Harrassment from a landlord

vikiiiOctober 23, 2005

Hi, I just wanted to share my story briefly and ask everyone for advice. My husband and I moved to an apartment area after seeing a sample of an apartment but without seeing the apartment itself because for more than a month they were still not ready to show it. When we came to move in we asked to see the apartment and were told we need to sign the contract first - naive I know, we signed. Then we saw that the apartment was in a terrible condition.There were cockroaches (one of the biggest problem), holes in the walls and one really big hole behind the stove where roaches came from), the cupboards in the kitchen were rotten and the wood was falling in pieces from them (they also had dead roaches in them when we moved in), the carpet was all stained and greasy to the touch, there was a heavy odor in the apartment who knows from what. This is all briefly what the problems were. SO of course we panicked, how can we live in such conditions for a year. We asked that we cancel the contract - it was not yet signed from the landlord. They refused us, rushed the landlord to sign it and gave us a copy. We told them to have somebody spray for roaches. They said it will be later that month, we asked them again to send someone, they said again they will. So half of the month passed and we also sent a letter to the landlord telling her mostly about the odor in the unit, because it made both me and my husband sick. We had a constant headache and my husband suffers from asthma, so it was worse for him. We got no reply. At first we wanted to break the lease, not knowing our rights under the law that we can live in a healthy environment and it was the managements responsibility. They asked for over $5000 till the end of the lease. I went to speak with a representative in city hall and he told me we can give the 5-day notice to fix everything. We gave them the notice. They didn't spray for cockraoches (they did on the 6th day, anyways there so many roaches, that it was unsuccessful), They didn't do anything about the rest. They offered to replace the carpet at our expense. So we gave them notice we are leaving because of them not willing to change anything. We left and they sent us to collection. Both of us with two different account numbers as if they want to collect over 10000 not only 5000 dollars. We disputed both letters sending evidence. By law they can report a disputed debt to a credit buro, or if they do, they must add that it is disputed. Well, they reported it without adding anything, and also keep updating it- which is also unlawful for a disputed debt. They sent us another letter saying they rerented the apartment and we must pay 592 only. This they have reduced on my husband's collection and mine still is 5000 dollars. We just found out about these collections a year later when we were denied a house loan. Our credit without this would have been perfect. We have no lates on anything. So now we plan to sue the collection company for the violation it has made and the landlord for keeping harrassing us. How can a landlord in so many violations keep bugging us? If she had only known that we are very poor she wouldn't have gone thru the trouble. We keep evidence of everything including pictures of the apartment and the roaches - in our food roaches as well. How do you think we should proceed on that? We are really poor and having a good name was our only chance to buy a house. I am really angry at these people for affecting our life like that. We were current at our rent with them and also we paid for a whole month but lived there 10 days only. They kept our security deposit and are saying they are keeping it for cleaning purposes for the oven (which I never even opened, everything was too gross to use) and for the carpet which as I told you was in a very bad shape in the beginning. In our previous area, when we left they even asked us if anyone had ever lived there. Everything was so clean and neat when we left it. All in all, we have always been good renters and have tried to keep our name clear of anything bad. What are your suggestions?

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Initially you had a great case, however due to a number of mistakes on your part, it is very doubtful if you could ever get a monetary settlement at this time.

In most large apartment complexes it is a practice to have "Model apartments" that they show to prospective tenants prior to move in. We must keep in mind that those model apartments are not lived in, they are units that are set aside merely for show, and in most cases they are furnished by a professional decorator to present the most eye appeal.

While a model apartment is a good marketing tool, in most states the "Landlord & Tenant law" dictates that they must give you an opportunity to review the actual apartment that is being presented to you, prior to signing a lease. If not, the "Landlord & Tenant Law" offers special provisions to break the lease within a specific time if the actual apartment being presented can be deemed untenable due to health or mechanical standards. In most cases that portion of the law is very specific and only offers a short period of time to file an action, often it is only 72hours or 5 days from signing the lease. If you fail to file an action within the prescribed time limit it is often assumed that you initially found the premises tenable and no further action may be taken.

Immediately upon signing a lease, before any moving occurs, and hopefully in the presence of an unbiased witness, you should make a complete walkthrough of the apartment and note any and all discrepancies, even the most minor defects such as a small nail hole in the wall from a picture frame. The Pre-Move in Inspection report should be made in two copies, and one copy presented to the landlord immediately. When you turn it in to the landlord you should discuss the report with them. Obviously there will be some minor issues such as a nail hole or a small stain on the carpet that won't require any immediate action, but by having it on the record you cannot be charged with that when you move out. You may have other problems that will require attention but are not of an immediate or emergency nature, therefore they should prepare workorders for their maintence staff to handle those problems within a reasonable time.
As you stated in your post, you may also find serious problems such as major building code or health code violations that would deem the apartment untenable as is, and they must be addressed prior to move in. In some states such as Florida the law is very specific on health code issues. Not only can the Landlord be forced to take immediate action, but they may have to pay for a motel for you to reside in while the conditions are being corrected. Among the problems that are considered immediate health code issues are the presence of rodents, insects, animal hair, animal feces or urine and mold.

If you note those descrepancies during your move in inspection and prior to your moving in, and if you inform the landlord in writing, they are obligated to take immediate action. (Once you begin moving your possessions into the apartment the landlord could argue that the roaches came in with your belongings.)

If the landlord refuses to take the necessary action you could then contact the county board of health and request they conduct an inspection.

If it could be shown that the landlord only permitted you to see a model apartment prior to signing, you could argue that they are conducting a "Bait & switch" marketing technique which is highly illegal in most states. I once saw a similar case in Florida where they had a county health department inspection and the health department ruled the apartment untenable for health conditions. Given that the tenant had previously signed a one year lease with the landlord, the landlord was then obligated to provide a suitable lodging for the period of time stated, at the price stated in the lease. The Judge rulled that the tenant could then find another "like kind" apartment regardless of price and move in. They could then pay the original lease payments to the original landlord and the original landlord had to pay the rent at the new apartment for the entire duration of the original lease, even if that rent was substantially greater

    Bookmark   October 24, 2005 at 8:29AM
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Unfortunately, I wasn't aware of the laws and I was very sorry I went to the city hall so late. I do not want to seek monetary damages with them, all I want is for them to clear our credit reports. I want this to be like a bad memory only and to put it behind me. I did call an inspector and she saw everything there but told me she can only write down the roaches, because this is the only thing she inspects for. When she went to the office, however, she told them she smells the odor very clearly (which they refuse to admit they smell, of course something you cannot prove) and she told them about the other issues. The apartment they had shown us was different from ours in the quality- for one thing the cupboards were fine, actually everything was fine. Cockroaches tend to disappear with us occpying the apartment because in the beginning they were everywhere and after a while they would start hiding and come out during the night. But you could find them in every place possible during the night. I had to catch one for the inspector to see her and also took a lot of pics of them unfortunately only in the last 5 days of occupancy. They were still enough, So how should I proceed on this? What is your advice? Thanks a lot

    Bookmark   October 24, 2005 at 11:49AM
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We just found out about these collections a year later when we were denied a house loan. Our credit without this would have been perfect.

I would say the first thing is to dispute the debt through the credit agencies--there's some mechanism by which you can add a letter to your file, or force the credit agency to note the debt as disputed. Check w/ the credit agency for the details.

As far as getting the collection agency to straighten its records, I think I'd start w/ a registered letter, and then proceed to some state agency to help you sort this out. I couldn't find one on the Arizona.gov website that looked like a likely candidate; you might call the office of your state representative, and ask the folks there to help you find one.

Also--another thing it would have helped you to know: in some states, there's a 24-hour window to break a contract without penalty. And ANYTIME you sign a contract believing something that turns out to be a lie, you can declare it void on the grounds of fraud.

Good luck!

    Bookmark   October 24, 2005 at 2:22PM
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Thanks to both of you. We actually tried to cancel the contract on the next day, the landlord didn't even sign it yet, but they refused.I already sent the credit bureaus a dispute and will see what they will do. If everything fails I will complain about this business place in the better business bureau.

    Bookmark   October 24, 2005 at 9:30PM
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You need to sue the guy. What state was this in? You could probably sue him under your State's equivalent of teh Deceptive Trade Practices Act, which usually pays triple damages and attorney's fees, so you may be able to get an attorney to take the case. Alternatively, you could sue him yourself in small claims court or landlord/tenant court if your state has it. Some landlord/tenant courts require landlords to return double deposit if they wrongfully keep yours. Under the deceptive trade practices act or the equivalent, you would first have to send a demand letter. Just spend some time on the internet and you can probably find examples of everything you need. I sued movers that way once and they settled immediately. Small claims court and lanlord/tenant court tend to favor the little guy, so I would think you have a good chance of winning. If the landlord sees that he may get stuck paying you $15,000 plus attorney's fees, he may be likely to settle and you should get him to sign a letter to the credit bureau stating whatever the credit bureu requires to clean your record as part of the settlement.

    Bookmark   February 5, 2008 at 2:49PM
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