Can I get out of my apartment lease due to serious mold problem?

January 6, 2014 20:12 by Consumer Ed

Dear Consumer Ed:

I recently moved to a new apartment from out of state.  I put in a service request with the property manager because the carpet in my son's room was very wet and smelled of mold.  After looking at the apartment, the property manager realized that the mold issue was serious.  I explained that I would be out of town for four days.  She said when I returned I would have to move out immediately and that she would show me another unit.  The problem is that they began the work the day before I returned home by knocking down the wall and exposing the mold.  They were well aware that I had a dog in the house, and part of our agreement was to wait until I returned home before beginning the work.  I am concerned about the effects that high exposure to this mold might have had on my dog.  Also, who is responsible financially for moving me into another unit?  Having just relocated to Georgia, I have no friends or family who can help me move.  I called management to complain about the work being started before my return, but no one has called me back.  At this point, I am so unhappy with the management here that I just want to get out of my lease. What can I do?

Consumer Ed Says:

The first thing you may want to do is consult the Landlord-Tenant Handbook , which can be found on the Department of Community Affairs' website. The Handbook has a discussion of "constructive eviction", which may be a way for you to get out of your lease. There are two things necessary to show that there has been a constructive eviction:

 

  • the landlord's failure to repair has made the unit an unfit place for the tenant to live; and
  • the unit cannot be restored to a fit condition by ordinary repairs. 

 

This is quite possibly what is going on with your apartment.  Your landlord and/or its agent, the property management company, failed to make the repairs necessary to prevent a serious mold issue from developing; now, this mold problem is so extreme that you need to move to a different unit.  However, your lease is for the specific unit into which you originally moved, not for a different unit.  The property manager may be showing you other units as a convenience or so that he or she doesn't lose a rent-paying customer, but unless your lease specifies that you are obligated to accept a reasonable alternative apartment in the event of a constructive eviction, you may not be under any obligation to continue renting from this company.  However, you should consult an attorney before taking any definitive action.

With regard to the effect of the mold on your dog, you probably have no recourse unless your dog is acting differently than usual (not eating or drinking, sneezing/wheezing, listless, etc.).  Limited natural exposure to mold spores is a part of everyday life, and is typically not a health threat.  However, prolonged exposure to elevated levels of mold spores is what can cause a reaction in otherwise healthy individuals (animal or human).  On the other hand, it's always possible that your dog could be hypersensitive to mold spores, and could experience serious health reactions despite only minor exposure to mold.  Common reactions include nasal stuffiness, eye irritation, wheezing, or skin irritation.  If you believe your dog has become ill from the mold exposure, you should contact a veterinarian, and then, if the vet can confirm the dog's illness was caused by the mold, speak to an attorney to explore your options for legal action.

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Following foreclosure, can new owner raise tenant's rent?

May 14, 2013 17:54 by Consumer Ed

Dear Consumer Ed: 

The house we rent was foreclosed on and then sold by the bank. There are still 6 months left on the lease and the new owners want to raise the rent and get a new security deposit (even though our original deposit was not returned). Is this legal?  If not, whom should I contact to resolve the issue?              

Consumer Ed says: 

The Protecting Tenants at Foreclosure Act (PTFA), a federal law, specifically addresses your issue.  The PTFA was signed into law on May 20, 2009 and protects tenants when the property they rent is sold at a foreclosure sale.  The Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act extended the PTFA protections until December 31, 2014.   Even though the PTFA is a federal law, it still applies to state court eviction proceedings.

If you originally entered into your lease before the notice of foreclosure, then the new owners bought the property subject to your rights as a tenant.  In other words, your lease did not end when the property was sold at foreclosure, and the new owners must recognize your original lease.  If the new owners will not use the house as their primary residence, then they must allow you to stay in the house and pay rent until the end of your original lease.  However, the new owners only have to give you 90 days’ notice to vacate the property if they are in fact going to occupy the house (you’d still have 90 days to vacate, even if there were less than 90 days remaining on your lease).

While you remain in the house (either for the remainder of your lease or for the 90 days), the new owners cannot raise your rent or require a new security deposit.  You will still have to pay rent, but you will pay the same rent required under your original lease to the new owners of the house.  If you don’t pay rent, the new owners can go to court to have you evicted; they can also have you evicted if you stay in the house after your lease expires (or after the 90 days’ notice period).
 
If the new owners continue to insist that you pay additional rent and/or an additional security deposit, you should contact an attorney to address your specific case.  The State Bar of Georgia (404-527-8700 or 800-334-6865) can give you information to help you locate an attorney, or you could contact your local Georgia Legal Services Program office (www.glsp.org).  You may also pursue an issue with your landlord on your own through the local magistrate court.  In the event you cannot afford an attorney, you may want to contact an organization that deals with landlord-tenant disputes, like Atlanta Legal Aid (www.atlantalegalaid.org).

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How much can a landlord charge for move-in/move-out fees?

April 4, 2013 18:15 by Consumer Ed

Dear Consumer Ed:

In searching for a house to rent for myself and my 18 year-old son, I have encountered application fees of up to $50 per adult living in the house.   They also require a move-out fee.  Is there any limit as to how much a landlord can charge for these types of fees?

Consumer Ed says: 

No, there is no limit as to what a landlord can charge for these fees under Georgia or Federal law.  If you think a particular fee is unreasonable, your only recourse is not to apply to rent that landlord’s rental property.  When deciding whether a particular fee is reasonable, you should ask the landlord or leasing company to explain the reason for these charges.

Landlords who charge an application fee typically use this money to pay for the cost of running a credit check and criminal background check on the applicant(s). This fee is usually not refundable if your application is denied.  To potentially cut down on this cost, you can obtain your credit report and bring a copy with you when you are negotiating your lease.  The landlord is not required to accept your offered report as an alternative to running his own credit check, but if he agrees to accept it you could save yourself some money.  Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, you are entitled to a free copy of your credit report from each of the nationwide credit reporting agencies — Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion — every 12 months upon your request.  To obtain your free credit report, visit annualcreditreport.com or call 1-877-322-8228. You may also complete an Annual Credit Report Request Form and mail it to:

    Annual Credit Report Request Service
    P.O. Box 105281
    Atlanta, GA 30348-5281

Move-out fees are less common, but may be charged as long as the fee is included in the lease and the landlord is consistent in charging all tenants a move-out fee. If the landlord charges some tenants this fee, but not others, he might be in violation of the Fair Housing Act, which prohibits discriminating against any person in the terms, conditions, or privileges of a rental on the basis of race, color, religion, familial status, or national origin.  If you think that you have been the victim of such housing discrimination, you can file a complaint with the Department of Housing and Urban Development at http://portal.hud.gov/hudportal/HUD?src=/topics/housing_discrimination.

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