their actitivities, because its info gathered to provide a service but DAVE doesn't. Dave can gossip to his hearts content, but that won't cause him to learn anymore.

You have no idea if mgmt actually "blew off" his information or passed it along to the authorities, leading to the raid.

Generally speaking, making written complaints and keeping a copy or log of them, is really the best way to demonstrate neglect, or a chronic problem, down the road.
posted by Heart_on_Sleeve at 11:02 AM on February 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

Do some googling, NOW.

I am no expert, but from what I know of meth labs, one day hardly seems sufficient to clean up.

I recently heard a story about someone going psychotic from taking baths in a bathtub that (unbeknowst to them) had been used in the production of meth.

Yes your friend should see an attorney, but the reasons are for safety and endangerment.

It doesn't sound like Dave is safe, and FOR SURE it doesn't sound like the next tenant to rent that apartment below him will be safe.

He should talk to a lawyer, not the Internet.

Best of luck to your friend.
posted by jbenben at 11:16 AM on February 23, 2013

I hope Dave has learned that his building's manager is (unfortunately) not a problem-solving resource for him, and he should call the police instead if he suspects laws are being broken.

I suspect the manager has pigeon-holed him at this point as "that pesky tenant who keeps calling to complain about stuff". This means whatever he calls about is going to be taken less seriously, whether it has merit or not. That's a frustrating position for Dave to be in, surely. But it doesn't mean that they owe him anything for having been right.

It will likely take awhile (like, maybe a year of no calls) to change their mental image of him. And that might not make any difference anyway, because they seem like deadbeat landlords.

Is he interested in trying to reset the relationship with his landlords so that they believe him more and care more when he complains? Asking them for a rent reduction precludes that.

Or would he be better off in a building with more supportive ones? I think it might be time to move, and start fresh.
posted by nadise at 11:26 AM on February 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

I don't think you'll get anywhere with the rent discount, and I think Dave should strongly consider using this as an opportunity to break his lease and move. I recognize that moving might be an ordeal for a 78 year old, but something sounds off about this management company.

I can understand the manager not discussing confidential information with Dave, but she doesn't have to do that in order to listen to his complaints. I would also expect a little more urgency from them if a tenant has said for months that he suspects people in the complex are making drugs.

I think the strangest thing is her telling Dave that he can't talk about what he's seen with other tenants. This sort of makes me wonder if the manager or the management company knew what was going on and was looking the other way for some reason, and doesn't want him letting the cat out of the bag.

Also, as others have mentioned, one day is nowhere near long enough to decontaminate a meth lab. He will probably be happier and safer in a different building.
posted by Colonel_Chappy at 11:29 AM on February 23, 2013 [5 favorites]

Dave probably does not have a case for withholding rent, as he has no proof of alerting his landlord to problems. In my understanding (and as a person who once considered withholding rent from a slumlord and the wife of a person whose employer withheld rent from a deadbeat), it's very difficult to do this legally. So, lawyer.

I do think Dave could probably make an excellent case for breaking his lease with no penalties. Again, perhaps consult a lawyer on this just to avoid pushback from the landlord. But, move. Move now. Clearly the landlords don't give a flying fuck about drugs being made in their building, so there's probably a whooooooole bunch of other problematic stuff they don't care about, either.

It might be a good idea for Dave to check in with his doctor, too--maybe just a phone call, "so, turns out I was living above a meth lab for x months; anything I should keep an eye out for?"

In the future, research tenant rights in your state so you know how to handle stuff like this. For example, in Massachusetts, one criteria for withholding rent is having certified complaint letters delivered to the landlord over a certain period of time. Hopefully that won't be an issue ever again, though!
posted by Fui Non Sum at 12:20 PM on February 23, 2013 [2 favorites]

I've thought some more about this...

This isn't about a parking space. I think the issue (meth lab) got lost in the narrative.

Your friend doesn't want a rent reduction, he wants a safe place to live. He wants medical attention if he's been exposed to toxic chemicals.

I'm not convinced his place is safe to live in at this time.

He needs:

- A lawyer who can help him obtain...

- Testing of his apartment for chemical contamination

- A doctor who will treat your friend for exposure to toxic chemicals

- Clean-up of his apartment, or a new safer apartment, etc.

The problem here is we don't know how long this issue went on and we don't know the laws in your jurisdiction.

The landlord might have been cautioning your friend to be silent because there was a secret investigation going on, and they were protecting your friend from retaliation or other violence.


The landlord might be cautioning silence to your friend because there is liability they are trying to avoid.

It's possible there is wide-spread contamination in the building and the landlord could be on the hook to re-locate all of the tenants, depending on the law. Or maybe the landlord should have had the fire department evacuate the entire building the moment a meth lab was suspected (because they can blow up) and instead there was an investigation first?

IANAL, so I don't know.

A Lawyer will know. Your friend should consult a few over the phone to get an idea of what he's dealing with and what remedies he's entitled to.

I don't want to scare you, but meth is really toxic, like, sometimes houses used as meth labs get condemned and torn down because they can't be made safe again.

Your friend needs professionals who have a background in this particular issue. I wouldn't be ok talking with doctors or lawyers who were not well versed on the health and safety concerns living next door to a meth lab presents.

Hope that helps.

He might want to call his jurisdiction's housing authority... But again, in this particular case, I think a lawyer will get better and more comprehensive results than your friend will get on his own.

This isn't about a parking space. Your friend could have been blown up if he was living adjacent to the lab. Ditto he's been exposed to toxic chemicals if he was living adjacent to the lab.

Hope I've at least made the case for your friend to follow through on insuring that his apartment and the building are, in fact, safe for habitation. Also that he should get tests to rule out exposure to anything toxic from the meth lab.

Good luck.
posted by jbenben at 1:35 PM on February 23, 2013 [2 favorites]

Just thought of something else, and perhaps others can weigh in on whether it is something for Dave to consider. Does he have renters' insurance? These policies often cover costs of temporary relocation while things like fire damage are repaired. I wonder if he might find any help there, if he already has a policy? A disclaimer--sometimes it is tricky to figure out whether reporting something on your insurance might cost you in the long run, so tread carefully. But I'd definitely give them a call, were I in Dave's shoes.
posted by Fui Non Sum at 2:05 PM on February 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

I knew after I wrote this that the business about the parking space might come across as picayune. I guess I felt compelled to add it because the parking space issue was (is) a big damn deal for an actual handicapped person and the issue about the parking space led Dave to notice these particular neighbors more so than other neighbors. The management pretty much told Dave 'tough luck' over the parking space and commenter nadise probably has it right that management might see Dave as someone who pipes up about things he doesn't like. Maybe they have indeed become inured to complaints from him.

Thanks to everyone who took the time to answer. I could practically mark every answer "best answer" because every answer helped. I really appreciate it, and I know when Dave reads everything, he will be very grateful for the advice. THANKS, ALL.
posted by naplesyellow at 4:10 PM on February 23, 2013

I think Dave needs to talk to a lawyer.

But: The confidentiality agreement sounds bogus; unless Dave actually signed such an agreement, he can talk to anyone, anytime about anything he wants to talk about. The handicapped parking is more problematic; you'll need to check local laws to be sure, but if it's true that enforcement of private parking is management's business, Dave may be SOL here. But here's a thought: since the on-site manager won't do anything about it, how about going over his head to the next level up?

The meth lab though.... that's a real worry. How close is that unit to Dave's? Same building, next door, next building over, several buildings away? It's true that, as other posters mention, any place used as a meth lab needs (at minimum) professional hazardous materials cleanup, and that's definately NOT a one-day job. Even worse: depending on how long they were cooking in there, the place might even need to be demolished --- the chemicals used in cooking meth soak into the very walls and floors.

It's unlikely Dave can get any kind of rent reduction for the one day of the police raid; but maybe you can see about management moving him to someplace safer.
posted by easily confused at 5:22 PM on February 23, 2013 [2 favorites]

Oh, and from now on, make sure all communications with the apartment manager are in writing, and even better if he can send copies to the owners or whoever is above the on-site manager.
posted by easily confused at 5:28 PM on February 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

It is illegal to park in a handicapped space without a placard or handicapped license plate. He should call the police directly and they can issue a hefty ticket or even tow the vehicle. It does not matter if it is on private property. His property manager is incompetent and probably worried that the owners might find out that they have rented to meth dealers. I agree with the poster above...all complaints and requests in writing.

I am planning on moving to Oregon in the next year. There is a ton of senior apartment complex's at least in Portland. If I was 78 I would look for a senior building that is rent subsidized or just a senior building if he doesn't need the financial help.
posted by cairnoflore at 10:19 PM on February 23, 2013 [2 favorites]

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