Renters' Options

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It's a common scenario. A tenant discovers water damage and suffers health implications. The tenant is locked into a rental agreement and the landlord is unwilling to take the issue of mold seriously. What are the tenant's options?

According to the article How to Get Out of the Lease for a Flea-Bitten, Water-Damaged Apartment on the Rented Spaces website, there is hope. The article addresses the concern of a woman who signed a lease on an apartment, then discovered a flea infestation and a new water leak just before she moved in. She says, "Needless to say, I didn't move in. I did, however, take pictures. I have pictures from the time I went to look at the place to show my husband, so I have proof that it was not in such awful shape when I signed. Can I recoup any of my losses? Ideally, all of them? What do I do?"

The columnist offers this answer by Gary Dunn, a real estate lawyer in Garden City, NY:

"She should be able to recoup all of her losses and void the lease on two grounds; constructive eviction and breach of warranty of habitability," he explains.

He suggests you call your landlord or building manager and let them know that you no longer want to rent the apartment based on the condition in which you found it. If this is refused, Dunn suggests you let them know you will take further action. "Report the condition of the unit to the Department of Housing, Preservation and Development (HPD) and the Department of Health," he says. "If that does not change their minds, I would call 311. They will take a report and immediately refer the matter to the HPD."

In the end, if you are still unable to get your money back, you will have to take this matter to small claims court.

The columnist goes on to say,

The good news here, and there is good news, is that you had the foresight to take those pictures. Therefore, you have proof. The truth is often backed up by proof -- but even more importantly, courts are very big fans of it.

This is a great lesson for anyone signing leases and handing over money to relative strangers. Make sure you document as much of your move as possible, from hunting for your apartment to locking the door for the first time at the end of a long move-in. Then save those pictures for that future date when you move out again.

After all, you never know what you'll have to do to get that security deposit back!

We became renters after we vacated our home two years ago. We became seriously ill after moving into one home due to a chemical treatment for termites. The landlord allowed us to leave. With our next two homes, we included a mold clause in our rental agreement. The clause states that in the event we experience health issues due to the environment of the home, we are free to leave. Thus far we have not needed to utilize this clause.

As awareness grows, so too will the options for renters living in damp, hazardous conditions.