When Good Rentals Go Bad

If your rental situation becomes a nightmare, there are ways to fix it

January 25, 2013

Adam Coker, 29, had to find a new apartment in a hurry when he discovered he was sharing his two-bedroom with a hoarder.

Most renters stress over finding the right apartment, but for some, the problems truly start once they’ve already found that supposedly perfect place to live.

Even in the worst situations, there are ways out. You just have to know the tools available.

False Advertising

Last year, Adam Coker, a 29-year-old music channel coordinator with Sirius XM, rented a room in a two-bedroom apartment he found on Craigslist.org.

Things quickly started going downhill once he moved in. Coker noticed his new roommate was sleeping on the couch. Then Coker’s rent mysteriously grew $100 per month.

“I found out the reason he wasn’t sleeping in his room was because he was a hoarder,” Coker says. “His bed was covered in boxes. There was no room in there.”

Coker also discovered that his roommate had misrepresented the cost of the monthly rent in his Craigslist ad. Coker knew he had to get out.

D.C. landlord/tenant lawyer Leslie O. Perry advises renters similar to Coker to try to come to an agreement without involving the housing authorities.

“Talk to the landlord and give them 30 days’ notice,” Perry says. The landlord can work with you to find an outcome that benefits all parties, even if it means moving out. “They may want you to pay the next month’s rent, but most landlords would find a way to resolve it.”

After you’ve worked out any lease issue with the landlord, there’s the uninviting work of finding another place to rent.

Coker was stuck with the hoarder for four months until he found a new place.

Then he had to break the news. “I wasn’t sure how he’d react,” Coker says.

Coker used his mysteriously inflating rent as an excuse and gave his roommate 30 days’ notice.

His roommate was surprised. “He tried to play the sympathy card,” Coker says. “But I was already out of there.”

When the Landlord Is The Problem

Of course, not all renting issues are caused by roommates.

J. Derek Bondurant, 32, an economic consultant, had to turn to D.C. housing officials for help after he moved into a converted rowhouse in Columbia Heights. Everything was fine until his first gas bill came in at around $800. Bondurant investigated and found that the water heater was in a room under the porch without a door on it and that the building had a host of dangerous electrical issues.

“The guy managing the building said he would fix it,” Bondurant says. “He didn’t fix it.”

Bondurant got in touch with D.C.’s Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs. It sent an inspector to the building, and repairs started the next day.

He didn’t have to move. The building was brought up to code, turning a bad living situation into a tolerable one.

Bondurant says he was thrilled with how helpful the consumer affairs employees were. The only negative outcome was the bit of tension that remained between him and his landlord.

Time to Go

When Acacia Squires, 27, an NPR production assistant, showed up at her new group house in Northeast last September, it smelled like something had died in the walls.

“The refrigerator hadn’t been cleaned out in two years until just before I came,” Squires says.

And the odors of rotting food still lingered when she arrived. “The first night, I slept with a scarf wrapped around my nose to dull the smell.”

Squires stayed there for two weeks before she found a new place. She broke her lease and had to fork over her $700 deposit along with the next month’s rent.

It’s possible she could have avoided paying some of that money if she had gone to court. “D.C. is a very tenant-friendly city,” Perry says. “If you’re having an issue, the landlord is obligated to take care of that issue. If they don’t do that in a timely manner, you can go to a landlord/tenant court.”

If it gets to the point where a judge is needed, don’t panic. D.C. has a landlord/tenant court with a specific calendar for renters with grievances. Just make sure you document all of your complaints. And continue to pay your rent.

“Always pay your rent,” Perry says. “If you have an issue with your apartment, pay the rent until it’s all resolved.”

For Squires, paying the extra money was worth it. “I was so desperate to get out, I let it slide,” she says.

A hefty fee could be a small price to pay for happiness.

“I really didn’t want to move again because it was move, move, move,” Coker says. “Now I’m in the best renting situation I’ve been in, so it was worth it.” MATT RAZAK (FOR EXPRESS)

 

Eviction Notice: A Landlord’s Perspective

Even landlords can have roommate issues. Collin Cusce, 30, a computer scientist and CEO of HiQualia, owns a home in Fairfax where he lives and rents extra rooms to tenants. Cusce once rented a room to a friend of a friend. Everything was fine until his new tenant began using prescription drugs heavily. She even lied and got one of Cusce’s other friends in trouble with the law. “It was insane,” Cusce says. “I knew I had to kick her out.” Cusce found resources on the Fairfax County Sheriff’s Office’s website that showed him how to go about evicting a tenant. He went to the courthouse and gave reasons for wanting to remove her from his property. “It was pretty easy to get the notice,” Cusce says. The sheriff’s office plastered a notice of eviction on the front door of his house, which said the tenant had 30 days to leave or she would be removed. Cusce’s tenant packed up and left. M.R.

 

Resources

Are you in a renting situation you’re not fond of? Make sure you know your rights and what action you can take. Here are the key websites for those living in the D.C. metro area. If you’re in Maryland or Virginia, check out your county’s website as well.

Washington D.C. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs:  Dcra.dc.gov/DC/DCRA

D.C. Courts Landlord and Tenant Research Center: Dccourts.gov/internet/public/ltresourcecenter.jsf

Virginia Office of the Attorney General Landlord Tenant FAQ: Tinyurl.com/b2ssgsq

Maryland Office of the Attorney General Landlord/Tenant page: Www.oag.state.md.us/Consumer/landlords.htm

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Kristen Page-Kirby · January 25, 2013