How to Deal With Problem Landlords

by Wendy Mesich and Sonya Jongsma Knauss Slumlord

“This neighborhood still has a lot of slumlords.” We heard this comment recently from a former roofer and building preservationist who has been going door-to-door in the neighborhood with promotional materials for local artisans. He expressed surprise at the sorry state of some of the houses in the neighborhood, while also noting the large number of renovation projects going on. Why the discrepancy? It all depends on who owns the property, and whether they take care of it or are just trying to make a quick buck off some hapless renters. There are good landlords (many of whom live here in the neighborhood and do a great job of keeping up their properties), mediocre landlords, and, to use the colloquial term, slumlords. (Tenants also exercise varying degrees of responsibility related to the place in which they pay to stay, but this article will focus on how to deal with some of the problems that come when landlords fail to take responsibility for their properties.) So what’s a renter to do if you’re the one stuck in the bum property? This first thing to do about serious problems (heating or electrical problems, plumbing problems, dilapidated and unsafe railings, open holes in the wall or ceiling, etc.) is call the landlord to notify him or her verbally that the situation is unacceptable. Ask the landlord what he or she will do about the problem, and when it can be expected to be fixed. Keep a note in a log book to track when you called and what was promised. If within the set period of time the landlord does not respond, tenants can contact the Department of Neighborhood Services (DNS) at 286-3441. Explain the problem, and depending on how serious it is, a building inspector may make an appointment to look at it. The inspector will notify the landlord, and the landlord will be charged for the inspection. You will need to be there during the day to meet with the inspector. Find out how long the landlord has to fix the problem. Keep in touch regularly with the building inspector after the inspection. You may be able to start paying your rent to the DNS if your landlord fails to fix the problem, in which case the city will hold the rent until the code violations or other problems have been fixed. The inspector will be able to tell you when you can start doing this. If the problem persists, the building inspector will schedule another visit. This one will cost the landlord more than the first one. The cost increases with each visit to give landlords an incentive to avoid this cost by fixing the problem. Along with working with DNS, renters can call Community Advocates at 449-4777 to find out whether they qualify for the “rent abatement” program. Community Advocates send someone out to see how much rent you can legally withhold based on the problems with the rental property. For example, an inspector might say you can withhold $45 per month until a landlord fixes a certain problem. Then, even if you are paying your rent to the DNS, you will pay $45 less per month than your actual rental agreement. The important thing to remember is not to let up until all problems are fixed. Some tenants have had landlords come and make a few minor repairs, promising to come back and complete the work. After they get the rent, however, somehow the motivation to finish the repairs isn’t as strong. A landlord is not legally allowed to evict you for going through the withholding process. However, keep in mind when you’re looking for a new place, that your new landlord will call your old one for references. Even though the process is legal and set up to protect tenants, you may get “blacklisted” with future landlords. Riverwest Currents – Volume 2 – Issue 7 – July 2003

The Torpeovermis Slumlordis