Renting in an old, leaky, country home

sweetchastitySeptember 20, 2008

I found a wonderful little bachelor apartment that was made in an old country house that was converted into 3 apartments. The landlord has bought surrounding land and I've been told by other tenants that this house will be torn down to make townhouses one day. Understandably the landlord doesn't want to invest a lot of money into the house if it will just be torn down but I want to live comfortably and safely here for as long as possible. I adore my apartment and want to make some adjustments to make it more livable but am trying to invest in items that I can take to my next apartment with me.

The biggest problem is a leaky bathroom. I have photos of one of the worst rainfalls but don't know how to approach the landlord. He's not going to want to replace the roof but the shingles, what ones are left on the roof, are a mess and it obviously needs fixing. He has a family member who in the roofing business so I think there should be a temporary fix that can waterproof the roof for a few years. The leaks vary on the way the wind is blowing so I never know which spot in the bathroom will leak and one common space is right above the toilet making it uncomfortable to use when it leaks (one time it was so bad I was tempted to get an umbrella). The main areas of leaks are a fan (?) in the ceiling and cracks in the plaster. I checked the attic to see if I could find a main leak I could put a bucket under to prevent it from going into the bathroom but I couldn't find water in the attic.

Also during a storm a tree fell against the side of the house and damaged the brick side which has leaded to water leaking behind a lovely built in shelf unit just outside the bathroom. I really was looking forward to using that spot for storage including books but I had to move them and now have plastic containers and stuff there that I don't care if it gets wet. I'd love to water proof it and use it without worrying about moving stuff everytime it rains.

Mold is also a big concern for me so I placed my air filter in the bathroom (when I bought it I made sure it would filter out mold because I was living in a basement). Is this enough to protect from mold in the walls? My apartment is not the only one that is experiencing leaking and their efforts have not produced much results. The building will be torn down but I have no idea when this might happen, there are other factors involved and I broke my savings to finally settle here and want to save up before I have to move again.

I have seen window installing that is like saran wrap that adheres to the edges with double-sided tape and is stretched with a hairdryer to even out the wrinkles. I was wondering if I could do something similar with the leaks? My idea was a saran wrap type material that is all sticky on one side so leaks don't have a large area to pool inside it. I'm not sure about cocking/sealant because I'm not sure where to apply it since leaks look like they are dripping down and appearing in other spots rather than the spot of the actually leak.

Does anyone have any advice on a way to possibly seal the leaks on the inside to prevent water damage inside and might help protect against mold?

Is the air filter in the bathroom enough protection for me and my cat against possible mold?

Is there an economic solution I can suggest to the landlord when I show him the photos of the leaks in my bathroom? I totally understand not wanting to invest a lot of money into a house that will be torn down but if it will be a couple of years before this happens perhaps a band aid can offer an affordable, effective solution for all living here.

Is there a way to treat the shelving unit from future leaks damaging items stored there?

Any advice would be greatly appreciated! This apartment is amazing for the price and layout for a bachelor with extra perks and its got such character that I just love it. I want to stay here a long time but not if my possessions will become water damaged, I have to use an umbrella to use the bathroom, and our health is in danger due to long term exposure to mold (I assume where there is leaking, there is mold, I have no proof of the mold because I can't see in the walls).

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I'd just tell the landlord that there are leaks. Be as helpful as possible in identifying their locations (and as acomodating as possible if repairs get done). If they aren't fixed within 2 months, then that's your indication that the landlord isn't interested in fixing things and that living there will only get worse. Pack your things and find a dry place. (You didn't say where you live, but I suspect there are ways you can break a lease if your residence in unsafe/ uninhabitable.)

    Bookmark   September 20, 2008 at 4:15PM
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Actually there is no lease so I can leave with enough notice. I just was paying too much at my last place and was hoping to live here a bit to save up some money and be more stable financially. I have considered that moving may be the only option. I love this area and for the price its an amazing apartment. Others in the price range I've seen are dumps. But I am budgeting to start putting money away for the move since it will come one day whether by my hand or by his.

    Bookmark   September 20, 2008 at 4:19PM
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What do you have to lose in talking to your landlord? In this economy he may well decide to put off any development project and be interested in maintaining what he has. Leaks only get worse. I vote with Justnigel.

    Bookmark   September 20, 2008 at 11:57PM
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Oh I definitely will bring it up with him but if he argues that placing a whole new roof in would be too much I want to know if there is a cheaper option I can suggest.

    Bookmark   September 21, 2008 at 1:51AM
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There really isn't - stopgaps are just that, and will only allow more problems like mold to get worse (I just had my roof redone... old place, leaks in more than one area, old roof and lots of lumpy tar 'stopgaps' around the chimney that no longer do the job). Plus I'm sure if there were a quick fix that will hold for any length of time he'd be quite aware of it. He's just trying to get all of you to pay for a new roof while you're there! Plus what about the brick wall - if he won't even fix that, forget the roof.

    Bookmark   September 21, 2008 at 6:41AM
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As far as I know you can't stop leaks from the inside of the building envelope, only from the outside, by repairing holes in the roof and siding and caulking around openings.

If you can't see where leaks are entering the attic in order to locate collection containers, which isn't a bad stop-gap solution if you maintain , i.e. dump, them regularly, then you are getting water traveling within the wall assembly. This is more problematic because that's how serious mold problems start with moisture trapped and saturating intra-wall materials. If the leak just passed through the walls and emerged in your apartment and you could collect or clean it up that would be very annoying, but not necessarily a health issue. Water stuck, and not evaporating, inside the walls assembly is T-R-O-U-B-L-E. Sorry!

What's your geographic location: Warm climate or soon to be winter?

You mentioned dripping from the bathroom fan; that's most likely water running down the fan vent from the roof because the flashing around the roof vent penetration has failed. Not terribly difficult to repair (from the roof) but is a serious safety issue because eleectricty and water don't mix.


    Bookmark   September 21, 2008 at 9:36PM
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I'm up in Canada and it is getting colder. I am concerned about mold but can't afford to move again so soon. Will the winter cold help reduce mold growth? The air filter I have running 24/7 in my bathroom is designed to filter mold and I keep it running because sometimes the bathroom smells like a musty basement but the rest of the apartment smells fine. The best solution would be to move in the spring, when I've had time to save and look for a nice place. Is the fan in the bathroom effective or should I move it to where I spend most of my time?

    Bookmark   September 22, 2008 at 12:04AM
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The cold will not have much effect one way or another on mold (there are different types in any case), but a more effective fix for your own comfort as well as dealing with dampness would be a dehumidifier, though they're not inexpensive. Those air filter things are not all they're supposed to be BTW, so don't think of it as some magic answer, but what you should go by is how you feel - are you having any ongoing respiratory symptoms that for you at not normal, or any dermatologic (itchiness, etc.) problems, for instance? If so, see an MD, not your landlord, and if you really think there's a serious problem (tho' don't go thinking every sneeze is life threatening for heaven's sake), you may have to leave regardless as you cannot tell the LL what to do with his place without getting the law involved, which could take some time and not really help you much in the short term. Consider rooming with friends if you can't afford to live somewhere alone.

    Bookmark   September 22, 2008 at 6:35AM
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Thanks lucy! I didn't think of the filter as a magic tool that will purify the air but I thought there could be ways I could make the space safer while I save money and look for another place with time rather than the last 2 moves which were fast and last minute.

My health and that of my cat seems fine though I am watching for signs that might appear but I want to be in the position to pick and choose this time so I can find a safe, comfortable home I can stay in for many years to come.

    Bookmark   September 24, 2008 at 3:39PM
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Contact your municipality's building-code-enforcement department and the state attorney general's office (ask for landlord-tenant relations). In most jurisdictions, property owners are simply not legally permitted to rent an apartment in such a level of disrepair that can endanger the health of the tenant(s) (and mold being SUCH a big deal these days) or risk destruction of the tenant's possessions (I do hope you have the good sense to have good renter's insurance!), and the landlord can be forced to make certain repairs within a specified timeframe. This is not just for your benefit, this is for the other tenants' safety and well-being as well, and for that of any future tenants. BTW, in most jurisidctions retaliatory evictions are illegal, so this dingleberry should not be able to throw you out just for reporting the appalling condition of the property to the proper authorities.

    Bookmark   September 24, 2008 at 4:54PM
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In my area tenants are also allowed under certain circumstances to make (and pay for) the repairs themselves and deduct that from their rent. This might be something to consider if the leak in your bathroom is, as I suggested, due to ineffective or damaged roof flashing around the fan vent stack. Consult your local tenants or renters association for the details of your local laws.



    Bookmark   September 24, 2008 at 7:48PM
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""but if he argues that placing a whole new roof in would be too much I want to know if there is a cheaper option I can suggest.""

Just put a tarp over the whole roof, should be good for a couple of years. After Katrina there were blue tarps all over the place and way longer then a month or two.

    Bookmark   September 30, 2008 at 8:04AM
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