Don’t fall for these 10 crazy landlord claims
Your landlord has a legal obligation to you and to the rental agreement you both signed. Learn about some of the false claims a landlord may make – and the truth behind them.
A landlord's claim: "You don't need a dishwasher; just wash them by hand." // © David C Ellis/Getty Images
If ever there is a time to turn up the skepticism, it’s when the landlord starts “explaining.”
Take these buzz phrases, which lead off one poor excuse after another:
“If you don’t like it ...”
“No one else ...”
“I can’t afford ...”
Please – someone hit the gong and put a stop to the show!
Like it or not, if you’re a renter, you are involved in a business transaction. The landlord isn’t dad, isn’t your dorm mother, isn’t even the goofy but lovable Mr. Roper next door. He’s a businessman, and no one promised that business dealings would be fair, ethical or even honest.
So before you sign, give in or pay, know first and foremost when to cry bull.
To help, here’s a starter plate of some typical outrageous landlord claims and why, according to the experts, you shouldn't swallow them. Perhaps you’ve already heard a few of them yourself, or even fallen for some. Read on, and don’t make that mistake again.
1. Landlord’s claim: ‘You can just do the dishes by hand.’
Tenant’s response: “Yes, I know it’s possible to do dishes by hand. I’ve even done it before. But the apartment that I am paying you to use came with a working dishwasher. That was the deal.”
“You can’t just let it remain inoperable and expect that you’re going to get the same rent,” says Janet Portman, a landlord-tenant lawyer and author of “Every Tenant’s Legal Guide.” “It’s just basic contract law.”
Portman cited the case of a tenant who, when the landlord refused to repair the dishwasher, put a pad and pencil in the kitchen and noted every hour he spent washing dishes. He then multiplied the final tally by the minimum wage and submitted the amount in court as damages owed.
“It was evidence, it was absolutely related to the fact that the dishwasher no longer worked, and the judge thought it was brilliant and he gave it to him,” Portman says. “And the landlord got the message; he fixed the dishwasher.”
2. Landlord’s claim: ‘It was like that when you moved in.’
Tenant’s response: “Oh, good, so you knew the blinds were broken. Great, now come fix them.”
Bing: Search & decide
This landlord excuse is also known as, “You rented the apartment ‘as is,’” and is an all-too-common line. Unfortunately, it may be a valid claim for cosmetic matters or shoddy workmanship. But it doesn’t give the landlord a get-out-of-repairs-free card. State law (in every state except Arkansas) guarantees tenants an “implied warranty of habitability,” regardless of when they spotted the flaw.
If it’s a safety or health issue, tenants in many states can deduct the cost of repairs or withhold partial rent. But be warned: Get advice from a tenant advocate first. You can’t just stop paying all rent, as many renters believe. Nonpayment is grounds for eviction. Instead, send the landlord a certified letter requesting repairs. Then search online or ask a city council member for the name of a tenant center in your area.
“We ask them if they want to stay or they want to move,” says John Fry, assistant director of the Illinois Tenants Union. “If they want to stay, we can help them pay reduced rent until they get repairs. If they want to move, we can help them break their lease.”
3. Landlord’s claim: ‘That will get fixed . . .’
Tenant’s response: “Great! Just give me a call when it’s fixed and that lease will get signed.”
“Again and again I hear, ‘The landlord promised me this.’ And that’s what it was, a promise,” Fry says. “Absolutely do not sign a lease, do not give a landlord any money, until what you see is what you want, because that’s all you’re ever going to get. Ever.”
Granted, it’s not easy. You may want to secure the place or start off on a good note and be trusting. But it’s your home, probably for at least 12 months. Do you know the landlord personally? Have the neighbors vouched that he makes good?
Remember, this is business.
“Repairs cut into profits,” says Ken Carlson, a landlord-tenant lawyer in California. “Need I say more?”
4. Landlord’s claim: ‘What a mess. I needed all your security deposit to fix the thumb-tack holes.’
Tenant’s response: “Oh my goodness. I am so sorry that while paying you $15,000 to live in your apartment last year, I actually lived in your apartment.”
“The landlord will make all kinds of claims that the tenant trashed the place and dare the tenant to do something about it,” Carlson says. “And because tenants have no idea what their legal rights are, they just pay it. So theft is rewarded.”
OK, here are the rules: A landlord may not charge a tenant for normal wear and tear. Small nail holes used to hang pictures? Normal. Ordinary paint discoloration? Normal. Minor scuffs on floors and carpets? Normal.
If you actually do damage something, the landlord should provide a written receipt detailing the repair costs along with the remainder of your deposit. And no charging for marks that were already there!
“We were in one situation where a landlord used a hole in the wall to steal the security deposit and he never repaired the hole,” Fry said. “We had three tenants and they all moved in with the hole in the wall, and he never fixed it and he stole all of their security deposits.”
5. Landlord’s claim: ‘Water? Noise? Talk to the neighbor.’
Tenant’s response: “OK. How about if I go talk to the neighbor about what an unresponsive landlord you are?”
Karen Tuominen, a communications consultant, rang her landlord the day she moved in to her Brooklyn two-bedroom to say that it was raining — inside.
“He literally said to my face, ‘You should really say something to the guy upstairs because he takes these wild baths. He fills it up. He’s got candles all over.’
“It was outrageous,” she says. “And I guess he didn’t think I would ever ask the guy. But his bathroom was completely dry. And now he’s a friend of mine.”
Later the tenants bonded again, this time when the landlord refused to exterminate for bedbugs and blamed individual tenants instead.
In both cases, he was forced to make repairs. A tenant’s contract for a habitable dwelling is with the landlord, not the neighbors.
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