Living under Slumlord Rule?

iStock_000010695346XSmall-300x232It’s happened to me and i’m sure it’s happened to you as well: a leaky roof, bad plumbing, rodents, faulty door locks – you name it and the landlord either refuses to fix it or gives you a massive attitude about it. In a nutshell: living under slumlord rule. Although you may think this mainly applies to rental homes, this can happen to apartments as well. I’m sure you’ve seen the news reports where apartment complexes “forgot” to pay their utility bills and the entire complex went without power in the midst of summer (In Texas, not having AC in the summer can actually be fatal!). A leaky roof, bad plumbing, bad waste management and other potentially harmful conditions are all part of this as well.

So what then is a slumlord? The answer, according to Wikipedia:

A slumlord (also spelled slum lord) is a derogatory term for landlords, generally absentee landlords, who attempt to maximize profit by minimizing spending on property maintenance, often in deteriorating neighborhoods. They may need to charge lower than market rent to tenants. Severe housing shortages allow slumlords to charge higher rents.

Luckily, the law is on your side. Living conditions like the aforementioned, all fall under what is called Warranty of Habitability. USLegal.com defines this as:

The law imposes certain duties on a landlord to maintain the premises in habitable condition. Failure to do so, such as providing adequate weatherproofing, available heat, water and electricity, and clean, sanitary and structurally safe premises, may be legal justification for a tenant’s defensive acts, such as moving out (even in the middle of a lease), paying less rent, withholding the entire rent until the problem is fixed, making necessary repairs (or hiring someone to make them and deducting the cost from next month’s rent).

There are no set rules. However, generally, the landlord must provide drinkable water, heat (in cold weather), a working sewer system, a safe, working electrical system, an operating smoke detector, a lock for your door, a home not filled with rodents and/or bugs, and a sanitary condition of the structure of the home and outside area.

The landlord must repair substantial defects in the rental unit and substantial failures to comply with state and local building and health codes. However, the landlord is not responsible under the implied warranty of habitability for repairing damages which were caused by the tenant or the tenant’s family, guests, or pets. The landlord may be sued for a partial refund of past rent, and in some circumstances can be sued for the discomfort, annoyance and emotional distress caused by the substandard conditions.

Furthermore, as of January 1, 2010, tenants now have the right to go to a justice of the peace who can in turn order the landlord to make the repairs. But then you have to ask yourself the question? Is all this trouble really worth it when you could just use BigD Apartments to find a new, stable, leak-free and clean home? In reality it isn’t, and here are some tips on getting out of your lease without suffering any more damage or costly legal bills:

  1. Read the Agreement
    Although the law gives you the right to stop paying rent, this is still fairly risky. If you have a written contract with your landlord, read it carefully before taking any such action. Refusing to pay rent until repairs are made, may give your landlord the legal right (assuming they have an attorney) to either kick you out or sue you. I also recommend consulting with an attorney on this, or by visiting one of the helpful links below.
  2. Talk to your Landlord
    Arrange for the landlord to come to your residence and show him / her the damage. Let them see how it affects you and try to come to an agreement about letting you out of the lease early. Speaking face to face with someone and at least trying to resolve the issue on friendly terms is never a bad thing.
  3. Collect Evidence
    Should this have to go to a small claims court or justice of the peace, the more evidence the better. Take detailed photographs of the items in question and print and date each one. Most modern point-and-shoot cameras now have automatic date stamps for images, so refer to your camera’s instruction manual on how to turn that feature on

I hope for no one to ever have to go to such great lengths regarding their living situation, but it can happen to any of us. Landlords don’t have to look shady or offer homes in bad neighborhoods to be identifiable as slumlords. A potential slumlord will  follow all the rules, right up until they start getting regular checks from you, no matter what part of town. If you, or someone you know has had experience with a slumlord and wish to share your story, leave us a comment below, or contact us. We love to hear from our customers and any good advice regarding moving, leases, landlords or otherwise is always welcome on our blog.