Ask The Landlord

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Many tenants and landlords have, from time to time, questions about their rights, responsibilities and obligations in their landlord-tenant relationship. Or they need information on some aspect of landlord-tenant law. But they often hesitate to ask questions for fear of sounding ignorant or foolish. If a question has already escalated into a major problem, you probably need to consult an attorney. However, questions about the legal aspects of your tenancy that arise early in the game can often be answered long before serious legal problems arise.

In SavannahBestís new Ask The Landlord column, long-time landlord Cima Star attempts to clear the air before it becomes murky.

Just email your questions to with your question. Your answer will appear on the site within 48 hours or sooner.

Disclaimer: The following is provided as general information, NOT legal advice. If you have a specific serious problem, you should consult an attorney.










Landlord Refuses to Fix Broken Toilet








Q: I have lived at my house that I am renting since September of 08. It is now May of 09. My landlord can't even remember my name.? She makes me feel like I'm not worth anything because I clean my house and just because it isn't spotless she says it's a mess. Obviously, she doesn't know how hard it is when you and your husband work 5-6 days a week and on your off day(s) you have to clean just to try to please her. She even comes over here sometimes and wants to come in and tell me something and it seems she says something about my house every time she comes over.

My question is this: My toilet has messed up 3 times and my lights in my bathroom have messed up. She blamed me and my husband for it even though the electrictian/plumber says neither of them was our fault.? She told him that I would have to pay for the toilet getting fixed since it was the same reason it messed up last time.? Should I have to pay it or should she?

A: Hmmmm. You don't say what state you are in and the law varies from state to state. You need to look at your lease and see what it says about repairs. It should say that the landlord is responsible for all repairs unless caused by the tenant.

The landlord should also, if you did cause it, be able to give you a written , signed letter stating exactly what you did to cause the damage. If possible, get get the plumber and the electrician to give you a written note saying what caused the problem with the electricity and the toilet. And stating that it could not have been your fault.

Also, each week, when you clean your house, I'd suggest that you take some pictures of it.... just so your landlord can't claim that you never clean it. Put this request to her in writing. If she can't/won't do this, you're probably in the clear as long as you have a copy of the letter. And do send the letter Registered Mail, Signature Required. Also, in the future, if you need to request any repairs, be sure to put it in a letter and mail it the same way.

I wouldn't worry about her never remembering your name or being unpleasant. Some people simply are unpleasant people and impolite and that is not a legal issue. Ignore it! Good luck!

Landlord Doesn't Respond to My Offer to Seek a New Tenant

Q: I am currently renting a condo. I sign a year's lease each year and have been here for 4.5 years. My landlord has been great so far. He lives in another state but always manages to take care of any problems (there have not been many) immediately. I sent him a letter in January stating my intention of purchasing a home. I did not hear anything from him so I continued with my home search.

I did find a home and let my landlord's wife know in mid-March that I would be leaving in mid-April. She acted surprised and said that they didn't think I would find a home that quickly. She also reminded me that I had signed a year-long lease and that was the last I heard from them. I have sent 2 emails, 1 letter, and left one phone message letting them know my timeline for leaving, a list of repairs that I am doing (such and painting and cleaning carpets), and I asked for applications and how they would like an ad worded so that I could run that in the paper. I have also offered to show the condo to prosepective renters.

Unfortunately, they have ignored all communication. I am going to pay for most of May's rent to finish out my 60 days. My question is: how much more do I need to do? I would have liked to have been looking for a tenant so that it could be rented by May, but I feel like my hands are tied because they are noncommunicative.

Is it ok to just pay for those days, mail my keys back, and turn off the utilities if I never hear anything? I wouldn't think they could hold me to rent through September (the end of my lease) if they didn't put forth any effort to re-rent it. Our relationship had been very good up to this point so their reaction has been puzzling. I am scared that they are just waiting for me to stop paying rent so they can sue me. I can't afford a mortgage plus rent.

A: Well, I'm not a lawyer, so I can't be certain. But I think the first thing you should do, and do it quickly, is send your landlord another letter, this time by registered mail, signature required, reiterating everything you have said and written to him, starting in January.

If you still get no response, I'd say go ahead and pay up enough rent to give them sixty days' notice, and when you are ready to leave, send them another letter as you suggest, with the keys and repeating everything you have done, including the fact that you first notified them in January that you were house-hunting. And ask for your security deposit back. You have nothing to lose by asking! And there is always the chance you might get it.

Depending on the landlord/tenant laws in your state, they might be able to sue you for the remainder of the lease, but it's doubtful, especially since they live out of state. However, it would be best if you could contact a lawyer in your state, or, if there is one, a tenants' rights organization, and get some advice.

I do wish you the best of luck!

Landlord Doesn't Hold Up to His End of Deal

Q: Hi, I recently moved into a rental home in Savannah. I will try to summarize my questions as much as possible. My lease was up in my previous rental unit on Nov. 1st and so I began looking for a new property mid Sept. I located a home in a nice neighborhood for a reasonable price and the landlord (not the owner of home) requested that I pay the deposit then. I paid the deposit and he requested that I begin paying the rent Oct. 15th, which I did. I began moving on the 16th and noticed the smell of natural gas, the gas company came out and put a danger tag on the furnace, stove, and hot water heater...they also turned off the main and the gas to each appliance. They let me know that the hot water heater was unsafe and needed to be replaced and that the other appliances needed service/repair. The landlord replaced the hot water heater a week later but did nothing about the other appliances. Finally this week, I called and told him that I needed to be able to cook and that it was cold without the heat. He sent a repair man out the same day and they cleaned and inspected the furnace. I found a used gas stove that was in excellent shape and the landlord agreed that I could purchase and take this off of my rent. First question, can I get any of my rent back for the time that I could not live in the house (one week) or for the time that I did not have any heat/cooking source after I moved in (also one week).

The second part of the problem has to do with repairs that the landlord agreed to do before I moved in. He was to clean the garage (lots of junk in there), fix a front door, and take care of the yard (these are the major ones). He finally told me that he would come and get the junk out of the garage this week. I let him know that all items in the garage were not mine except for a vacuum and a carpet cleaner...everything else was to go. He came and only took some metal shelving plus MY vacuum and carpet cleaner. When I contacted him he said that he thought that the vacuum was the one that was left in the house, so he took both of my items to the dump! The carpet cleaner was brand new (not even finished paying for it). He said that he would go and get me another vacuum and carpet cleaner. That was 5 days ago and still nothing. I also reminded him that the front door had not been repaired and he told me that he could not possibly tell the owners of the house that ONE more thing was wrong because they had put so much money out for the new hot water heater and service calls. I have also told him that the back door is rotted under the kick plate and every time you open or close the door, wood falls out onto the floor....he told me that they would not replace the door (I think this is a safety issue as anyone could kick that door in very easily). I have since also found out that there is a crack in the wooden front door that would also make it easy to break into. Rent is due again today and I want to know if I have any leverage in this whole distasteful ordeal. I made a written list of the items that were initially in need of repair and he kept a copy and attached a copy to the lease. What is my guarantee that he will replace my items that he took to the dump with the same instead of some inferior items? Do I have any recourse should he not replace the items at all? I am so stressed and unhappy about all my dealings with him and I cannot believe that I have to deal with this for an entire year! My last landlords were fantastic and wanted to keep the place nice, hard to believe that someone would not care about how the house/property was maintained. I am not complaining about all of the cosmetic issues with the house (dirty, stained carpet and in great need for a repainting, overgrown shrubs and trees, chunks of broken concrete in the back yard), just the things that he agreed to do and I do not think it is my problem that they have let the house go for so long without maintenance. Please help as I am a single mom that works full-time and I do not have the time to deal with this. Thanks.

One Unhappy Renter

A: First, let me say I'm sorry you've had such a difficult time of it. Unfortunately, this occurs all too often when you're renting from a manager instead of from the actual property owner.

Re getting any compensation for the week you couldn't move in or the week when you couldn't cook, I'm afraid that is probably impossible. The Court's ruling is always that as long as you are a tenant, you must pay the rent, no matter what.

As far as the rest goes, the first thing you need to do is send a Registered Letter, Return Signature Required, to the Manager with cc's to Michael Brown, City Manager, and the Alderman for your district. Attach a cover letter asking for their advice and help.

If you can find out the name of the actual owner of the property, you should also send the letter to him/her.

I think that the letters to city officials should get you some response, but, of course, I can't be certain. And the mere fact that you have sent them copies of the letter should help get some action for the manager and the property owner.

I do wish you the best of luck.

Landlord Ignores Serious Maintenance Problems

Q: I have lived in this house for 2 years -- my parents rented 8-1/2 years before me. My landlord will not fix anything. The air conditioning ducting is ripped out from under the house and so the heater and a/c blow under the house not in the house. The hot water heater is bad and the electrical is messed up in 1/2 my house. Every time I let him know he says he will have someone fix it and never shows up. Now my roof is leaking and one of the bathrooms bath tub is about to fall through the floor due to rot underneath. I can't afford to move at this time but is there anything I can do? I know half of these problems have to be healthcode violations. I am from Fresno County califonia. I need some advice and quick. I have kids and I'm a single mother so its ruough to find affordable house around here.

A: It is always amazing to me that any landlord would let his property get into such bad shape! Or that he would treat any tenant so shabbily! From what you say, I get the feeling you haven't been putting any of these requests in writing, which is always a mistake. However, at this point, I think you need to immediately call your city or county (whichever applies) health dept. and tell them all of this. I would imagine that they'll send out an inspector right away and insist that the landlord make all repairs that are health hazards. And as you say, many are.

Also, I suspect that Calif. has some pretty active tenants' rights organizations. You ought to contact them, too, and see what they can do. A lawsuit against this guy might be appropriate.

At the same time, make a list, as best as you can, of each time you have contacted the landlord and what about and when. You will definitely need this documented if you have to go to court. Good luck!

Landlord Wants Access to Show Apartment

Q: gave my 30 day notice and immediately the landlord calls me and says I have to send him a letter so he can show my apartment. I don't feel I should have to do this. I have never been asked this in any apartment I have ever lived in.This landlord has been nothing but a headache to me and that is why I am moving.

I do not want people coming and going in my apartment when I am here or especially when I am not here.I told him I am busy packing and have stuff everywhere cleaning out stuff.He told me I have to keep it clean so he can show it. Bottom line...I don't have to send him this letter do I??

A: You donít say what state you are in, so Iíve no idea what the law may be where you reside. However, in most states, if not all, landlords have the right to enter an apartment with a certain amount of notice, somewhere between four hours and 24 hours, depending on state landlord-tenant law.

Look carefully at your lease. Most of them have stipulations as to when properties can be shown during the last 30 to 60 days of a tenancy. Whatever it says, that is what you will probably have to abide by. If the lease has nothing in it regarding this matter, then you must abide by the regulations of your state.

Therefore, I think the best thing you can do is to first, find out what the law is in your state, and then write a letter stating that your landlord may enter your premises only with proper notice. Or, if your lease gives specifics, youíll have to go by those.

I donít think you can escape his showing the property. A landlord cannot be expected to rent a place without showing it, and he cannot be expected to suffer a month long (or longer) vacancy because he was not allowed in to show his property.

Iím certainly not an attorney, and you might do well to consult with one, but in the absence of a letter from you, there is a good chance that the landlord would be within his rights to simply show the property without notice whenever he wishes during regular business hours.

Landlord Repeatedly Refuses to Return Security Deposit

Q: My name is Shakira, I was in a lease for a year in a house located in Augusta, GA, I moved to Florida on July 18th 08, the landlord did the final inspection with me and she advised me that I would get $575.00 back from a security deposit of 600.00. I left a forwarding address and phone # with the landlord for return of my security deposit.

I called the landlord on 8/18/08 to inform her that i didn't receive the security deposit at that time she told me that she had been busy and that's why she hadn't sent it and she also informed me that she had to get the carpet cleaned again and she would have to deduct $100.00 because of the cleaning. I advised her that I had the carpet cleaned before I moved and I still have the receipt to prove it, the landlord then told me she would send me the deposit before the end of the week.

I still didn't receive the deposit at the end of the week. I called her back and told her that I didn't receive the check at that time she told me that I messed up her blinds by smoking in the house, which I don't smoke and never have and she is going to take the damages out of the security deposit for that and the stove, which she said was not cleaned on the inside as welll.

We got into a big argument over the phone due to her lies, she advised that she would send the deposit less the funds for the damages I have yet to receive anything from her since I spoke with her. I haven't contacted since then. What I would like to know is what should I do with the situation now. How should i proceed going forward? Thanks -- Shakira

A: Hello Shakira. Acording to the Landlord/Tentant laws, your landlord should have given you, in writing, a precise list of exactly what the charges were.

When you did not receive your deposit within a week or so, you should have written her a letter (and kept a copy) of your second request. And all contact with her subsequently should have been in writing. Letters shold be sent registered mail, signature and return receipt required.

You might try writing her another letter, demanding the $575 that she originally promised, stating that you have received no written evidence of any damages you may have caused, and so you are demanding the deposit back or you will start further action.

If you're lucky, that might produce a response or deposit of some sort. However, given that you have nothing in writing, from your side or hers, you have few choices. There are filing fees to go to Small Claims Court which you would have to pay, assuming you have the time to return to Georgia, and the county in which you resided, to file. It could be some time before you got a court date. Without any written documentation of any of this, a lot would depend on the judge.

I'm afraid this is just another example of what happens when a tenant does not insist on documentation the moment a landlord says they are withholding deposit money.

Sorry I can't be more optimistic, but you don't have much ammunition. -- CS

Landlord Needs to Fix Air Conditioner

Q: We live in Louisiana. We are now going on day 9 without any air conditioner in 95+ degree heat, with small children in the home , two of which have asthma. Our landlord was told about the air the day it happened and my husband went by her husband's work yesterday to ask when they were going to fix it and he acted as if he didn't even know it was broken! He told we to wait at the house today and that he would check it out and they'll still haven't come! This is just plain unexceptable! It clearly states in the lease agreement that he is responsible for repair of the air conditioner. What can I do about this....the situation is ergent because my youngest daugther cannot take the heat! -- CLP

I don't know the regulations and laws of Louisiana, but I would suggest you call the health department and see if they can do anything. Send your landlord a registered letter, return receipt and signature required, requesting this repair for the reasons you've stated here. Be sure to list the paragraph and page of your lease which refers to this, and copy that section into your letter. Emphasize that this is also a health issue for your child.

Hopefully, that should get you a quick response.-- CS

Landlord Refuses to Return Security Deposit Q: The landlord says we don't need to be there for "check out" and he's sure everything is ok. We haven't heard from him in almost a month and he doesn't return our calls or respond to the letter we wrote. We've learned he painted the 2/2 town home but hasn't corresponded with us at all. Isn't that illegal! Doesn't he have to tell us what he's done with the security deposit?

We were only there on a year's lease but only lived in it for 9 months. The painting needed to be done before we moved in. Isn't it just wrong to take advantage of unsuspecting college students?

A: Yes, of course it's wrong to take advantage of college students....or anyone else for that matter. You don't say where you're from, and landlord/tenant laws vary from state from state. However, I believe that most are similar to that of Georgia, which stipulates that the landlord must return your security deposit within 30 days of your moving or send a letter detailing damages or costs that he is deducting from said deposit.

Damages, however , might include breaking a lease early, unless he gave you written permission to do so. That depends on how your lease is written. If the lease says something to the effect that the return of your deposit is dependent upon your fulfilling ALL terms of the lease, and you broke the lease without his permission in writing, you may be out of luck.

Assuming that clause isn't there, and/or he gave you permission, then you might want to take him to small claims court. First, though, try sending him another letter, Registered Mail, Return Receipt Requested, demanding your deposit be returned and reminding him that it must be done within 30 days of your vacating the premises.

If you get no response within a week, you can head for small claims court. There are some filing fees (check with the court to find out how much). And file your claim. But be aware that the landlord could show up with pictures demonstrating that the place needs painting and if you don't have any concrete proof that it was that way when you moved in, you might lose your case. And then, you might have to pay the landlord's court costs as well as your own. If you have witnesses to the condition of the place when you moved in (parents, other adults?) it would sure help!

I wish I could be more encouraging, because I hate seeing landlords get away with this sort of thing, but we have to be realistic. If you have any other questionns, I'd be happy to help.

Good luck! -- Cima

Landlord Won't Return Security Deposit Q: By the way this is a very long story but I will make it short. I had a $850 security deposit on the place I was renting. My landlord sent me a letter stating he was taking all of my deposit money for a small mark on the carpet. He said he is going to replace the entire carpet in the place including the stairs. I filed a small claim at the courthouse some time ago and our court date is July 8th.

Yesterday I received an affidavit in the mail saying he is counter suing me for $1,600. Now keep in mind this is on top of the $850 security deposit. He said that the new carpet will cost $1,600 ($850 of my security deposit and $750 he is suing me on) the remaining $850 he is suing me for loss of income due to renters below me moving out early because of my behavior.

What happened is one night I had the renters below me come up and tell me that my TV was too loud so I turned it down from then on. One time I dried a pair of pants in the dryer at night and they complained about doing this at night. This was the only time I dried pants at night and I never did again. Shortly after this they moved out and my landlord said they were looking for a reason to move out and they paid a huge fine to break the contract. So because I am taking him to small claims over $850 he is trying to find out ways to sue me more.

I was never informed of this rental loss until now (2 months after my lease). Not only that but they paid a huge fine for breaking their contract, this is not my fault, I was not even warned of anything. I know there are a lot of things going on here. It is hard because my landlord brother is an attorney and the carpet man is his friend. I have no connections here and do not know any attorneys. If you were a lawyer I would have a million questions for you but I will just ask you one: Can a landlord sue you for charges he never billed you on 2 months after the lease is terminated?

I live in Utah so I have been reading the Utah Code 57-17-5 and it states that the landlord has 30 days after termination of the lease to give you a written notice of charges withheld from your deposit and if they do not they must give you the full deposit, a civil penalty of $100, and court costs. Is this the same case for charges beyond the deposit. Shouldn't he have given me some kind of bill stating I owed these additional charges 30 days after the lease?

He is eating my deposit of $850 plus $750 the rest of the carpet plus $850 loss of rental income totaling $2,450 all over a spot that because I wanted my deposit he is trying to find ways to sue me for more. This whole thing is not fair and I think he is just trying to take advantage of me.

Actually maybe I will ask you more questions if you have time. The question above is my main question because I want to find some sort of code reference so I can use it in court. Here are some more questions regarding this case:

1. I rented a two bedroom apartment and thought down the line I could get a roommate. When I decided to get a roommate I made sure to ask him first. He said no and yelled at me stating that he selected me as a renter because I am a single female which scared me to death considering I am living alone with this man living in the apartment next to me and he has a key to my place. Later he said I could if I paid $100 more a month additional wear and tear, I had no choice after his comment but to pay more in rent. Isn't this discrimination? Also, $900 additional wear and tear shouldn't this be enough to cover the carpet and get my deposit back?

2. I kept trying to get the $1600 carpet receipt from him from replacing the carpet and he kept sending me these vague receipts that did not tell me any information like invoice date, type of carpet, sq footage, nothing. Remember his friend is the carpet guy. Finally I called him and asked for a real receipt after 2 attempts to get one previously. I told him I wanted a real receipt and a canceled check, I wanted the check because if it is his friend that is working on it I am sure he gets discounts. He said he could not because he did not have the carpet replaced yet, this was a month after my lease. I said: "well if it has not been replaced can we get a third party to come and look at it because I still disagree with replacing the entire carpet and a third party would be fair" and he said no that only his guy could replace it. Plus he said there are renters in there already. Doesn't that imply that he isn't going to fix it? Can you take a renters deposit for something you aren't going to replace? The spot was not bad at all in fact you had to get the perfect angle of the carpet to see it so I am assuming he just left it because it was so minor.

3. I gave my months notice and then a week before my lease was up I called him and asked if I could do a walkthrough and hand over my keys. He said sure. I headed over there with my boyfriend, no way would I go alone. On my way over I noticed a missed call from him stating to not bring anyone with me. When I got there with my boyfriend he said the place looked fine except for the spot. I told him that I wanted my full deposit and I would fix it before my rent was up and he said absolutely not, only his guy could fix it. I told him that my roommate's dad owns the largest flooring company in Utah and would work on it for no labor charge plus my boyfriend best friend does flooring and he said he would do it for no labor charge as well. He said absolutely not. What am I suppose to do when the owner of the place is telling me I cannot? I have called multiple carpet companies explaining to them the carpet type and situation and they said that most people would just replace a portion of the carpet not the entire place.

Please help me if you can. I would greatly appreciate it. Anything will help. There are too many different things going on here. I think if I can cite something on my first question (30 day notice) that he cannot come after me for any of is counter offer because he didn't give me notice. Thank you so much... --Darcy C.

A: Hello Darcy,One thing sounds certain to me.. Your landlord is indeed trying to take advantage of you. Of course, I'm not a lawyer, so I can't be sure it will sound as certain to a judge.

I believe the counter suit is simply designed to scare you. Perhaps he is hoping you'll give up and not show up in court, in which case, he would automatically win. So be sure you are there, on time, neatly dressed, and no matter how angry you may feel, don't at any time raise your voice or do or say anything that could be considered disrespectful of the Court.

Check to see of there is a Tenants' Rights Advocate program in your area. They might be able to provide you with a lawyer to represent you, or, at least to offer legal advice. Otherwise, call your State Bar Association and find out if there are any pro-bono lawyers who might be able to help you.

Did you ever take a photo of the spot? Do you know what created it. Have you checked into whether or not the mark on the carpet could be removed with carpet cleaner, Oxyclean, or something?

If you can't get any help, make certain you have all of your points listed, clearly typed. Keep one for yourself to use in making your case. Have another available to give to the judge should he be willing to look at it. If possible, have all the cancelled checks you wrote for the security deposit and the wear-and-tear amount.

I should think that the fact that the place is already rented is in your favor, unless he can produce a document that promises the new tenants that the carpet will be replaced specifically due to the mark (not just because he wants to install new carpeting and have you pay for it).

Try and get a letter from one or, preferable more, carpet companies saying that it would be reasonable to replace only a portion of the carpet. Is there any way you can get written estimates from other carpet installers. You also should get documentation from your roomate's father and your boyfriend to bolster your argument. You may have to have them give a sworn statement, or, they may actually have to appear in court -- I don't know the law in your state.

These are all just suggestions. As I said before, I'm not a lawyer, and further, I know nothing of Utah law, but they all seem reasonable to me. Best of luck! --Cima

Roach Problem Forced Me to Move

Q: I have a landlord, I have been renting from since May of 06. Soon after moving in, I noticed a roach problem coming from the neighbor next door to my house. I kept up with the problem by using sprays, foggers, and laying poison around the perimeter of the house. In April 08 my landlord advised that he would no longer allow me to deduct this expense from my rent. I was only deducting the cost of the products I purchased and providing him with the receipts. Only $30-$40 a month, just in the summer time, as they stayed away from crossing the yard in the winter time.

I decided to move immediately in May due to this. I was not willing to pay out of pocket to keep his house bug free. We were in a Month to month verbal lease in Pennsylvania. I started to move my things around June 5th with a Uhaul. I left him Junes rent check on the counter for Junes rent because I still had my appliances in the home. They would take extra cleaning time to avoid taking any roaches with me. Only one day after moving with the uhaul I discover he had people in the home, throwing away some of my things, and attempting to move in!!!

This must be illegal since he took my payment. He changed the locks and told me that since I moved he has the right to do so, and if I want my stuff he gets Junes rent. I can only enter with his permission. He is angry because I called the police because there were strange people in my home with my belongings.

Is this illegal? Can I sue for back rent because of the roach problem? He never helped to care for the property. Can I sue for him infringing my renters rights? What about the damage to my items I have to throw away to avoid taking any of his bugs with me? Thank you. -- Danelle G.

A: You certainly did have a strange landlord! Landlord-tenant law varies considerable from state to state, and I'm afraid I don't have much knowledge of the laws in Pa. One thing I do know is that you are at a disadvantage because you don't have a written lease. But even on a lease, the tenant is often considered responsible for roach and bug problems, so the likelihood is you can't do anything about back expenses for the roaches.

However, as long as you paid rent for June, I don't see how your landlord could possibly have the right to enter your apartment. In fact, in most states, and I seriously doubt that PA is any different, a landlord cannot enter a tenant's apartment without notice, no matter what the situation, even if he has paid no rent at all. Further, he/she cannot lock the tenant out, remove or disturb any belongings, etc., or allow any third parties to enter, without first filing an eviction notice in court.

That entails considerable notice to the tenant, an opportunity to go to court and dispute the reason for eviction, plus several other steps which entail several notices to the tenant. Only if the landlord prevails in court, can he then proceed to move things out of the apartment and change the locks, and this can only be done with a representative of the Court, not by the landlord himself.

Please call your local courthouse to get the exact laws in your area. (These matters are usually handled in Magistrate's Court). Also, see if there is a Tenants' Rights Advocate program in your area. Best of luck! --Cima

Replacing Appliances

Q: How often should a landlord replace a stove? CA

A: There is no hard and fast answer. It really depends on the stove. I've seen stoves that remained in perfect condition for 10 or 15 years or longer. On the other hand, I've seen some that became non-functional and un-repairable in five years. I'd say that if it is not working properly, is an eyesore from rust or whatever, and is not repairable, then it should be replaced. If it's working fine and looks good, there is no reason to replace it, regardless of age.

Break a Lease?

Q: I've been in my apartment for five months now and it's been just fine. However, I've decided I want to move to another place. If I give my landlord a month's notice that I'm moving, will he give me back my security deposit? I actually have 7 months to go on my lease. Thanks for your help. --Cindy

A: I seriously doubt that he will give you back your deposit. And he could, legally, hold you to paying the entire remaining months of your lease. Keep in mind, that even if he were able to get the apartment rented by the time you leave, there are always expenses to an apt. turnover. Advertising, labor costs of phone calls about the apt., showing the apt., and usually at least some work on the apartment to freshen it up for a new tenant. Nevertheless, it can't hurt to ask him.

Can I Ask to Have my Apartment Painted

Q: I moved into my apartment a few weeks ago, and it's really nice. But after being here for a little while, I've decided the off-white color that it's painted in is not really "me." Do I have the right to ask the landlord if he'll paint it different, more vivid colors?

A: You certainly have ther right to ask the landlord anything you want. However, he has the right to say No. Or, he might agree to paint, IF you will pay for the painting now, and agree to pay for painting it back to its original colors when you move.

And it's remotely possible that if he really likes the colors you want, he might foot part of the cost and leave it painted that way when you leave.

It never hurts to try!
Good luck!

Q: My landlord has refused to fix my roof, I have a very bad leak, I have stopped paying my rent, I opened a savings account, and I put my rent money in the account every month and send him the deposit slip, now he wants to take me to court, for non-payment of rent. The lease states that anything going wrong in my apartment he must fix it.

I, have called him several times, and he won't call me back, what can I do when I go to court, with my deposit slip?

A: Unfortunately, you would be much better off if you had been writing letters (and saving copies of them) to your landlord requesting that he fix the roof. Without any documentation, it is going to be very difficult to prove that you made the requests. Do try to make a list, as accurately as you can, of each and every call to him and the dates and times of each call and take that with you. Also, take pictures of the leak and whatever damage it is causing and take those along.

Good luck!

Foul Order Remains Uncorrected

Q:My husband and I noticed a foul smell in the bathroom of the apartment we rent in downtown Savannah in the beginning of February. It got worse as the days went on. I thought it might be the sink drain and used drain cleaner. That didn't help. I cleaned the toilet, the floors the tub. It just kept getting worse. It finally got to the point where we could not use the bathroom without something over our mouths and noses. My husband finally peeked under the house and discovered the plug to the pipes had come off and raw sewage was sitting in the mud under the house.

We called the landlord (a realtor who manages the place for an owner) and was told it would be immediately taken care of. It took over a week for the plug to be replaced and all the contractor did was remove the raw sewage and not the rest of the dirt. The city property inspector, who we had contacted, informed us the dirt had to be removed as it was contaminated. It never was, and the smell lingers to this day (March 13).

The inspector assigned to our case had been to the house and could smell the problem as well as see the cloud of flies behind the house. He got the owner of the realty who manages the house there along with the contractor (who the inspector has admitted to knowing personally) and all agreed that something had to be done. There was talk of putting lime down or getting someone under there to see if something was dead under there. That was two weeks ago.

The city property inspector had said when he first got assigned the case that if these things were not accomplished he would issue court papers to get fines going. There has been no talk of that since discovering that he knew the contractor. My husband and I have reason to believe this is influencing him.

My husband and I are low income. We can't exactly afford a lawyer on the off chance that we would lose our case. I wouldn't even know where to begin to look. We can't afford to pay for a civil suit, again if we have a case. But none of this seems right to me. I feel like we have been living with our own filth for a month and a half and I have no idea in which direction to go. I'm not even sure which way is up anymore.

We want out of this house, this lease, but we can't afford to move unless we found someone willing to take payments for the security and pet deposits. We have a spotless rental history, but after this I'm not sure our landlord would give us a good rental report.

Our lease specifically states that verbal complaints are acceptable in lieu of written notices with the exception of termination of occupancy.

Any advice would be greatly appreciated. Sincerely, Krista C.

A: Krista, First, you should immediately write a short, concise letter to the Inspection Department, detailing what has happened, the stress you are under and mentioning that there are potential health hazards to the situation, and ask them to please advise. Send the letter Registered Mail, return receipt requested. Be sure to keep a copy for yourself. (I wouldn't go into the fact that the inspector knows the contractor -- it's pretty irrelevant, since most city inspectors know all the contactors in town. )

You should also send a copy of the letter to the property manager, with a cover letter requesting that you be released from the lease and asking that your security deposit be immediately returned in full. That may or may not get you out of the lease with your deposit back, but it's worth a try. If you can get the name of the owner of the building, send him/her copies of everything also.

A general note: Regardless of what the lease may say, it is always a good idea to put all requests in writing and keep copies for yourself. Otherwise, you simply have no proof that the request was made. This is particularly important when dealing with a property manager rather than the owner.

I do wish you the best of luck.

Another Mouse in the House

Q: Hi,
I just moved into a new apartment in downtown Savannah area, and my landlord/roommate is out of town for a month. I saw a mouse in the kitchen two days ago, and she gave me a phone number to call the pest control company which she has an account under this house. The pest control guy came and put a few glue traps and poisons. Later that day, her friend removed the sticky traps, and the holes in the kitchen is still not yet fixed. I want to move out from this apartment, but I am not sure if I can do this, because this is month-to-month contract, and I need to give her 2 months notice before moving out. Everyone tells me rat/mouse is a very common in Savannah, and I will find them at any other apartment, but I have lived in this town for 3 years, and never seen one before. I expected from the pest control company to catch the mouse, and plug the holes, but they said they don't do that. I found this company, and seems this place might can do this. What should I do?

A: Generally speaking, pest control people do not catch mice, they exterminate or kill them. They don't fill holes. Usually, they put the poison both inside and outside and under the building

But the holes do need to be plugged up. Call your landlord and get the name and phone number of his/her maintenance person. This is the person who should be able to plug up the holes. That, and then a second treatment of poison by the exterminators, should do the trick.

Good luck!

Who is Responsible for Ridding Apartment of Mice?

Hello Savannah,

My name is Steve from Philadelphia, PA. My daughter is 31 years old, and just moved away from home for the first time. She moved into a 2nd floor - 2 bedroom apt. Her landlord is a long time fishing partner of mine. He sold all of his rental properties, and for the most part, is retired from real estate - for the exception of the duplex in which he himself has occupied the first floor of the property for the last 30 yrs or more. My daughter occupies the upstairs apt. After the first couple weeks, my daughter discovered mice in the apt. She informed the landlord of the matter. He's trying to put the responsibility for getting rid of the mice on her. Can he do this? I always thought that the landlord was supposed to take the lead in resolving this matter, along with the cooperation of the tenant to do their best not to leave the rodents anything to feed on. I really don't know anything about the legalities of this matter. I'm hoping that you will shed some light on the subject for me before this escalates into a situation where my daughter's first experience is a total disappointment, and I lose a friend.

Thank you in advance, STEVE

A: Hello Steve,

Unfortunately, I don't know anything about Pennsylvania law, and landlord/tenant laws vary somewhat from state to state. Here in Georgia, landlords are responsible for eliminating mice because they are considered a health hazard. While I suspect the law would be the same in your state, I can't be sure. I think if you call your city's health department, you can probably find out. There is no question that the little rodents must be eliminated, because they multiply rapidly and if they haven't already, will surely invade the owner's apt. as well. Getting rid of the critters is not terribly difficult, although it requires patience and persistence. The first thing that has to be done, and this is absolutely the landlord's responsibility, no matter what, is to securely fill in all tiny holes through which the mice might come (and mice can slither through something less than half their circumference). Once that is done, it is a matter of putting rat poison throughout the corners, cupboards, etc. of both apartments, as well as around and under the building, making certain that no pets or small children can get into it. The process is usually repeated a second time after about 5 days to a week.

If your daughter hasn't done so yet, she should definitely send the landlord a request, in writing (and keep a copy) that he exterminate for mice. Send it Certified Mail or Registered Mail to insure getting a return receipt signed.

It's hard to believe that he would not comply.

Good luck!

Between Maintenance Men and Bullet Holes I Want Out

Q: I'm currently living in an apartment in Savannah. At night there is a lot of "traffic",I think due to drug deals going on all around my door. I have asked management a few times NOT to let the maintenance guys enter the apartment without me being home and they agreed. (The maintenance men have been known to go through people's things and have stolen as well- I dont trust them.) They are also supposed to give notice before they come.

Well yesterday I came home and they had been in my apartment-who knows what they stole. They left a dirty air filter in the middle of my floor and left a paper on my counter showing what day they would come so they could say they "gave me notice". I even have a note at all times at the door to call my cell if they need to enter the apt. The airconditioner leaks and I've been told there is mold in my apt too.

I have a cat that I'm apparently not allowed to have so they are charging me a fine and keeping my deposit.Which that is fine but I'm not getting rid of my cat so I was talking to my neighbor about breaking my lease.

Then they inform me that the only reason the apt. management was able to give me an apt within 3 days is because there was a drive by and the previous person got shot. They NEVER informed me of this and sure enough there are bullet holes in the bottom of my door and along the side of the building. Is this grounds to break my lease? I figured out this was a dangerous area but I didn't know 3 days earlier someone in my apt. had gotton shot! I don't think I should be penalized for breaking lease if I fear my safety. Thanks -- Jen

A: Well, you certainly have an abundance of reasons to want to leave. However, you need to stick to the reasons that will allow you to leave and get your security deposit back.

I don't believe there is any legal requirement for a landlord to disclose why a prior tenant left. And unless it has been proven in court, there is no point in bringing up the maintenance staff's stealing things, which could simply be a rumor.

However, if you were never informed and it is not in your lease, that you cannot have a cat, that might stand up in court.

More to the point, though, is the lack of privacy. By law, a landlord (or his assigns) cannot enter a tenant's residence without giving four hours' written notice. And he certainly cannot enter the apt. to leave a note giving that notice.

My suggestion would be to write a letter to whoever is in charge stating that you are leaving due to the invasion of your privacy on _______ occasions (list them with time, date, etc.).If you have documentation of mold in the apartment (photos), you could mention, also, that you don't want to live with this threat to your health.

Send the letter Registered Mail with signature required, stating when you are going to be leaving and that you want your security deposit returned.

It's possible that they will not return your deposit, in which case, you'll have to take it to small claims court. Unfortunately, that can take considerable time, but it is really your only option.

Who is Qualified to Sign a Rent Receipt

Q: I am from Ontario, Canada, and am renting a room in a home owned by a friend's boyfriend whom she has been dating and living with for a few years, but she is in no way the owner of this home, but is just looking after it. He has, and will be out of town for quite a while and he has agreed that she may rent out a room to me in order to help her with rent.

I am receiving payments, which are $400 a month, from the government of Canada in the form of social assistance in order for me to rent this room and have access to the rest of the home with all utilities, cable, etc, included. My question is, since the owner of the home is not, and will not be in town in the period I will be living in this home, and I will be making payments to the girl and she will transfer these payments to him, after using part of it to pay expenses for utilities, is his girlfriend able to sign rent reciepts for me, on behalf of him? If so, what should she write on it so that it is clear that the rent is being deposited to him, so that we (me and him) may file on our tax returns that I payed rent to him, and he recieved rent from me? Thank you!

A: I'm afraid I don't know anything at all about the laws in Canada, so my answer is probably of no value to you at all. Better check with. You'd better check with a lawyer there. Here in the States, any property owner can turn management over to anyone they choose. The woman currently in charge of the apartment would simply sign a receipt stating that your rent for the month of _________ is paid in full, and sign it with her name, then "designated manager of the premises at _________________(address).

But please check with a local authority.

Who is Responsible for a Mouse in the House

Q: Hi. My tenants moved in about a year and a half ago, the first six months went by without a problem and then I got a phone call from the woman telling me she saw a mouse. I went out and bought a mouse trap and we set it up. We also went around and taped any tiny openings such as around the pipes under the sink in the bathroom. A month went by...the woman calls and tells me her stove blew, my husband goes over with a new stove and discovers that a mouse family chewed through the something and was living behind the stove...they were dead. The woman then tells us that she had seen the mouse go under the burner a few times.

This was six months ago. Now I have learned in the last week that the woman has not been using her stove because it sparked and that she thinks there is another mouse, My question is...Who is responsible for getting rid of the mouse? We never had a mouse problem there in the past, and they are not the tidiest people, there is always food around. we have to keep buying new stoves if they are aware that the mouse is going in there?

A: The good news is that you probably don't have to keep buying new stoves.

The bad news is that, as landlord, you are absolutely responsible for ridding the place of mice and any other rodents. Although landlord-tenant laws vary somewhat from state to state, it's pretty universal that the landlord is responsible for ridding rental properties of anything that is considered a health hazard, and rodents definitely fall into that category!

Mice are difficulat little critters to eliminate. They can get through a hole less than half their own circumferance. And where mice are.... rats are likely to soon arrive. It takes a good deal more than a mouse trap and some tape to de-mouse the house.

Treat the place as though it had rats. First, go through the place as thoroughly as possible, looking for any tiny holes or cracks through which they might slither. Use sheet rock mud or heavy-duty wood filler to close up everything tight.Also look for any leaks in pipes or elsewhere. Rodents are attracted to water as much as to food! Caulk anything in the kitchen or bathroom that needs re-caulking.

Then spread rat poison liberally in all cupboards, behind the stove, under the stove, and underneath the house and around the house. Keep children and pets away from anywhere the poison has been spread for at least 24 hours or longer, depending on the directions on the container.

Wait about 5 days, then repeat the whole rat poison process. Be sure to use top-grade rat poison -- you can get it at Home Depot or Lowes.

Re: the stove: Chances are, you could have had the wires or cords or whatever the mice chewed through, replaced. It's a lot less expensive to call an appliance repair place than to replace a stove. But once you get rid of the mice, you won't have that problem again.

Does your lease stipulate that tenants must keep their residence clean and free of garbage and dirty dishes? It should. If it does, you can be pretty stern about insisting that they do this. If not, you can still point out to them that dirty dishes, food, garbage, etc. are big attractors or mice and bugs.

Another lease point: it should stipulate that tenants are required to call you at the first sign of any problem, i.e., seeing another mouse or mice, noticing a leak. A minor repair of any kind can prevent major problems later on.

Good luck, and if you have any more questions, let me know. Happy Holidays, and best wishes for a mouse-free New Year!

Landlord Holds Security Deposit Because Friend Changed Her Mind

Q: A friend entered into a verbal agreement on Friday to rent a home owned by the Prospective Landlord. However, she found a better deal on Tuesday. Wednesday, the prospective Landlord was notified and he now refuses to refund the $750 deposit. No rental agreement was signed. Cash was given at the time the verbal agreement was entered into and a receipt was rendered. No where on the receipt does it say that the security deposit was non-refundable nor did he state it was non-refundable at anytime during the conversation. Does he have the legal right to keep the deposit?

A: I believe that ethically the landlord should return the deposit, given the short time lapse and the fact that no lease was signed. On the other hand, it could be difficult getting him to do so.

You didn't mention what state you live in, and landlord-tenant laws vary from state to state. I hope that on Wednesday, your friend notified him in writing and kept a copy of her letter.

If not, she should write him one immediately, specifying the date that she gave him the deposit, the date she notified him she had changed her mind, and that she has a receipt for the deposit which has no mention of it being non-refundable. Send the letter Certified Mail so that she gets a signature proving that he received it.

If he doesn't respond to the first letter, send a second, also via Certified Mail, mentioning that if he does not comply with her request, she intends to take him to court. If there is a legal aid society in the city she resides in, she should contact them immediately.

If, after the two letters, he still refuses to release her without charges, she may have to take him to Small Claims Court. This can be time consuming and probably won't get to court for some time. In the end, she might or might not win, depending on the judge. And if she loses, she might be held responsible for the landlord's court costs.

Landlord Claims Security Deposit Check was Never Sent

Q: Hi, I was hoping you had an idea on this one...On the day we picked up the keys to our rental house in New Hampshire, I had two checks in my hand. One for the security deposit and one for the first month's rent.

The landlord asked me to send the checks to an account by mail that he had. I did so. I did not check to make sure the checks went through. After renting for 7 months, we moved out as it was a seasonal rental. The landlord informed me that the security deposit did not arrive at its destination. I guess he didn't check on it with his account (which I thought he had done).

We cleaned and scrubbed everything and only slight wear and tear was evident as we have three kids. He is acting like we may need to pay for repairs but he has no security deposit only $300 of our money that was in overpayment of rent. We will owe him for the oil fill-up because that was supposed to come out of the security deposit as well.

What are my rights in this situation if he demands payment? Wasn't it his responsibility to make sure the monies were in his account? Thanks, -- M.

A: If you call your bank, or you may need to put your request in writing, they will go back and check to see whether or not the check ever cleared.Banks keep these records for at least three years.

I'm not at all certain that it was his legal responsibility to make sure the money was in his account. Sensible, yes. But that doesn't always mean legal.

If your check cleared the bank, get a copy of both front and back sides of it, and you should be home free. On the other hand, if it didn't, you're probably out of luck.

Military Family Shouldn't be Charged Extra Fees

Q: My husband has orders to Iraq and I used them to inform my landlord that I was leaving my apartment. I gave the proper notice in writing, still they are still trying to hold me to a paint fee and a release fee which adds up to $1400! I told them that in our state, they are not able to charge military extra fees. (I gave them a copy). I did read my lease, however, and it does have a military clause stating that we would pay these fees if we needed to move. Can't the state laws supersede the lease? Also, the servicemember's civil relief act says the same thing as the state law. Surely the landlord can't hold me to these charges, right?

A: In this case, the state law definitely supercedes the lease. I'm pretty sure that this is also a federal law.... --Cima Star

Mold and Rats Prompt Me to Break A Lease -- Can I?

Q: Dear Savannah, I saw your site on the internet and was wondering if you could help me out. I have been renting a room in a house for about 3 months. Recently, I have been having problems with mold, both in my closets, and in the basement. But, the worst part is that when I went into the basement the other day to do laundry, I saw three rats scurry across the floor. This is really disgusting to me and I want out. Are these problems grounds for me to break the lease? Thanks, -- Pat

A: You certainly can break your lease if you've asked your landlord to remedy these problems and he/she hasn't done it. You need to have notified the landlord in writing and kept a copy of the letter. If you haven't done so, do it right away.

If the landlord doesn't begin work on these things within three business days of receiving the letter, I'd suggest sending a second letter (again, it's important to always keep copies).

Both mold and rats are easily eliminated, so if for some reason your landlord can't do it or doesn't have a maintenance person to do it, the landlord will have to call in outside help, which might take a few extra days. But it should be addressed promptly.

If nothing has been initiated within three business days of receiving the second letter, send him a third letter stating that you are moving in 10 days (or whatever time frame is good for you if you need more time to find a place), request that your security deposit be returned upon your vacating the room. Also ask thatyou be given, in writing, a promise that your security deposit will be returned. Send this letter Certified or Registered mail, signature required.

If you don't get your deposit back, you may have to go to small claims court to get it, which is fairly time consuming, but if your deposit is substantial, no doubt worth it. If you think you will have to go to small claims court you should take photos documenting the problem, and remember to bring all correspondence with you.

If you have any other questions, just let me know and I'll be happy to respond.


In Need of a Quick Repair

Q: Hi,
My husband and I rented an apartment in Savannah, and were not able to view it in person, but did view many photos of the apartment. When we moved in a month and a half ago, I gave the landlord a list of repairs that needed done. Since then, he has said a few times that someone should be here to make repairs, and no one ever comes. I have been keeping in contact with him, and he keeps apologizing that it is taking so long, saying that he has called no less than ten people about doing repairs. My landlord is aware that there is a mold issue from a long neglected leaky sink, as well as a new hole in my ceiling due to a leaky pipe upstairs. I have stressed to him that I am concerned for mine and my husband's health, and the health of our pets. It seems to me that he thinks an apology should make up for our having to live in substandard conditions. I do not feel that he is living up to his responsibilites as a landlord and that my right to live in a safe environment is being violated. Rent is going to be due again shortly, and I do not wish to continue to pay to live like this. How can I get him to do the repairs, or can my lease be broken and my security deposit returned to me if he does not do them in a reasonable amount of time? (furthermore, what is a reasonable amount of time? I have never had to wait more than a week in the past)
If you can offer me any insight, it would be greatly appreciated.

A: Hello Jen, Thanks for your email. Please forgive the delay in rsponding to your email. My website server was down for two days, which held everything up.

It sounds as though you certainly hae the right to move and get your deposit back if nothing has been done for a month and a half! I assume you have put your requests in writing and have copies of them? That is absolutely essential if the issue should end up in court. In this case, since your landlord is being apologetic rather than completely ignoring you or being belligerent, I doubt that it will have to come to that. You are absolutely correct that repairs should be addressed in no more than a week -- 48 hours is fairly normal. In plumbing situations, it can often take a long time to isolate and repair a hidden leaky pipe, but the effort should have begun long ago. And usually a leaky sink is a very quick matter to repair. And getting rid of mold or mildew is pretty quick, too, and just requires some elbow grease and plenty of Clorox or bleach.

You currently have a couple of options if nothing has yet been done. First, you could simply write your landlord a letter saying you want to move, and why, and asking for your deposit back. That's the simplest, if you have a place lined up to move into.

Or.... but this is trickier, you could call someone yourself, get the repairs made, pay for it yourself, and deduct that amount from your rent. This is not so easy unless you know of a plumber who is both competent and reliable (they are sometimes difficult to find!). Then, should your landlord decide to be difficult, you might find yourself in court trying to prove that you weren't overcharged.... Since fees vary widely from one plumber to another....

I'm very sorry you've had such an unpleasant experience in Savannah, and hope it is all resolved very quickly. If you have any more questions at all, just let us know.


Is My Landlord Responsible for Spider Removal?

Q: We have been invaded by giant spiders recently. We are finding one every few days now. I contacted the landlord about it, but he says he doesn't provide pest control. I contacted an expert, and they informed me that it would cost between $300-400 to come over and find where they are coming in and remove them. (It is more expensive because you cannot just treat for them like most insects, it doesn't work.) We sublet this apartment for 3 months, and then signed another lease for an additional 3 months, and that is up in 2 months. I don't feel like we should be responsible for this kind of pest control, and it has gotten to the point where I am afraid to go to sleep at night, and I am afraid to even walk around inside. My landlord claims this is a common problem in Savannah, but I have lived here most of my life, and I have NEVER known anyone to have this problem. I know small spiders will come inside, and they do not bother me, and I know large tree roaches are common, but these spiders are HUGE and very fast and they terrify me. Is he responsible for this, and if he won't pay to have the problem fixed, is that grounds to break the lease? He did not inform us of this problem before we moved in, so I kind of feel like it may be a disclosure issue, if it isn't a health issue. I don't want to feel this afraid, and I don't feel it is fair for him to pawn off his responsibilty for things like this onto his tenants. In addition, there is a giant hole under the kitchen sink where the pipes go into the wall, and the pest control guy told me if it isn't fixed, rodents could come in as well. I know at least one of the other three apartments also has this problem, because the tenant told me. Thanks.

A: Whether or not your landlord is responsible for spider invasions basically depends on your lease and the kind of spider. Some leases specify that the landlord does not provide pest control. However, by law the landlord is required to remedy any situation that presents a health hazard to the tenant. So, if you can find out what kind of spider, and whether or not it is poisonous, you can probably easily break your lease if it is poisonous.

Whatever you do, though, you need to request in writing what you are asking him to do. Send him a letter, preferably by registered mail, and make your request. If nothing is done or promised within five days, send a second letter. If the second letter brings no results, write to him again and tell him that due to the lack of response to ______________ (reiterate the request), you are hereby giving him notice that you are moving and request your security deposit back.

That said, large spiders are not uncommon in Savannah. Usually, they are either wolf spiders or banana spiders, neither of which are poisonous. Their invasion tends to be seasonal, and random as to where. I personally own and know of many units which have never, ever had a spider in them. And others where the creatures invade every year or two.

Possibly your easiest approach would be to tackle the issue of the hole under the sink. And I'd bet there are other holes as well. Your landlord is definitely responsible for fixing these, because, no matter how small the hole, a mouse can get through it. And rodents of any kind are a definite health hazard.

Again, you need to put your request in writing and proceed as above. I'd bet that you will get some action. Be sure to mention in the letter that rodents are a health hazard.

Once all the holes are sealed, there are, in fact, some powerful spider poisons that can be used to get rid of the spiders.

If you have any further questions, feel free to contact me at any time.

And good luck! -- Cima

Can Prospective Landlord Ask for Salary Details

Q: I am looking into getting a place in New Hampshire. However our soon to be landlord is calling references. I can understand this, however she is not calling about what type of people we are however asking our employers how much we are making. Now I do know there is a law stating that this kind of information is not allowed to be given out (For at least other jobs that you are applying for it is against the law to give out this kind of information.) Is it different for a landlord, I just don't understand why it would be.

Also, I was wondering are landlords allowed to ask for your soc number??

A: If you signed a rental application giving permission for your landlord to check your references and your credit report, then, yes, she has the right to do both. Your employer does not have to give her the amount you are earning. However, they should be willing to verify (or not) the amount you listed on your application.

Many, if not most, landlords base their decision to rent or not to rent on whether they think you can afford the rent. In order to make that judgment, they need to know how much you are earning.

As to social security numbers, no one can run a credit check without the SS number, birth date and driver's license, so, yes, she certainly has the right to ask for it. Whether you give it to her or not is entirely up to you, but refusing to do so could mean that she may refuse to rent to you because she cannot check your credit.

Of course, not every landlord runs a credit report, so you can certainly take the gamble. Hope this helps! -- Cima

How do you notify late payers

Q: If the rent is due on the 1st of the month and you give them to the 5th to pay it before late charges. If it is not paid on the 5th can you then call them and ask why it is not paid? Or what do you do at this point.

A: If the rent is due on the first, and it is not paid by the second, call them and remind them nicely that if it is not received by you by the end of the day on the 5th, they will have to pay the late fee.

If the 5th comes, and they have not paid, send them a written notice that the rent is now five days late and they owe the rent amount, plus the late fee, and give them the total.

Include in the notice that this total must be paid within five days of the date of the notice or you will begin eviction procedures at the courthouse. Good luck! -- Cima

How to Request Improvements on a Dated Apartment

Q: How do I go about drafting a letter to my current landlord asking for improvements to be made? I have rented an apartment for the past 9 years and the carpet is worn and it needs a paint job; I have also been leasing the furniture for the past 9 years and it is extremely outdated. Any information would be helpful.

A: Hello Elizabeth,
Keep it friendly, clear, short and simple. For instance, just start off "Dear _________ " (whatever you normally call him/her).

Then mention something about how you've enjoyed living there for the past nine years (I assume you have, or you wouldn't still be there) and that you understand that he probably does not realize the re-furbishing necessary after nine years. Then say something like, following is what needs to be done as soon as possible in order to keep the apartment in comfortable condition:

And list, one by one, what you need to have done.

Then say, "Please let me know when this work can be expected to begin and how long you think it will take.

Thanking you in advance,"

And sign it.

You should hear something from him within a week. If you don't, send a slightly more forcible letter.

If you have any additional questions before sending the letter, please let me know and I'll be happy to help.

Thanks, -- Cima

Getting Back the Security Deposit

Q: Our relationship with our landlord went bad before we even moved in last August because renovations that were promised at lease-signing were cancelled (and still haven't been done). We have had numerous other issues that I will not go into detail on. The result of all of this is that we do not trust our landlord and we do not believe that he is a very ethical or moral person. It also seems that he bought the property we currently inhabit with intentions of remodeling it but along the way he ran out of money or either stopped caring about it because he had duped enough tenants into signing leases.

Because of all of this, we are highly doubtful that he will return any of our security deposit upon move-out regardless of how sparklingly clean and undamaged we leave the place. Do we have the right to not pay the last month's rent? If not, would it be worth our while to go to small claims court over it? The amount is $675 and for a college student that is a whole lot of money! Thanks for your time!!

A: Well, no, you don't have the right to use your deposit as last month's rent. That said, it is often done (I'm assuming the deposit was equal to a month's rent?) and frequently, a landlord will just live with it. But I wouldn't advise it.

If the landlord is short of money, he could file an eviction the minute your rent is a day late. And if he has to do that, he is probably even more likely to come up with reasons why he shouldn't return your deposit. In the meantime, of course, by the time it gets to court, you'll probably already have moved or be on the verge of moving, so it might be considered a moot point.

The problem is that a filed eviction, even if not executed, could impact your record with future landlords and even get onto your credit report if he then goes to small claims court and gets a judgment against you.

A few things you can do to try to protect yourself:

Make a detailed list of everything that needed to be repaired or done to the apt. when you moved in. This is only of minor value, because such a list should have been made and signed by your landlord, when you moved in, but it might be of some help in court.

Assuming you have been keeping your place neat and clean all along, take pictures right now of how it is, and then, when you move out, take pictures of what it looks like when you leave. Make certain the pictures are dated in both cases and that you have a few copies of each set.

It would be helpful if you have, all along, been sending him letters requesting the improvements and/or repairs that he failed to deliver on. If you've done that, be sure to have copies on hand in case you end up in court. Good luck! -- Cima

How Much Notice Does the Landlord Need to Give?

Q: I am currently renting month to month and the building has just been sold to a new landlord. They have told me I have 30 days to vacate, because they are moving in. My lease is with the old landlord. Someone mentioned to me that they are required to give me 60 days to find a new place to live, but I can't find this documented anywhere. Do you know what rights I have if any? Thanks -- W

A: Dear W. The law probably varies from state to state, and you didn't mention where you live. Here in Georgia, (unless the law has recently changed) they must give you 60 days notice to move.

However, IF this was a verbal request, you probably have more time anyway, because their request has be in writing to be enforceable. If they put it in writing, I'd suggest you write back saying that you need 60 days to find a new place to live . Happy home-hunting! -- Cima

Un-repaired Roof Leak

Q: During a recent storm, I got a leak in my roof. My landlord has yet to fix the problem. Can I break my lease without penalty as a result of this? Rennie

A: First of all, did you put your request for the leak repair in writing? If you just called her on the phone, you need to get your request into writing immediately. The only repair requests that are considered valid in court are those in writing. If your first request does not result in an answer and either prompt action or the promise (in writing) of prompt action, then send another letter via registered or certified mail asking for action within a week or 10 days of date of letter (be sure to require a signature as proof of delivery).

You could state in the letter that if repairs have not been started within XX number of days, you will have them done yourself, and will deduct the cost from your next rent amount. However, this is a gamble, depending on what state you live in, and other factors. You probably should consult an attorney before doing this or anything else because if you end up in court, there can be arguments about overly high costs or other matters. And roofing is a bigger problem than many kinds of repairs, because fees for roofers vary enormously from roofer to roofer!

Rude Landlord

Q: My landlord yelled at me last night and used a terribly rude word. All Iíd done was call him around 6 pm to say my kitchen sink had been stopped up for several days but I hadnít had time to let him know about it, and now I was having people for dinner at 8 and I needed it fixed right away. He refused to send anyone over until the next morning and hung up! Can I do anything about this? Jessie

A: Iím not sure what you want to do something about. If you had the sink repaired next morning, that is, actually, perfect reasonable service. And if you want to accuse him of unseemly language, well, do you have any witnesses and what, exactly, do you want?

Keep in mind in the future, that itís always a good idea (for your sake and your landlordís) to report any maintenance issues as soon as they arise. Small problems left un-repaired can escalate into large problems. And a call at 6 pm about something that is neither life threatening nor building threatening is usually not going to result in anything until the next day at best.

Break a lease?

Q: What happens if I want to, or have to, break my lease? --Leigh

A: That depends on what the lease says, why you ďhave toĒ break the lease, who your landlord is, and the laws in your particular state.

If you are breaking your lease because of military orders, you need only give 30 days written notice from the time you receive your written orders. Regardless of what your lease says, you need only these 30 days to vacate your house or apartment in good standing and receive your security deposit back (assuming you have done no damage to the premises, are up to date on your rent, and do not owe any outstanding late fees).

If you want to break your lease because you simply want to move (to a larger place, smaller place, or in with your boyfriend/girlfriend), it depends on what your lease says, the state you are in, and to an extent it probably depends on your landlord. An individual landlord is likely (though not always) to be a bit more flexible than a large company or property management organization. Legally, in many states, you could be held to the full length of your lease. You may forfeit your security deposit.

Probably, the best thing to do is give your landlord 60 or even better, 90 daysí notice. Many landlords will return your deposit (there being no other problems) if they have the place rented by your move-out date.

In all cases, make certain that your request is put in writing and that anything your landlord promises you is also put in writing.

The wisest course is to bring the issue up as soon as possible to your landlord and if trouble appears to be looming, consult a lawyer.

When to look for an apartment?

Q: I am a college student planning to move to Savannah in August to attend Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD). When should I come to Savannah to look for apartments? Iím thinking about coming the first week in April. --Cheryl

A: Cheryl,
That is probably way too early for an August rental. Most landlords get between 30 and 60 days notice when someone is going to move at the end of their lease. So it is very difficult to know in April what may come available in August. Of course, there are exceptions, so it pays to watch websites and newspapers closely for places that are coming available in August. Good luck!











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