Crazy aunt and a sick house.
July 13, 2013 4:54 PM   Subscribe

My aunt wants to charge me rent on a house that has black mold in it that has caused me to have seizures. It also has no running water, and the kitchen and half of the house is unusable. Snowstorm inside.

My aunt, who I recently found (I was adopted) - decided she wanted to give me this house out in the country. She felt bad about what she and her sister had done about giving me up when I was 5. So this was her way of bringing me into the fold (family).

Well, the first time I walked into the house, I could smell the mold. It definitely scared me. I planned on refusing it outright, but situations happened (vehicle breakins etc) and I needed a place to stay. The house is pretty secluded so I bought a tent and a porta potty and set it up in the backyard. I didn't last but two nights in the tent, because my blankets were all rained on and I slept between damp bedding. Sucks.

So June 26, I moved into the house. I bought a dehumidifier and an air purifier and consulted a mold specialist to find how to make the living situation bearable. He suggested I create negative pressure in the house and commended my use of the dehumidifier and purifier. June 29, I had my first seizure. I didn't know why it was happening, so I went to the doctor that Tuesday. By Wednesday they were happening every 30 minutes. My doctor put me on keppra on Thursday, and they became bearable.

I began looking for another place after I typed seizures and mold in the search engine and came up with tons of hits. I think I found one, and I can be out as soon as next week.

However, my aunt is the one who allowed this property to deteriorate to this condition. She is threatening me that if I don't fix the place up, I will have to pay rent of 500 dollars. Because she has been pin pricking me and in general trying to start a fight, so I replied

"You can't charge rent for this house. I am making the effort to move. Once I do - you will never hear from me. You claim to love me, but just as before, you do not love me enough. I tried to keep my mouth shut but you are consistently egging me on. If you try to charge rent for this house, I will seek damages. I did not want to get to this point and I know what your next move will be."

Can I seek damages?
posted by squirbel to Law & Government (20 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Did I mention the fridge is full of bugs?
posted by squirbel at 4:57 PM on July 13, 2013

Sign anything? Just walk away.
posted by Max Power at 4:58 PM on July 13, 2013 [8 favorites]

Get out ASAP. Live someplace else. Politely tell your Aunt that due to the condition of the house and your health that it doesn't make sense for you to live there. Go on your way and find another apartment.
posted by thebigdeadwaltz at 5:00 PM on July 13, 2013 [5 favorites]

I did not sign anything. She asked several times that I attach my name to documents, but I refused. Was I wise? I think so.
posted by squirbel at 5:02 PM on July 13, 2013 [2 favorites]

Is there something that you're not telling us that makes the situation less cut-and-dry? It seems obvious that the answer is get out of the seizure-inducing house immediately and find a new place to live, even if that means renting a room until you can find an apartment. If money is an issue then you should sell the tent, port-a-potty, dehumidifier, and air purifier.
posted by acidic at 5:04 PM on July 13, 2013 [2 favorites]

No, nothing else. I'm returning those items to amazon, though the tent is difficult. I don't know how I will get it back in the bag, lol.
posted by squirbel at 5:06 PM on July 13, 2013

Can you seek damages? Maybe. Even though you weren't paying rent, she very probably has to abide by landlord tenant laws. Find someone in your local jurisdiction who can tell you about the laws in your local jurisdiction. Certainly you should look into recouping medical expenses if that's the route you want to go. But my hard-won experience dealing with crazy relatives who I initially wanted to teach a lesson to or prove myself to, is that the ability to simply walk away and never talk to them again is absolutely priceless. The cost of litigating with those crazy hateful relatives is more than you will ever recoup in money.
posted by tllaya at 5:09 PM on July 13, 2013 [5 favorites]

[Squirbel, it's neither necessary nor appropriate to reply to every comment. If you need to clarify, that's ok, but otherwise just let the answers come as they will. Thanks. ]
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 5:25 PM on July 13, 2013

Ok, is the idea that she's saying she wants you to pay $500 for the time you've spent there already? I mean obviously you are not staying there so you can't mean 500/month for the future, right?

Just find somewhere else to crash and forget about the whole thing, including her existence, she sounds like crazy bad news. I'm so sorry that this is what you discovered by reconnecting with your birth family.

Just to be extra special super sure, keep the documentation of your medical visits; and specifically of the lack of running water. (In the far fetched case that she tries to take you to small claims court, you can probably show that as evidence that the place was uninhabitable, ie not rentable in the first place.)
posted by fingersandtoes at 5:34 PM on July 13, 2013 [2 favorites]

You've been using the dehumidifier and air purifier, they worked, and you're going to return them? That's not how retail is intended to work.

It sounds like you need to move out now, not, like, "I am trying to move," but, move, move. Into a shelter if need be.

It sounds like you went into the situation knowing it was a bad scene, helped yourself to what was on offer anyway, and are now looking to escalate the drama. Just cut your losses.
posted by kmennie at 5:41 PM on July 13, 2013 [31 favorites]

You're staying in a house you do not own.
The owner has every right to charge you rent.
The house is not safe, so you should not stay.

Spend the day tomorrow finding somewhere to go.
Then, go.

Maybe you're thinking:
"...but... but ...but..."
No buts. This one really is dead simple. But it's your aunt? Doesn't matter. And the adoption part? Doesn't change the situation.

It's not your house, so paying rent is appropriate.
The house isn't safe, so staying isn't an option.
Find a place to go.

P.S. As a point of reference: I used to rent the most amazing condo ever. Hardwood floors, ten panels of floor to ceiling windows, a gas fireplace. It was a small loft (one open room) and the landlord liked me, so he froze my rent permanently, and the rent was REALLY affordable. But then the building had a roof failure that caused mold. I started getting sick. The condo was amazing. I'll probably never find such a good deal on such a sexy space again unless I paid twice the price... but I could not stay. It sucked to move. God, I miss that place! But I couldn't stay. And neither can you.

Find a place to go.
...then GO.
posted by 2oh1 at 5:50 PM on July 13, 2013 [6 favorites]

If it's really as bad as you describe, no reasonable person would stay there. Some people would infer by the fact that you are staying there instead of moving out NOW that you are feigning the damages and you are just trying to get free rent.

So stop arguing with your aunt, move out, and walk away.
posted by grouse at 5:58 PM on July 13, 2013 [9 favorites]

IANAL, but it seems obvious that if rent wasn't part of the original agreement, written or not, and if you didn't amend the agreement along the way, then you can't possibly owe her rent. Neither do you have the right to stay there indefinitely. On the other hand, she probably doesn't have the right to unilaterally throw you out on short notice. Stay the few days you need until the new place is ready, then beat it, and ignore your aunt's tantrums. If the house isn't habitable then she isn't suffering any damages by your presence, and she doesn't have a leg to stand on; she's just freaking out because you're messing up her self-serving plans. Don't linger.
posted by jon1270 at 5:59 PM on July 13, 2013 [3 favorites]

Disengage and walk away. You won't be able to discuss this in any reasonable fashion, and arguing gets you nowhere. Avoid meeting with her, don't answer your phone, find another place to live, and leave no forwarding address or other contact info. You owe her nothing.

Move out. Move on.
posted by BlueHorse at 6:38 PM on July 13, 2013 [2 favorites]

The way to avoid drama is to refuse to engage in drama. Move into your new place and leave your aunt out of your life.
posted by windykites at 6:44 PM on July 13, 2013 [4 favorites]

This isn't a legal opinion, but I don't think you can seek damages. Even if you could prove that the mold caused you to have seizures (which isn't going to be proven just by the fact that there are many hits on a search engine about mold and seizures), it sounds like your aunt offered you a place to stay when you had no other place, and you chose to stay there despite knowing the condition it was in (versus a homeless shelter or whatever other option).

It sounds to me like you are letting this conflict get too personal and emotional. windykites has the right answer here. Even if your aunt is egging you on, the right response is to just tell her "all right, I'm moving out" or whatever - none of this manipulation or guilt tripping kind of stuff (i.e. "you don't love me enough!") Insults and such are not going to help. I can definitely understand your anger given the situation, but your best move is definitely to disengage without trying to get in any last cutting words, no matter what her response is.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 8:08 PM on July 13, 2013 [6 favorites]

Um this lady sounds crazy. Get out of there as fast as possible, change your number, and don't look back.
posted by radioamy at 11:16 PM on July 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

1) Aunt sounds nuts --- if you didn't sign anything, you don't owe anything. Just move out now and be thankful you WERE adopted, and didn't have to grow up around her!

2) You can re-sell the tent, the dehumidifier, the air purifier etc., but returning items used (in a moldy house and/or rained on) for a refund? That, as kmennie said, is NOT how retail works. You bought the stuff, you didn't RENT it.
posted by easily confused at 3:25 AM on July 14, 2013 [10 favorites]

It's not your house, so paying rent is appropriate.
The house isn't safe, so staying isn't an option.
Find a place to go.

Erm, not exactly. Without a signed lease, your aunt wouldn't be able to come after you for any money at all. The lease would indicate what you owe, rightfully. As of now, you're essentially squatting.

Likewise, you're essentially squatting. If you squat in a house full of mold, that's sort of your own fault, in terms of seeking damages. Because you are not paying for your domicile and haven't entered into an agreement (and are presumably in the US), it's highly unlikely you'd be able to seek damages at all, since it could be argued that it's not your aunt's responsibility to keep the home habitable when the home is not occupied by someone with a lease.

It sounds like your aunt was looking for a passive-aggressive way of getting her house cleaned up and livable by "letting" you stay there, which is weird in its own right. And mold remediation can be extremely expensive. I had an upstairs neighbor's bathtub overflow drain pipe come away from their tub so that when they'd use the tub, the water would flow into the draw, down through their subfloor, through my ceiling, and into my bathroom, bubbling the paint and such.

They determined there were slight levels of mold—in the space between the subfloor and the underside of their floor, essentially—and ended up having to take out a section of my ceiling, a section of the subfloor, and then redo that, and re-paint all of it and re-paint my ceiling. All said and done, this small amount of mold in a single isolated room in a space that breathable air doesn't really ever interact with cost nearly $4,500.

Run far, run fast, and break off communication if she gives you any more difficulty at all. You have absolutely no legal or moral obligation to this woman, though I am of course not your lawyer.
posted by disillusioned at 5:12 AM on July 14, 2013 [3 favorites]

You own a tent? Move out tonight and set up in a campground until you can find a new place. And like tllaya said, the cost/benefit breakdown of challenging insane relatives through the legal system does not work out. She doesn't have a lease, you never agreed to pay rent, she can't retroactively charge you. But she can say you have to get out now, and as unhealthy as the place is, you may as well do it. The tent is your out. Find a campground with a cheap overnight charge or better yet, a friendly person with a yard who will let you camp there. But get a new place ASAP and keep following up on your medical treatment.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 10:26 AM on July 14, 2013

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