Moved into a bad apartment situation. What can I do?
October 11, 2015 1:44 PM   Subscribe

Moved into a bad apartment situation. What can I do?

I leased an apartment for one year starting October 1st. I moved in the weekend of the 3-4th since I was traveling for work the week before and after. The apartment is in an older house, and I knew that it was a bit rough around the edges (needs new paint, kitchen could use updating, etc). But it's in a great location and has nice hardwood floors so I took it.

When I took possession (night of the 2nd), it was not cleaned, and maintenance that the landlord had assured me would be done was not. The landlord had clearly not been in the place since the previous tenants left, as she said 'OK, I need to get this place professionally cleaned' as we looked around. She also said that she would be having maintenance done in the coming week (replacing stove, fixing broken cabinets, painting where the current paint job was particularly bad). I moved my stuff in from my old apartment and left on my trip.

I returned Friday night. The apartment had been cleaned somewhat - the W/D is still quite dirty and the apartment's not spotless by any means, but better than before. The maintenance had not been done - they finally came on Saturday morning. More concerning, there were numerous rodent droppings on the freshly cleaned counters and atop the fridge. I found 2-3 more throughout the apartment, and have no idea if there are more under furniture or boxes. Probably 10 in the entire apartment that I know of. I emailed the landlord and she said that the apartment had been treated in the past for rodents and should be under warranty, so she'd contact the pest control people. Then yesterday I discovered that the washer doesn't work. It goes through the wash cycle and then doesn't spin or drain. I contacted the landlord and haven't heard back from her yet (~20 hours later).

So, I moved into an apartment that was not clean, did not have promised maintenance/repairs performed, has non-working appliances, and has a rodent problem (I don't know what constitutes an infestation but it's not like they're running around at my feet...yet). This has been a disaster so far and I'm really not looking forward to living here given how many things have gone wrong and the seeming indifference of the landlord. But, I'm not sure if I have any recourse at all. If I don't keep my end of lease the landlord can fine me and/or start eviction proceedings. But I've looked at a few tenant resources online and it looks like I can only break my lease if there are insect/rodent 'infestations' or if the landlord refuses to fix problems that create an unsafe living area.

I've only ever rented from management companies before, and have had very few problems. Am I overreacting? Is this par for the course for small landlords? If not, what should I do at this point? The mice more than anything else gross me out. If I were to leave tomorrow I would be responsible for paying the remaining term of the lease, until it is re-rented, which is not ideal (not to mention I have nowhere else to go). But I'm not sure that I have any other options aside from sticking with it and hoping that things will get better once these initial problems are resolved. Help?
posted by btkuhn to Home & Garden (18 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
1. Apartment not clean. Unless we're talking bad, bad serious filth, just clean the place yourself like the adult that you are. A lot of apartments need a sweep and a wipe-down upon move in just due to dust and disuse. Awesome if the landlord spit-shines the place before you move in, but hey, you already moved in and it's not like they can go back in time and do this.

2. It sounds like the maintenance actually has been done, now? Again it would have been nice if this had been done before you took possession of the place on the 2nd, but it was done by the 11th, which was only a week after you moved in, and you were away during most of the time before the maintenance was done. And, again, there is no remedy for this unless you have a time machine you didn't mention in your post.

3. Broken washer. Stuff like this is going to happen. Maybe it happens the week you move in, maybe it happens six months from now. Needless to say, expecting immediate repair during a holiday weekend is probably a little much unless this is a luxury building with a dedicated maintenance team on call 24/7 including holidays.

4. Rodent problem. It sounds like they're already sending around an exterminator, and you haven't actually seen any mice. Go buy some traps if it's really that much of a concern. If there's no follow-through on the exterminator front or you actually see a mouse, THEN you can flip out.

Granted my experience of rental housing is mainly in New York, where things like working appliances and a confirmed lack of vermin are considered lucky rather than necessary. But, seriously, this doesn't sound like a "disaster" by any means. It sounds like your landlord is kind of flaky and is getting to stuff as best she can.

I would give it at least until the end of this month and see if the issues that are outstanding get taken care of promptly, and if any new issues arise. But right now, yeah, in my book you are overreacting.
posted by Sara C. at 1:56 PM on October 11, 2015 [7 favorites]

Google [your location] + tenant rights and you should be able to access information about what the landlord is required to do, and your options for when they don't do it, up to and including breaking the lease.

Frankly, I would be finding a way to break the lease--this many issues in your first week screams big red flag to me. You're not overreacting; there are (possibly disease-bearing) rodents in your home, and the landlord has failed to perform routine maintenance that in most places they are required to perform. Worse, they've promised and failed to deliver. This is not boding well for a good landlord-tenant relationship.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 2:12 PM on October 11, 2015 [15 favorites]

You might just find out if there's somewhere nearby you can speak to a legal-type person (or city advocate, possibly in some kind of tenant rights capacity, or code enforcement, or the health department) for free or cheap. This is likely one of those situations where a sternly-worded letter will give the landlord sufficient incentive to let you out of the contract with no repercussions.

I think that legal-type person should be able to advise you on suing for anything you've paid so far, plus a little extra for the cost of rehoming yourself.

(It's entirely possible that you could just say, "So, do you want to just let me out of this lease and give me my money back, or do I need to get a lawyer?" and be done with it. She was clearly hoping you'd just give in and put up with it, and would probably rather have a tenant who will do exactly that.)
posted by Lyn Never at 2:40 PM on October 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

I'm very lucky with my current landlord, who responds within an hour, but past LLs have done so within 24 hours. Rodent infestation has never happened but I am pretty sure would be met with concern (it's their property!) and immediate action. 2nd that this is red flag city and worth breaking the lease for.
posted by cotton dress sock at 2:40 PM on October 11, 2015

A lot of this might depend on which market you're in, but as a renter with 15 years of apartment living under his belt (Chicago and Montreal, FWIW), I say you should be seeing if you can get out of the lease. Whether and how that can be done will depend on jurisdiction and how much risk you're willing to take. There are good suggestions above for checking into that.

I rarely jump into threads like this because I have no particular expertise. But I'm chiming in because I see myself in your question. I started out on almost the exact same footing with a landlord once. It didn't end well. If I could go back and get out of that place a year earlier — before the string of false promises, the city housing inspector, the broken heating, the mice — I would.

Listen, this is not a guarantee that things will go badly if you stay. They might be fine! If you stay, I hope they do turn out fine. But you should avoid sticking around to find out if possible.
posted by veggieboy at 3:05 PM on October 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks for the responses so far. Just to add some info: I talked to the upstairs tenant, sounds like the rodent thing has been an ongoing thing. Someone comes out every so often, puts down pesticides (or something) but it never fixes the problem. So this is something the landlord was aware of. I guess I need to figure out whether this is something the landlord was required to disclose to me beforehand? She seems like a nice person and I guess I have been overly trusting...
posted by btkuhn at 3:08 PM on October 11, 2015

I honestly don't think you need to figure out her motivations, that's not your responsibility.

Decide if you're going to pursue moving out or if you're going to put up with things as they are if nothing changes. One of the biggest problems with individual non-corporate landlords is that they aren't obligated to have any operating cash. You can want all kinds of things, and she can want to do them (or want to lie about her intent to do them to shut you up), but if she can't or won't actually do them that's really the end of the conversation.

There are precious few things a landlord is actually legally required to provide. The only reason they do any more than that is economics, like taking the hit on having to pay to turn a place over or have it sit empty because nobody will accept it in the condition it's in.
posted by Lyn Never at 3:19 PM on October 11, 2015

You can want all kinds of things, and she can want to do them (or want to lie about her intent to do them to shut you up), but if she can't or won't actually do them that's really the end of the conversation.

There are jurisdictions where there's a bit more power on the tenant's side and well-documented footdragging on dealing with livability issues can be effectively responded to by simply making the required improvements yourself and deducting their cost from rent. I do not recommend this route, however, unless you know your exact rights in your specific municipality on this front: what is the landlord responsible for, what constitutes landlord noncooperation, what expenses can be reimbursed in this manner, and exactly how to document all of the above.

Basically, if you want to fight you want legal aid. Doesn't necessarily mean hiring a lawyer, but means contacting some sort of tenant's-rights clinic and figuring out your options.
posted by jackbishop at 3:32 PM on October 11, 2015

Independent landlords tend to be a bit quirky when it comes to maintenance requests so I would use a lighter touch there. For rodents and vermin, I would just buy traps and mail the receipts to your landlord until they fix it. Most independent landlords care about their properties since it is their personal investment but sometimes they're flaky or unresponsive. As a new tenant I would be careful not to sound the alarm too readily to avoid a "boy who cried wolf" type situation in the future.
posted by deathpanels at 4:58 PM on October 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

To me it sounds like she is being responsive and is at least attempting to address your complaints, which is more than you can say of many property managers and landlords. I don't think you should jump to moving out right now or anything. In the mean time, I think you'll have to deal with some of this stuff yourself and will have to keep in touch with your landlord about the rest.

On the cleaning: I'd just go ahead and clean the apartment myself. That's often necessary after moving in anyway, and I'd rather do it myself now than have to wait days for someone else to do it for me.

On the rodents: would you be comfortable setting up some traps and/or rat poison to cover the next few days? I'd also recommend keeping as much of your food in the fridge as possible and keeping anything else in heavy storage containers.

Give your landlord a couple of days to get in touch with the company. I would follow up around Wednesday. "Hi, just wondering whether you'd be in touch with the pest control company about coming out again? I've been finding droppings around the place, so I'd really like to get that sorted before the problem gets out of control."

On the washing machine: unless the previous tenant told her that the washer doesn't work, how was she supposed to know this?

Is it a top loader or a front loader? I've used a couple of older top loaders that would stop before the spin cycle because the lid would become loose during the wash cycle and the washer would think that the lid was open. We dealt with it by putting something heavy on top of the lid to keep it in place. After working out that solution, we had no more issues with the washing machine.
posted by kinddieserzeit at 5:07 PM on October 11, 2015 [2 favorites]

I don't know where you are living, but in different places I've lived across the US I've had different rights as a tenant. Definitely find out what your tenant rights are and document, document, document with dates and times, print-outs of e-mails and notes as to when you called and what was discussed, photos of everything (including mouse poo) as well as any costs associated with you having to buy cleaners/traps etc.

In some places I've lived, the tenants rights were so strong that you could stop paying rent now. In other places I've lived you'd be SOL. So, call the city asap, google like mad and figure out what you can do.
posted by Toddles at 5:38 PM on October 11, 2015 [4 favorites]

As long as it's clear on your paperwork that these were all issues upon entry into the lease, so that you get your bond/security deposit back, I would clean the place myself and then follow-up with the other stuff in accordance with your state's local tenancy laws. Document everything. Take photographs. Everything in writing. That sort of stuff.
posted by turbid dahlia at 5:50 PM on October 11, 2015

She is a lying and you should do everything possible to get out of this lease. Vermin on this scale is 10000 percent unacceptable and that + everything else screams headaches and annoyances. And vermin.

Your upstairs neighbor exposed her as a liar, and you are experiencing same. What are you sticking around for?

It's actually not that difficult to get rid or rats/mice from a property and prep an apartment for rental if you put in the effort and money to fix it appropriately. Usually a few minor things show up after a well maintained property is rented, but nothing serious.

This is not your experience.

When you see tons of deferred or half-assed maintenance + signs of rats/mice.... it is the sign of a shitty landlord. Continue this lease at your own peril.
posted by jbenben at 7:01 PM on October 11, 2015 [5 favorites]

I'm a property manager and the fact that she didn't check to see if the apt was clean is pretty alarming. She's either incredibly disorganized, just doesn't care or has people working for her that lie to her. If you keep living there you'll probably have to do a lot of things for yourself.
posted by Melsky at 8:59 PM on October 11, 2015 [4 favorites]

Once my friend and I were about to move into an apartment that was crawling with roaches. I confess that I would've stayed (historically been bad at asserting myself) but thankfully my friend insisted that we get the hell out. This was a Chicago place where the landlord lived in the building; he promised that they'd send for an exterminator, etc, but with enough arguing we got the lease torn up and our deposit back.

It all depends on your tolerance for vermin but given that the upstairs neighbor mentioned it as a chronic problem, I would take that as a red flag.
posted by Standard Orange at 10:09 PM on October 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

Take pictures. Put rodent droppings in a baggie, maybe. Evidence is way more convincing than an earnest story.
posted by theora55 at 10:48 PM on October 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

Sorry to disappoint you, but I think this is par for the course with any rental? If you haven't had to deal with any of this up to now, you've been very lucky (and probably shouldn't have left your old place)! I have rented probably about 10-15 different houses over the years, in several countries, and tbh, I have NEVER not had to clean a house when I moved in, and I have NEVER not had to deal with pests, and a whole slew of small nit-picky things when you first move in, where the landlord's a bit lazy (or even better, there are the ones who 'upgrade' things and then use that as an excuse to charge you more rent. Um, its your house, and it was broken? I'm fairly certain I will not be taking your aircon with me when I leave?). If you rent with white-goods, expect them to break once in awhile, as they are often older or cheap. For this reason, I now own my own top-of-the-line washer and fridge, and just never rent places now with white goods included. I consider this an investment in keeping my clothes nice and lack of food poisoning. :)

Also, yes, older homes will have more problems, but you take the good with the bad, same as if you bought an older home and didn't have the money to fix it up just yet! You get nice hardwood floors and a great location in return! I wouldn't jump to moving out just yet, give her some time, after all it does sound like she is responsive and attempting to make things right (and yes, that IS responsive, I had a broken spin cycle on my washer in my old apartment for 2 months!). Consider that if you had just bought that house, would you have the money to fix all these things straight away, on top of your mortgage payments? Probably not, and you would put up with it until you could afford to fix it. I know it's tempting to demonise landlords, but do try to be fair, since it sounds like it may have been empty awhile, she may not even have the money to fix all those things immediately. I guess what I'm saying is try to show a little empathy towards her, and you may find you get more back! This approach worked wonders with my current landlord, and now we have a great relationship (which basically started out exactly like yours). In the meantime, try to think of the positive reasons why you moved there the first place, so that you won't dwell so much on every small thing!

I guess I'm just trying to say don't waste your security deposit and perhaps a few months rent, on a knee jerk reaction just yet. All that sounds pretty standard to me and the next place might always be worse (of course this depends a lot on your location, I admit the rental market is pretty poor where I am!).

I think all this is the package with renting, you get to live a mortgage and debt free life, but you have to put up with all the small annoyances of living in someone else's house. But consider this: If your basement floods, or the ceiling caves in, or even a tenant trashes the house, guess who has to pay for it! That's the trade-off. Expect that your owner will deal with only the large disastrous things, but not so much all the little small annoyances, because they don't have to live there and put up with it themselves everyday. Get good at DIY, plenty of things that go wrong around my house, turns out I have been able to fix myself. If it means I get it fixed straight away and am more comfortable in my home, I can deal with buying a few screws or pest traps or whatever. Or can you get a cat? That should deal with any rodents pretty quick (and they won't come back).

Consider it part of your cost of living. Like cleaning and lawn care and light bulbs. A necessary evil with living in any house, in order to make your stay there more comfortable, whether you own it or not (which you would still have to pay for, but on top of your mortgage, and insurance and other maintenance costs, etc).

For me, at this point in my life, I am happy with getting to put the responsibilities of home-ownership onto someone else, and I put up with all that to get that freedom of mind.

Perhaps try to frame it that way to yourself, as it sounds like you may already be a little bitter about this relationship? Which, I can tell you, is only going to make it worse, not better. They will be less willing to accomodate your requests, and less likely to give you a break when/if you do move out, if you come across that way.
posted by Shibui at 2:33 AM on October 12, 2015 [2 favorites]

Without knowing your location, I see on your profile an email address for my alma mater. I experienced similar maintenance "quirks" during my time renting in that area. I think it's par for the course in a college town? The landlords know you're there for only a few years and that you have low expectations, compared to dorm life, and that you won't be in town to badmouth them in a few years. I think they also have an expectation that students will be partying in their property, so they feel somewhat justified in letting maintenance slip.

That said, your particular landlord sounds more scatterbrained than malicious. As a long-time renter in North Carolina, my go-to phrase when entering negotiations like this is "uninhabitable." You can prove that the property is uninhabitable by any reasonable standard (I think rodent infestation is your best case here) and you're no longer on the hook to pay rent. Most landlords will pay attention at that point. Good luck!!
posted by witchen at 8:13 AM on October 12, 2015 [1 favorite]

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