I'm in a moving mess. Help?
March 7, 2013 6:16 AM   Subscribe

My former landlords have turned into incoherent crazy people who don't understand the law. Please help me figure out a solution that doesn't leave me (or my former housemates) hundreds of dollars in the hole.

So in January I decided that I was ready to move. Nothing against my house or landlords, I'd just been there for three years and wasn't a huge fan of the neighborhood. My housemate also wanted to move, as she wanted more space and light than her basement room offered. I gave notice to my landlords, but also told them that my other housemates, a couple, were interested in staying on as the new primary tenants. I had not signed a new lease with them after the initial one-year lease ran out, so my understanding of Maryland law is that I was at that point a month-to-month tenant.

So i found a house and moved out at the end of February. As I was moving out, an inspector from the city came, as is apparently required when a new lease is signed. He took one look at our basement, which has been occupied by a tenant for the last three years, is not up to code due to ceiling height and cannot be legally used as a bedroom. This is a problem.

My former housemates cannot afford the house as a two-bedroom. Therefore, they are leaving at the end of March. They have not signed a lease.

My former landlady, who is now not returning my texts or emails and hung up on me at the end of our last phone conversation, is insisting that a) I owed her 60 days notice starting from the end of February, since that's when my housemates decided to leave, b) that she is owed the full amount of rent despite the house being reclassed as a two-bedroom (the lease I signed was for a three-bedroom), and c) something incoherent about security deposits that I don't understand. She is also claiming that I broke my nonexistent lease, the I walked off with my housemates' money (this is not true, and my former housemates and I are working together to find a solution), and that I, personally, owe her the full amount of rent for March and April.

We have offered to pay her whatever she feels is a fair amount of rent for a two-bedroom for March, since the full amount is vastly over market rate for the neighborhood and would put a serious financial strain on my housemates. She has ignored this offer and continues to demand the full amount. I am basically resigned to not getting any security deposit back; now how do I keep my housemates (and myself) from ending up in small claims court?
posted by nonasuch to Home & Garden (8 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
You don't. You go to small claims court.

It sucks, but unless you can do a "Jedi Mind-Meld" (sic) you can't force your landlord to do anything.

Write a demand letter (this is for you, your ex-roommates are on their own) asking for your security deposit citing the information contained in this website.

Either they return your deposit, or not. If not, hi-ho, hi-ho, it's off to court you go.

As always, if you choose to file in small claims court, call The People's Court and see if they'll mediate the case. That way, when you win, you'll be paid by the show, and you don't have to deal with the landlords any more.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:30 AM on March 7, 2013 [3 favorites]


Get her demands in writing, especially the incoherent part about security deposits.

Find a tenant advocacy group in your area. A quick google gives this reference on tenant/landlord disputes, but there is likely also a mediation organization you could contact.

You are owed the security deposit, less actual damage beyond normal wear and tear, or actual lost rent. Damages for unreturned deposits are significant, as per the attorney general's document above:
The landlord must return a tenant's security deposit plus interest, less any damages rightfully withheld, within 45 days after the tenancy ends. If the landlord fails to do this without a good reason, you may sue for up to three times the withheld amount, plus reasonable attorney's fees.

Of course how to get these things without ending up in small claims court is a bit of a mystery. Personally, I would send her hard copies of your requests, and not talk to her on the phone any more; insist that all communication be in writing. You might consider also sending her a copy of the tenant/landlord dispute page with relevant passages highlighted. Lastly, I would not withhold rent unless you have contacted a lawyer or tenant advocate who says it is ok in your jurisdiction; in many locations it isn't, but your 3 bed to 2 bed situation is unusual.

And of course, I am not a lawyer, have no real idea what I'm talking about (beyond my own experiences as a tenant which aren't in your jurisdiction), but I think you should see at least a tenant advocacy organization about this issue. The tenant advocacy organization should be able to help with the human side as well: how do you convince someone that the law is on your side, without having to go to court to prove it?
posted by nat at 6:32 AM on March 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


There's a FAQ about tenant's rights in Maryland here (note that this does suggest that it's possible that a lease can renew for a year, rather than month-to-month--check your own lease).

The FAQ includes these contact numbers for assistance in LL/tenant disputes. Give them a ring and see what they say!
posted by Admiral Haddock at 6:34 AM on March 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


Response by poster: Complicating matters is the fact that, having just moved, my copy of the lease is in a box somewhere and I can't lay hands on it until I've unpacked everything. I have asked repeatedly for a copy of the lease from my landlords, and been ignored.
posted by nonasuch at 6:37 AM on March 7, 2013


Complicating matters is the fact that, having just moved, my copy of the lease is in a box somewhere and I can't lay hands on it until I've unpacked everything. I have asked repeatedly for a copy of the lease from my landlords, and been ignored.

Then....unpack everything and find your own copy. Or just open the boxes and figure out what box it may be in, and only unpack the ones it could be ("...okay, it's not in this box because there's all clothes in here, I'll leave the box packed and just move on to this one - oh, this is papers, this may be here, I'll go through this one...").

Mention the refusal to give you a copy of your lease to the tenant lawyer, but I somehow doubt that this will have much impact.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:41 AM on March 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


Do you and your housemates have one lease together, or two separate leases? This matters.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 7:04 AM on March 7, 2013


Response by poster: I was the leaseholder, and sublet to them. My landlords knew this.
posted by nonasuch at 7:42 AM on March 7, 2013


Complicating matters is the fact that, having just moved, my copy of the lease is in a box somewhere and I can't lay hands on it until I've unpacked everything. I have asked repeatedly for a copy of the lease from my landlords, and been ignored.

Um, unpack your shit and find your lease. It is not the landlords' responsibility to furnish you with a copy of the lease.

Housing/renting law varies a lot by location, but the process of going to small claims court is very simple and straightforward. The problem with winning in small claims court, though, is that judgments are not enforced. You might not get paid for a long time (or ever). But small claims court is a better option than bargaining with a crazy person.
posted by ablazingsaddle at 10:04 AM on March 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


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