Edited questions from Apartment Life, Sara Gebhardt's online discussion about rental issues.

QALEXANDRIA: The townhouse I am renting had raccoons in the attic that I have run off, but the smell from the occupation still lingers. I also have a water leak in the basement that has produced mildew growth. These items have been verbally told to the landlords, but the issues have not been resolved. I am thinking of withholding rent to force them to resolve these issues. What is the best way to go about a legal recourse?

APut your complaints in writing. Before you withhold rent, you need proof that your landlords have not done their best to solve the problems in a reasonable amount of time. After sending the letter, give them a reasonable amount of time -- if it's a health issue, this may be just a few days -- to respond. When they don't, you should probably report the violations to your local housing office. Withholding rent is usually a last resort. If you do so, you usually have to set up an escrow account and deposit your rent there until the problems are solved.

RICHMOND: I'm moving to the D.C. area for a new job in a few weeks, and I need a roommate. I've asked all my friends in the area and no one knows anybody. Has anyone had a good or bad experience posting for a roommate on Web sites? How safe is it? What questions should I ask a potential roommate? I have only lived with friends before.

The key to trusting strangers and turning them into roommates is asking the right questions. If you're nervous about meeting people from an online posting, talk on the phone and e-mail for a while before allowing them to see your apartment.

Depending on what is important to you in a roommate, you should ask candidates about their employment, rental history, cleaning habits, social habits, whether they have significant others who will be around a lot, pets, how long they plan to stay, etc.

First you need to know that they can pay their rent, and then you should figure out if you could cohabitate easily.

The more you know, the fewer surprises. Also, check references.

FAIRFAX: I'm looking to move out of my apartment at the end of my lease. I asked the management company about notice, and it told me 60 days' notice. Management never gave me a copy of my lease, so I can't check it, but is that normal?

Sixty days is normal. Notice usually ranges from 30 to 60 days. Incidentally, you should always get a copy of your lease upon move-in. If you don't have it, you can ask for another copy.

WASHINGTON: I am renting an apartment and have a contract on a new condo. I am waiting to hear from the builder to schedule a closing date. The builder tells me it will be ready to close at the beginning of September, but the builder won't schedule a date. I need to give 30 days' notice to vacate my apartment, and cannot prolong that move-out date. I cannot afford to pay rent and mortgage at the same time. Do you have any advice on when to give notice? I am worried that the builder will delay closing and I will be stuck with no place to live.

Because you cannot afford to pay both rent and mortgage at the same time, give notice now and ask your landlord if, after 30 days, your condo's still not done, you can continue to live there paying a pro-rated rent.

Sara Gebhardt's Apartment Life column appears biweekly in this section, and her Web chat appears monthly on www.washingtonpost.com. The next chat is scheduled for Sept. 2 at 2 p.m.