Moving in problems
August 11, 2014 11:18 AM   Subscribe

There are a couple issues with the apartment we are moving into today- what to do?

My boyfriend and I are moving into an apartment today in St. Louis, MO. We flew out and visited in June and met with the realtor who is also the landlord-contact who showed us this place. We noticed some dog poop piles in the backyard but were only out there briefly- admittedly we were pretty starry-eyed about the location. After getting here today and starting to move stuff in I'm really stressed out about two big problems: one, the basement door is very broken, with holes in the concrete around it, the doorknob is falling off and it is very kick-in-able. Two, the backyard is a stinky sea of decaying and fresh dog poop, clumps of pet hair, flies, and old discarded rugs, including our portion of the fire escape/back door porch area that we share with another apartment.

The door seems like a pretty straightforward problem the realty co should fix, and if not could be decent grounds for us to request to break the lease. The dog poop/trashed yard thing seems like something we wouldn't be able to maintain without constantly picking up neighbors' dog doo or constantly arguing with them over it. This strikes me as a reason we should just try to back out of our lease right now before getting any deeper into this shitty (heh) situation. The yard just stinks (summer heat I'm sure is not helping) and while I'm fine with sharing a yard with dogs I was hoping to use the yard myself for grilling, etc.

my boyfriend and I are arguing about it- I want to try to back out of our lease now before we get in too deep, he wants to just live with the poopy and stinky yard/porch, move our stuff in and request to fix the door. I could really use some advice here. Should I just move in and anticipate a year of cleaning up feces? Or is this enough of a lease dealbreaker-combo that it's worth trying to escape from?
posted by ghostbikes to Home & Garden (27 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
This internet stranger thinks you should not move in, document fully, including photos, and if necessary, sue in small claims for your deposit after you finally get settled in St. Louis.
posted by JimN2TAW at 11:23 AM on August 11, 2014 [6 favorites]

I doubt you'll get use of the yard. It sounds like the owner isn't interested in keeping up their property / tenant safety.

Most importantly, I would not want to live immediately adjacent to a pit of decaying shit.

I would do whatever I could to break that lease.
posted by cotton dress sock at 11:24 AM on August 11, 2014 [5 favorites]

You need to bring up BOTH issues with the realtor/landlord contact as serious non-negotiable health/safety issues. You never know, it may just be this way because the previous tenant did not pitch a fit about the nastiness of the yard, and alerting the landlord to the issue might resolve it.
posted by joan_holloway at 11:26 AM on August 11, 2014 [5 favorites]

I would at least ask about the problems first, but document all your discussion in writing and say that if the problem isn't ameliorated in 30 days then you are going to go elsewhere. The landlord might totally be willing to repair the door, and the neighbor might totally be willing to clean up the yard. If you get any vibe of less than "oh, of course!" then I would probably cut and run.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 11:38 AM on August 11, 2014

The fact that your boyfriend would be content to live with conditions that you find untenable is worth a serious discussion or three.

His concept of what a "home" is may be non-mainstream.
posted by amtho at 11:51 AM on August 11, 2014 [10 favorites]

I think the reason the backyard is literally a steaming pile of shit is that the neighbours are lazy and think it's NBD, and same for the owner, who has clearly seen the place and had no shame about showing it. I wouldn't be optimistic about neighbours or owner changing their tune after one or two or twenty conversations. I don't think tenants should have to beg for minimum standards of health and safety, and if they do, it's a sign the owner is more slumlord than landlord. I'd really just not move in and would even lose the deposit if it came to that, not worth the stress, discomfort or risk imo.
posted by cotton dress sock at 11:54 AM on August 11, 2014 [4 favorites]

Umm if they already signed a lease then "don't move in" is not exactly that simple, they are probably legally responsible for a very large buy-out fee. I don't the boyfriend is dismissing the OP's concerns as much as he is dismissing the reality of the proposed solution.
posted by celtalitha at 12:05 PM on August 11, 2014

Also, please don't follow any of the above advice without looking (in depth) into your city's landlord/tenant laws. Where I live, you would absolutely not be able to SUE a landlord over a neighbor's dog poop. Your state/city may vary.
posted by celtalitha at 12:07 PM on August 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

Good point, celtalitha. The boyfriend's point of view isn't given in detail. I think my main point was this: expectations of what a home is and how much work/trouble should go into "clean" and "completely comfortable" is a topic that's made for a relationship's early cohabitation time. This seems like the latest possible moment for that kind of thoughtful discussion, if it hasn't happened yet.
posted by amtho at 12:13 PM on August 11, 2014

Ask the landlord in writing to fix both issues. Also try and find out what kind of dog that it is. A lazy dog owner usually owns an untrained dog. Some types of dogs, when untrained, can be dangerous. I briefly had to share a yard with an untrained chow that had just had puppies. I had to call the police several time just to allow me to leave my yard- the dog would trap me in my apartment. I did not renew my lease there.
posted by myselfasme at 12:32 PM on August 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

As other suggestions have said, bring it up to the landlord, but it in writing, preferably via express or certified so you have proof.
posted by Artemaximus at 12:34 PM on August 11, 2014

Dear Boyfriend,

No No No. You can not move in here.

This will literally turn out to be the WORST landlord situation you have ever endured. Landlord is showing very bad faith. If this is acceptable upon move-in, imagine what it will be like during the rest of your tenancy?

Document EVERYTHING with pictures. Make the realtor tour the property with you today, IMMEDIATELY.

Put your stuff in storage. Write certified letters. Take the landlord to small claims to get your money back. With good pictures, you will get your money back. You might not even have to go to small claims.

Even in super landlord favorable jurisdictions, secure doors on the dwelling and legitimate health hazards (YEP. YOU SHOULD PROLLY CALL THE HEALTH DEPT TO INSPECT THE BACKYARD. I'M NOT KIDDING) are legit reasons for breaking your lease and getting your money back.

You should report this apartment ASAP to whoever overseas rentals in your area. The phrase you want is "Warrant of Habitability." As in, feces and insecure doors are giant breaches in the warrant of habitability clause in your lease.

Boyfriend, you must immediately take steps to protect yourself and your girlfriend. You can not move into this apartment.

At this point, I would not accept promises to fix things. Your neighbor (who you have not yet met) is a fucking nightmare. You'd be on your own against them and the landlord if you moved in.

You would never have a moments peace living there. This is too much stress and strife.

I hope you take my advice. Good luck.
posted by jbenben at 12:47 PM on August 11, 2014 [13 favorites]

"Where I live, you would absolutely not be able to SUE a landlord over a neighbor's dog poop. Your state/city may vary."

- No need to sue over dog poop, this is what the Health Department is for!

As a rental property, the dwelling is licensed as a commercial concern in the OP's jurisdiction. All jurisdictions have regulations commercial businesses must follow. I PROMISE ON A STACK OF BIBLES that DOG FECES IN A SHARED YARD ON COMMERCIAL PROPERTY IS LEGALLY ACTIONABLE.

- This is the landlord's problem to enforce, failing that, the local Health Department.

This is not a neighbor-to-neighbor conflict.

I would not move in anywhere this sort of hardship (a neighbor-to-neighbor conflict) was foisted upon my shoulders as a tenant. Especially since the law says it's not a tenant problem.
posted by jbenben at 1:00 PM on August 11, 2014 [3 favorites]

The OP should check laws in their jurisdiction, they may be able to collect damages (storage costs, hotel, etc..) for being rented a dwelling that is not legally habitable.

Not that I think the OP should go to war over this. If they get all monies and fees refunded, I would call that a win.

OP, you need to find out what the law is, report the dwelling to the city for inspection, take pictures, write certified letters demanding your money back - and above all - do not move in!!

Best of luck.
posted by jbenben at 1:04 PM on August 11, 2014

Reading over the answers, I just want to clarify.....

If the OP and her bf don't move in, don't leave their stuff in this unsecured unit, call the city to make complaints and request inspections, takes pics, demands a walk through with the agent immediately, etc. etc....

The OP and her bf will have dodged a bullet and stand an excellent chance of bullying the landlord for a full refund, and barring that, they would win in small claims.

If the OP and her bf move in & leave their stuff in the unit, then they are basically saying the unit is safe, secure, and healthy enough to prohibit their legally breaking the lease.

Sadly, the decision to take strong action has to be made today, tomorrow morning at the latest.

Sorry you guys have to deal with this. We've all been there. We learned the hard way.

You're not stupid for getting taken advantage of, but you would be wise to learn from other's mistakes.

I can't see how this landlord or neighbor will be a good fit for you guys. At best, I think they'll lie about fixing stuff. This will put you in a bad spot legally if you put faith in any further promises. I'm pretty sure about this.

I hope you guys wave a big (legal-type) stick and get all your money back. Good luck!!
posted by jbenben at 1:20 PM on August 11, 2014 [2 favorites]

and above all - do not move in!!

Per the post, the OP has already moved in, so this isn't an option.

OP: I don't think it's unreasonable to want these issues remedied, but your boyfriend may be wiser in wanting to fix it from within rather than try to now back out of the lease. Depending on your lease terms, breaking it once you've already gotten the keys could be extremely expensive, well beyond just losing your deposit.

You can check my question history for my own recent move-in disaster, which turned out to be mostly okay--this is one possible outcome of simply speaking, pleasantly but insistently, with the leasing company. Now, we did have the leverage of not being in possession of the apartment yet, but we never had to threaten to back out.

As people in that thread pointed out, however, this does not bode well for the management in general, and you should probably plan not to stay in this apartment for long. Our management has proven to be just as much a giant pain in the ass as we might have expected; they'll never, EVER, spend a minute or a dime on this building unless we repeatedly insist upon it. But if we insist, they will (grudgingly) do it.

make all of your requests in writing;
send them to every person to whom they apply;
refer to the terms of the lease and your local tenants' rights' laws wherever you can;
give specific dates (in accordance with those laws) by which fixes must be made.

This is step 1. If they ignore this, then it's time to bring the big guns, crafting a case for breaking your lease and possibly involving the city.
posted by like_a_friend at 1:22 PM on August 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: A couple notes:
- the building has 6 units, a few of which have dogs - I know there are at leas 2 different people with dogs. I would feel bad harassing my neighbors to clean when they obviously haven't had to. (I'd probably just clean it myself) the yard already has a "please clean up after your pet" sign (lol)
- I'm having trouble finding relevant MO specific laws (esp with no internet)-just found the Revised Uniform residential landlord and tenant act which has some relevant stuff but not sure if it applies to us
- We are reading the lease and preparing to call landlord co. Conflicted about framing as "this is unacceptable we are leaving!" Or "please fix or else we are leaving"
- boyfriend does not think this is a deal breaker / is cool with not using the yard but is ok with breaking the lease if complaints are not fixed and is being v helpful since I am expressing that I am very stressed out and wanting to exit stage left. If it was just him he would just be staying tho. I can afford the deposit hit and he can't if that is relevant tho I could cover his if necessary
- can I just add that really stressed out about trying to settle this before the realty co closes and should we really just find a motel or something?! Even though there is an empty apartment that we (+cat) are already in?!
posted by ghostbikes at 1:30 PM on August 11, 2014

I imagine you and your boyfriend have different assessments of 1) how hard it will be to find somewhere else and 2) how much this stuff will bother you. Can you research #1 quickly -- even just a quick Craigslist search -- to have more clarity/shared understanding of the alternatives?

Also, I have had a great deal of success nicely asking landlords to fix problems discovered when moving in. I vote for attempting a polite conversation in which you share your safety concerns about the basement door, get a clear commitment to a timeline for the repair, and get some ideas for fixing the dog problem. Maybe the worst canine offender used to live in the apartment you just moved into? Maybe you could fence off a part of the yard for human enjoyment? Maybe the landlord doesn't understand the extent of the problem.

Good luck!
posted by equipoise at 1:45 PM on August 11, 2014

Call the Health Dept for your city ASAP.

Call the Realtor to come take a tour with you of the property ASAP.


You would not be harassing your neighbors over dog poop. You seem to not understand this is a serious health issue.

The city will be harassing your landlord, who hopefully will crack down on the tenants.

If you provide your city & county, maybe people can look up phone numbers for you?

Also, if I'm reading your description correctly, the broken door opens directly into your apartment, yes? Because that's not OK. Or legal. Really.
posted by jbenben at 1:49 PM on August 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: We just went to take a drive to the realty co. in person and the car won't start. HAHAHAHAHA

The broken door is into the basement which has laundry and storage and there is another door between that and the apartment.

I stupidly started cleaning some of the most egregious of the dog poop earlier and after posting this stopped and now I have a plastic bag of it chillin' in the yard. Well more heating than chilling I guess.

This is in University City.
posted by ghostbikes at 2:07 PM on August 11, 2014

The University City Department of Health nuisance hotline is (314) 505-8725. The email is [inspections at ucitymo dot org]. I bet if you call you can do so anonymously, which might avoid later bad blood between you and the landlord. (HIGHLY recommended if you plan on staying there.)

The bus system is fairly good -- you should be able to get where you need to go. If you are still unable to go to the realty company by 5:45, I would be willing to pick you up and bring you there once I get out of work.

If I were you, I would probably just hang tight until tomorrow, especially since it seems you can lock the door into your apartment. I don't think it is risky to leave the basement door in its current condition for a night or two in U. City. Maybe just unpack your mattress for now so you have somewhere to sleep, so that you don't have to go ahead and actually move in fully?

Good luck.
posted by likeatoaster at 2:44 PM on August 11, 2014

This is one of those issues where I think you need to be careful about taking advice from random strangers on the Internet, however well intentioned (except for my advice, of course!).

One problem is that state law varies when it comes to the tenant/landlord relationship, and what may be a justifiable reason for breaking your lease in one state may not hold up in another.

One question you will have to talk over with your boyfriend: how much money are you willing to sacrifice to extricate yourself from this situation? You may need to give up not just your security deposit, but also a month or two of rent.

Before you make any strongly worded statements to your potential landlord, I would encourage you to contact someone familiar with the local laws. That way, you can discuss this from a position of strength; I guarantee you that your landlord knows these laws.

Here is a list of Pro Bono Programs in your area.

If you are moving to St. Louis for school or work, I would contact your employer or University and see if they have any resources.

[Ancedata: I moved into a house without signing a lease, i.e., it was an informal month-to-month arrangement. Upon moving in, I discovered lead paint and what were pretty obvious code violations involving extension cords sitting in water in the basement. This was in a state with pro-tenant laws. Nevertheless, I had to provide 30 days notice and pay for the next month's rent in order to move out with out being liable to a serious penalty.

If undisclosed lead paint and crazy nests of wet extension cords can't immediately get one out of a non-lease in a pro-tenant state, I'm skeptical that you will be able to just walk away with all your money due to dog feces( unless your landlord just decides to release you from the goodness of his heart). But I don't know, and I would encourage you to speak to someone who does ASAP.]
posted by girl flaneur at 3:08 PM on August 11, 2014 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: We called the realty co. I left one as-restrained-as-possible-but-serious message on the main line re the yard and basement stuff; boyfriend called the maintenance line and spoke to the receptionist/secretary/clerical person who listened to our complaints, asked follow up questions and took notes with concern (we are also having problems with intermittent doorbelling and not being able to use our keys on various door locks). However they closed at 5 and won't be able to send someone to look/fix until tomorrow. i took a bunch of pictures. boyfriend is moving things out of the car into the apartment because we think the car issue is related to heaviness/shifting items. i'm at a cafe looking up legal items and checking out the available-now apartment scene in case it comes to that.

thanks for the offer likeatoaster :) and thanks everyone for the responses. spending some more time looking into this stuff now.

boyfriend has reassured me about wanting to get this settled even though it's more "for me." there are also lots of personal background details feeding our reactions that i neglected to get into such as: we moved for him to go to grad school, i have been extremely hesitant to move here and have been tending to stress out about it, he just spent a fortune fixing his car and is getting pretty hard up for cash, i have money saved but no job yet, he probably thought i was overreacting/being homesick/looking for excuses for why this is going to suck, he is possibly right in a way, we just drove a fuckton and he is maybe just happy to have made it here and wants shit to just be damn settled already, i don't blame him, but he and i could easily see this turning into me resenting him for being stuck in a place i am frustrated with, although our apartment is in a great location and pretty big and not uninhabitable as is but is definitely less nice than I remember it being. sigh.
posted by ghostbikes at 3:27 PM on August 11, 2014

I was under the impression the back door was into your apartment, and it lead on to a patio you share with another apartment.

Your landlord needs to adopt a zero tolerance policy for dog poop left in the backyard. Definitely the health department can help you with this.
posted by jbenben at 3:52 PM on August 11, 2014

It sounds like it's been just a brutal, brutal day - now that you've settled on a course of action, you can have a nice meal, a hot shower, and try to relax. I think that is a good idea. There are laws and procedures and (informed, professional) advice, which you'll obviously seek asap. Let that give you peace of mind and room to breathe -- there are steps, and you are following them. And you're moving quickly on it, which is good; you may get the resolution you want (there's a month before the semester starts; if the place is in a great location in a university town, you / the LL may have luck finding someone to take it quickly), or something that's acceptable enough to make it liveable. At the very least you know you'll have done what you could. Good luck and take care of yourselves, no matter what.
posted by cotton dress sock at 4:14 PM on August 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Sorry to threadsit, i'll stop after this I promise- I haven't really been able to find any specific tenant laws that would cover this other than maybe this line in our lease: "Said lessor hereby agrees to furnish to said premises hot and cold water, janitor service in the main entrance and halls, stairways, porches, and exterior of said premises, [and so on]" and this very general guide to landlord-tenant laws in missouri that mentions safety and cleanliness. I found this article on implied legal habitability but it doesn't seem like a strong case for a poop-ful backyard.

I am just dreading tomorrow as I can picture it now: the guy is going to show up, glibly smooth things over, maybe clean the yard superficially, we'll be talked into staying because everything will be temporarily fine and then it'll be too late for us to get out and i'm going to spend the next year stepping in and picking up poop that didn't even come out of a fur-butt i get to hang out with

not to mention that i'm stuck on this petty housing shit right now when i could be at a protest getting tear gassed or something
posted by ghostbikes at 7:45 PM on August 11, 2014

Did your landlord give you an emergency #?

I wouldn't move in until the broken doors are fixed
posted by brujita at 8:28 PM on August 11, 2014

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