How do we know our renters rights?

lmholbrookJanuary 24, 2011

So, I have some suspicions that my landlord is duping myself and my boyfriend who have been living in our current apartment since August. Our rent is $260/month plus utilities. The landlord told us to change the name on the electric and gas to our names, but never told us how or the company that was used.We weren't given account information and the bills were never sent to our house. It took us a while to figure out how to get the electric bill switched over, and we finally figured it out last month and were charged a $140 fee to change the name. Before that happened, he would tell his brother (who lives next to us and we consider to be our super) when the bills came and what we owed. We would give the cash to the super without seeing a bill for two or three months. After that we had our super get us copies of the bill, which I would go and pay on my own (I still have the receipts of payment for these). Finally, last month we finally got the name switched over and have been getting our own bills sent to us in our names, which we have been paying on time and have receipts for. During this time, we were also told that between the three apartments in our building, there was one water bill and we would be responsible for an even third of the monthly bill. So, once a month our super would tell us what we owed and we would pay him in cash, something he never wrote us receipts for. Last month the water bill went up drastically (doubled, we weren't sure why) so I went to the public works office and asked for a copy of the bill. Not only was the water about to be shut off because the past month had never been paid, but it was for $70 less than I was told it was for. When we confronted our super he basically brushed it off. Since this happened, I found out that our apartment is the only in our building that does not have a bathtub, washer, dryer or dishwasher. Neither of the others have both, but one has a washer, dryer and dishwasher which we don't have access to, and the other has a bath tub with multiple young children living there, so both obviously use more water than we do. When we told our super that we want our water separately metered, he started complaining about how expensive it was to have to meter them separately and how broke he is and all of this trouble.He's been fiddling around in his basement changing stuff around and said that he went to the water office in town today and made an appointment to get the meters for the building put in, but the meters will be installed in his basement which we have no access to (water meters are normally outside underground, I think). We also got a note on our door from the water department saying we owe $100 by Thursday or our water will be shut off. I can't figure out if this is a fee for having the meter installed (though it won't be here) or if it's because the super just didn't pay the bill again. Either way, is that legal? Should we have to pay to have the water metered, was it even legal to charge us for water that was "shared"? Also, our actual landlord changed his phone number a couple of weeks after we moved in. We now have absolutely no way to contact him, we have to go through his brother for everything. Whenever we ask said brother, our super (essentially) to get anything done for us, he grunts about how he can't afford to fix or do anything for out property (there are holes in the walls, the shelves in the fridge are all ripped out exposing the insulation, the ceiling above the shower is falling down because there was never a vent installed in the bathroom, etc... all of this was like this when we moved in) and when I tell him it's the landlord's responsibility he tells me it's not because he (the super) is living there for free so he has to pay for any problems out of pocket as compensation, I guess. On top of it now the super is telling me that we owe $104 from past electric bills (?) that have apparently gone to collections in the landlord's name. I asked for a copy of the bill but he said it'll be a few days before he can get it to us, but keeps blathering on about how we're "dicking his brother around" and have to pay it. I know this is a really long post, but I think that the financial situation in our building is getting shady-er by the minute. I'm pretty sure that our landlord is breaking many laws in the way he's treating us, but I don't actually know any laws or rights I have. Where can I go to find out? If my landlord has been ripping me off, can I get any of my money back? This is my first apartment and I just have no idea where to turn....

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camlan

First, do you have a lease? Or anything in writing that shows you are renting this apartment? Check the lease carefully--what the tenant pays for and what the landlord pays for should be spelled out in the lease. If the water bill is to be split between all the tenants in the building, that should be in the lease as well.

Second, google [your state] landlord tenant law. The rights and responsibilities of landlords and tenants vary greatly from state to state, so you need to find out what the rules are where you live.

Specifics:

The water bill. There's probably a phone number on the note that was left for you. Call that and ask 1) is it just your water that will be cut off or the entire building? What is the bill for? You need this information before you can decide what to do about the bill.

The landlord. Try googling his name to see if you can find an address or new phone number so that you can call him directly.

The condition of the apartment. Check to see what office in your city or town handles housing matters. There may be code violations in your unit. If the city checks your apartment and finds problems that the landlord needs to fix, they will do the work for you in finding the landlord.

Do not give the landlord or his brother any money until you see the bills that back up what they say you owe. Demand receipts.

Frankly, although your rent seems low, I think you should look into finding a new place to live. The apartment sounds terrible and the landlord and super don't seem to know what they are doing, at best, and at worst are trying to get more money out of you than you really owe.

    Bookmark   January 24, 2011 at 9:13PM
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westvillager

Agree with camlan about how to find your rights. Identify the housing authority in your area and keep every bit of proof you have. Not enough specifics to comment on your specific protections other than local/federal laws. Without a lease, you may have none.

A judge might have a hard time believing the apartment condition deteriorated so badly in five months. He/she will likely assume you knew what you were getting.

The good thing is you now know what kind of place to pass in the future. :)

    Bookmark   January 25, 2011 at 7:24AM
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larke

Please use paragraph breaks - it was very hard to read that whole thing as a lump :-). Thanks.

    Bookmark   January 25, 2011 at 5:21PM
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