Lease question: I don't want no uncompensated burnination!
May 19, 2008 6:33 AM   Subscribe

I am moving to a new apartment in Washington DC, and in reading over the lease there are a couple things I am not so sure about... Can you please take a look at the clauses and tell me if they seem reasonable?

This (12) is the clause that has me a bit worried. To me it looks as though if my upstairs neighbors start a fire, and the building is smoke damaged and uninhabitable (but not a total teardown), then I have to keep paying rent while the landlord goes about getting the place renovated. That seems highly unfair, and admittedly a bit unlikely.

Would it be unreasonable to request a change to this clause? Any suggestions of a way to reword it that would be palatable to both sides?

Thank you very much, and I know you're not my lawyer (or even a lawyer at all)!

12. If the premises are rendered totally unfit for occupancy or fire, act of God, or rioters or public enemies, or accident, the term of this lease shall immediately cease upon the payment of rent apportioned to the day of such happening. If, however, the premises are only partially destroyed or damaged and Landlord decides to repair the same, such repairs shall be made by Landlord without unreasonable delay, and this lease shall remain in force and effect without any abatement in rent.
posted by allen8219 to Work & Money (13 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Keyword is unlikely.

That said, you could try adding a clause after after "unfit for occupancy" that reads "as determined by Tenant."

This would let you make the determination as to whether or not the premises are unfit for occupancy.

Good luck.
posted by Pants! at 6:42 AM on May 19, 2008

Best answer: The propsect of fire or any other issue is a good reason to get renters insurance for your place, by the way.
posted by waylaid at 6:44 AM on May 19, 2008

"Unfit for occupancy" means "uninhabitable." So you wouldn't have to pay rent if the place was uninhabitable. If it bothers you, request a change (with an option to terminate the lease in 30 days or somesuch).
posted by smorange at 6:48 AM on May 19, 2008

Unless this was a handwritten affair or otherwise done specially for you I doubt they'll be very flexible in changing the terms of the lease. After all, adding "as determined by tenant" could mean that you could claim that flies buzzing around your apartment constitute an Act of God that makes the apartment unfit for occupancy. Odds are you'll have to deal with it or find another place.
posted by justnathan at 6:51 AM on May 19, 2008

Best answer: I am pretty sure that all states have a warranty of habitability. If the place is not habitable, then the landlord can not charge you for it. I don't know whether you can waive this warranty, or whether this paragraph would do it as it does not specifically identify the place as being unfit for occupancy if "partially destroyed or damaged." You might want to speak to a lawyer knowledgeable about landlord tenant law in DC or to a tenant's rights organization in the area.
posted by caddis at 6:54 AM on May 19, 2008

Best answer: As a Landlord myself, I think that clause is not right. If damage to the building occurs (in your example, smoke damage), the landlord will have to file a claim with his insurance company.

It is the insurance company that will declare the building uninhabitable and require the landlord to pay for alternative living for residents of the building while repairs are made. Landlord will be reimbursed for these costs, but unless he/she is trustworthy and honest, you may find yourself living in a hotel for a couple of months without reimbursement, and still (according to lease) be paying rent while the place is fixed.

If you really like the place, and the landlord, ask that clause to be modified.

Again, if damage occurs, it is up to the insurance company to determine if the building is uninhabitable, if they do, landlord has no control and you will be required to leave temporarily.

If its minor damage, some landlords will not report the damage for fear of getting shut down, and will pay for repairs out of pocket. In that case you could find yourself living in a sick building (smoke or mold conditions), and a quite uncomfortable place while reconstruction takes place.
posted by cvoixjames at 7:00 AM on May 19, 2008

Best answer: IANAL, but I've had good success modifying residential lease agreements in such situations. If the standard form renter's insurance contracts in your state don't provide for dis-location payments, I would think that the clause is unreasonable. If, however, renter's insurance commonly provides for dis-location payments, then you aren't assuming additional risk, if you buy renter's insurance, which some leases I've seen want to require, too - you'd owe rent if you were living there, and your insurance is paying for you to live elsewhere until your place is fixed, again, so your financial obligation remains unchanged by a temporary occupancy problem.

It's probably worth a call to an insurance agent to talk about renter's insurance provisions.
posted by paulsc at 7:27 AM on May 19, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks for the responses. I will definitely have renter's insurance, so I will check into that and see if it will cover temporary housing in a situation like this.

My landlord is just a guy who owns a house, so I think the lease is just something he found somewhere... I am moving from an apartment in a building managed by an enormous company (like 30+ apartment complexes), so the process of communication is a bit different.

I'm going to talk to him later today and bring this up; I really want to make it all work because it's a great place, in a great neighborhood, at a great (or at least not-extortionate) price.
posted by allen8219 at 7:52 AM on May 19, 2008

Best answer: It says if it's rendered unfit for occupancy, you don't have to pay rent. If the damage is only partial, you do. The only problem I could see coming up is disagreement between what is uninhabitable and what is not. The lease also states there should be no unreasonable delay. Again, open to interpretation. But in theory you are protected from paying rent for an apartment that is not fit to be occupied. Cvoixjames is probably right that the insurance company would decide whether the place is habitable or not.

It looks like the only case where you would be charged for rent while you're not even living there is if the landlord/insurance company decide the place is habitable, but you decide to live elsewhere anyway because you personally find it unfit. In a case like that, you'd probably have to go to court. I'd imagine it'd be hard to list out every possible circumstance that constitutes the place being not habitable. His insurance agreement may have a partial list of conditions that make a place unfit for occupancy, but I bet any list contains the phrase "including, but not limited to". You might ask him, to get an idea of how bad the damage would have to be before the place is considered unfit.
posted by gauchodaspampas at 7:54 AM on May 19, 2008

Response by poster: Oh, also, any recommendations for renter's insurance providers? I don't have any insurance on anything (except my health), so I won't be getting a bundled discount. Should I just go with State Farm or something?
posted by allen8219 at 7:56 AM on May 19, 2008

I had a great experience with Safeco. Renter's insurance was pretty cheap and they were GREAT about dealing with my claim when someone broke into my car and stole my laptop, cell phone, etc. I got a check from them in about a week.
posted by picklebird at 8:27 AM on May 19, 2008

Oh, also, any recommendations for renter's insurance providers? I don't have any insurance on anything (except my health), so I won't be getting a bundled discount. Should I just go with State Farm or something?

I use Erie. I used to use Farmer's until a friend told me about Erie. They cut my car insurance by over a third and my renters by half.
posted by i_love_squirrels at 8:55 AM on May 19, 2008

I used State Farm for renter's insurance in DC. I don't remember how much it was, which probably means it was cheap enough. I never made a claim, so I don't know about their service at that end. We still have car, home-owner's, and life insurance via the same agent, so I can make a personal recommendation, if you like.
posted by MrMoonPie at 12:56 PM on May 19, 2008

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