Dear PoP – “unique landlord situation/problem or not?”

“Dear PoP,

I don’t normally comment on blogs or contribute but our current situation has compelled me to see what other people think, good or bad about our somewhat “interesting” rental situation. We relocated in June because of work and had to find a place pretty quickly. We looked at upwards of 30 places in DC and MD. Upon my initial visit to the current property, the person showing the property lived in the basement unit. The owner lives in California. I asked how issues were handled and was given the response that we would let him(basement resident) know and then he would let owner know and get whatever needed to be done and paid for. The place was not “clean” when I went through but was assured verbally that it would be cleaned before we moved in. There was also an issue with the bathroom that he was upfront about and told me that it was in process of being taken care of and I believed him.

After we arrived ahead of our things which were being transported by a moving company, we noticed the place had not been cleaned AT ALL, and probably hadn’t been cleaned ever in years. We moved some furniture that had been left behind and found piles of rodent feces and their “attempts” at catching said rodents. I alerted basement guy and he acted shocked and said “he had no idea”. I won’t go into details but we spent 3 days cleaning, scrubbing, etc. to even get the place livable and spent an extra night in a hotel because we didn’t have time to unpack anything the first day. I demanded the owner’s phone number and called him immediately. We spoke and he assured me that all the issues which start with:

Continues after the jump.

1. Broken gas stove(unusable and still unfixed to date)
2. reimbursement for cleaning supplies and the actual cleaning and removal of previous tenants garbage
3. tub issue upstairs
4. water damage in half bath downstairs
5. ants, mice, rats, cockroaches(exterminator finally came July 2(one month after move-in)
6. all outdoor lighting broken(not lightbulb replacement issue)

After many exchanges with basement guy about getting these issues resolved over the last one month + and one too many loaves of bread eaten by Rat/mice despite our efforts to put it in places we thought would be inaccessible, I call the landlord again. He once again apologized and told me that basement guy hadn’t been paying rent or paying only part of his reduced rent that he gets in exchange for dealing with all previously mentioned issues so the owner doesn’t have to. He admitted that he didn’t plan to fix OUR bathroom until basement guy repaid overdue rent. The water damage only gets worse with each day and I really am concerned that because of the size/weight of tub and years of damage that it could fall through, is that possible? I feel bad for the owner who obviously thought he had someone trustworthy and responsible taking care of the place only to find out he was returning previous tenants full deposits despite damage and lack of cleaning prior to move out.

At this point, what if anything should we be doing to remain on the right side of the law and what can we expect in terms of reimbursement?

Before people attack our naivety, the rodent issue and cockroaches were all hidden behind/under furniture appliances. We are young, well-educated and have a young child, and have NEVER encountered a situation like this and even at our last place when we found it to be less clean than expected but not even close to the disgusting mess that our current place was, the owner offered to take hundreds of dollars off our first month rent and apologized for the inconvenience.

Any help would be appreciated, we are new to the city and don’t have many friends/connections in the area and our family is all in the Midwest.”

This is absolutely awful. Honestly, I would cut my losses (if it is at all financially possible for you) and move out immediately. Ed. Note: There were many more photos included and they were among the most disgusting photos I’ve ever seen.

Is DCRA the right agency to be contacted to report this? What would you guys do?

52 Comment

  • I would probably cut my losses too and move out. I’ve never had to deal with DCRA, but they seem like the right agency to report this to. Far as the owner’s deal with the basement tenant that should not matter. The owner owns the house and is responsible for it’s maintenance. I don’t believe his issues with the basement tenant make any difference with keeping up the house in general.

    I am sorry you have to deal with this.

  • Move out. Do it now. Just take lots of pictures, document everything you’ve had to deal with, and file it away on the very off chance that the landlord decides to sue you for breaking the lease.

    The way DC law works, you can’t sue the landlord in a Landlord-Tenant action – they have to sue you. Based on what you’ve described, I doubt he will.

    So just leave. Walk away and find a clean and healthy place to live.

    • True that you can’t sue the LL in landlord-tenant court, but there is a new Housing Conditions Calendar in superior court that is for this exact kind of situation. The judge there can order the landlord to fix housing code violations.

      You can and should also call DCRA and get an inspection–it’ll be good proof in a superior court case.

      There’s a landlord-tenant resource center in landlord-tenant court that can give you advice on getting the housing code violations fixed and asking for rent abatement/return of security deposit/damages. They’re open every morning from 9:15-noon.

  • They should cut their losses. They stepped into a shady situation and it’s not going to get any better. The combination of issues clearly violates the implied warranty of habitability. And the landlord’s statement that the issues won’t be remedied at any point in the near future justifies stopping payment of rent and putting that money towards getting a new place. I would tell this to the landlord up front. I doubt he will complaint but if he does, tell him you’ve got pictures showing what a mess the place is and that if he wants to take you to court over it, go right ahead.
    Don’t think for a minute that if the tub falls through the floor and injures basement guy, that he won’t be suing you personally for every dollar you have.

  • Withhold rent payment.

    • WRONG! Withholding payment opens them up to be sued by the owner for non-payment. The LAST thing you want to do is be on the wrong side of this because the FIRST question any judge will ask is,”Is the account up to date?” When you answer “No,” all your leverage goes with it.

      • On the other hand, you can’t get in front of a judge if the landlord doesn’t sue you…so if you stay, you put the rent into an escrow account, rather than sending it to the landlord.

        That said, you shouldn’t stay. Seriously. Friends of mine were in a similar, though far, far less disgusting situation not too long ago, and after they’d had enough of their landlord’s failure to fix things, they made sure they had a long paper trail documenting all the issues, then moved out. The landlord complained to them, once, and they told him he could sue if he wanted to…that was the last they heard from him.

      • are you a housing lawyer or do you have personal experience with type of situation? if so, by all means elaborate

        • I’m a lawyer who has some pro bono experience with housing matters. As such, of course, I’m obligated to say that you should in no way rely upon my legal advice. 😉

      • This is entirely false.

        In some parts of the country the obligation of the tenant to pay rent is independent of the obligation of the landlord to keep the property up to code. This is true in DC for commercial leases, but the implied warranty of habitability — applied only in residential cases — means that a tenant isn’t obligated to pay rent on a property that doesn’t meet code.

        Besides, if you know anything about DC Landlord/Tenant law, you’ll know that tenants facing nonpayment eviction can redeem the tenancy at any time by paying what judges call the “Trans-Lux” amount (rent due, interest, costs, reasonable penalties) before eviction physically happens. Habitual non- or late payers are different, but in a strict non-payment case the tenancy is redeemable.

        In the OP’s case it sounds like the best thing do to is move and be well rid of the place, but many code violation cases start with rent strikes.

        • I would still withhold rent.

          That said, finding the language for what constitutes a legal withholding is tricky.

          If I were you I’d call/visit the Office of the Tenant Advocate

          1250 U Street, NW
          4th Floor
          Washington, DC 20009 (202) 719-6560

          See what they can do for ya, instead of relying on conflicting advice and (probably) a lot of misinformation from obnoxious anonymous bloggers. Thats you MCN

          • Thanks for the credit, JD. I was a residential Property Manager in the city for several years and know what tenants do to screw themselves up in cases just like this. Withholding rent levels the field so where the owner was clearly in the wrong before, he now has his own argument which a judge will have to consider. You weaken your position when you violate the lease for nonpayment. Would you like to know the next real-world steps in the process or would you rather go back to your make-believe comics now?

  • anon. gardener

    Move. The owner is obviously untrustworthy. Definitely call DCRA and get an inspector out there. But for the sake of your health, mental and otherwise, move.

    I hope your next DC rental experience is a positive one.

  • Just wanted to say that I live in a rental with a landlord on the West Coast and have had a fantastic experience for more than a year. Having a landlord in another state doesn’t necessarily equal a shady situation, just for future reference.

    DC law strongly protects renters, so keep that in mind and leave. Even if you get the stove, etc fixed, you’ll never get the roaches out. Find someplace clean to live and good luck!

  • The best thing you can do is come to an agreement with the owner which allows you to move out. He has acknowledged the situation and also refuses to correct them. He would get off easier by letting you out of your lease (make sure your deposit will be in full) than he is to role the dice with DCRA. If he refuses to let you out of the lease, call DCRA and ask for a Housing Inspection. DCRA is only an option if you plan to stay in the apartment, they will not inspect if you are not a tenant and they will not enforce violation corrections if you no longer live in the property.

  • goaldigger

    I would move too but first make sure you notify DCRA (and I’d shoot email to your Council member and your ANC contact) so you have back up/documentation if the landlord decides to pursue payment. Take lots of pictures.

  • I own my place now, but when I first moved here and was looking at places to rent I would walk away from any place where the owner either did not live on-site or in the DC area. Dealing with a long-distance owner is a huge pain even when you don’t have to deal with all the crap you have had to put up with. Move out, for you health and sanity.

  • I’m a terrible person but I really want to see the other pictures…!

    And my heart goes out to the letter writer. Seriously, I think you should document the heck out of everything and move, and then sue if necessary to get your deposit back. I know money is an issue, but so is your health and well-being.

  • Just move to NYC. If you’re going to pay DC prices to live in a shithole, you might as well pay the same amount of money to live in a nice part of Queens or Brooklyn and have a decent place with a city government that actually enforces landlord responsibilities. You’re also less likely to be murdered in a random street crime.

    The DCRA is a mess of an agency, just like all other arms of DC government. I had a huge roach infestation in my old building, and I had to make multiple phone calls to DCRA every day for weeks to get anyone out for a building inspection. Then I had to call back multiple times every day for an extended period of time to get a copy of the inspection report. Their advice was to start (and chair) a tenants’ committee and sue the landlord in small claims court. DCRA is incapable of enforcing any statutes on landlords, at least not in a timely fashion. Even after documenting a building-wide roach infestation, the only action they could take was to tell the landlord that he either had to have the entire building treated or pay a nominal fine (something like $500).

    I ended up moving to Montgomery County, Maryland. It’s still expensive, but the quality of life is much better.

  • It would have been a red flag when the basement tenant said that issues would go through him. Why couldn’t you guys have just contacted the landlords in California instead of having to go through the basement tenant? That’s weird.

    I’m sorry for this situation… it sounds horrible 🙁

  • Aw, come on, PoP. Show us the pictures!

  • Don’t walk run.

    If this is how things are going and you just moved in imagine doing the on an ongoing basis (and you know it isn’t going to get easier.

    Also, is this landlord even legal with DCRA?

  • I find it hard to believe that you looked at upwards of 30 places in DC and Maryland and this was the best that you could do. Why would you pick a place that had so many issues to be addressed? Was it considerably cheaper than other places that you looked at? If so it just goes to show that if something looks to good to be true, it probably is.

  • But where to move immediately? I agree – cut your losses report to DCRA and move immediately. So how about some practical advice for finding a place right away?

    1. Post in CL “Housing wanted” with a very very BRIEF explanation of your situation. Offer to house or pet sit.

    2. Search for house or pet sitting opportunities – this is vacation season and many people would like responsible people – even if it is for a week or two.

    3. Check vacation rental sites like and August in DC can be a slow month. Check the online availability calendar and if there is a big block of unbooked dates, make an offer. Someone might be looking for $200 a night, but could be happy for $1,500 for a month that would otherwise sit empty.

    Good luck

  • I’d say call the owner and let him know you’re moving out in 30 days and would like him/her to mutually cancel the lease. They’ll hopefully oblige since you’ve informed them of the situation, unless they’re scum. If they refuse,let them know you’ll be reporting them to DCRA and are contacting several blogs, etc. It’s hard to believe after looking at 30 places you settled on this turd. Good luck! Get your kiddie away from the mice!

    • POP, why is my comment “awaiting moderation”? Am I being censored?

      • Prince Of Petworth

        As some have noticed, the commenting has been having a few problems please be patient. Having said that there are a few key words that automatically take comments to moderation. But sometimes “normal” comments get thrown there. It’s all good, I get to them very quickly. Thanks again for your patience.

        Having said that I have not problem “censoring” people when they prove to be trolls, spammers etc.

  • Just forget you ever lived here.

  • Run, Sprint, do the 100yd dash, ROLL OUT!

  • Ok, this is the person that sent this in. I probably should’ve send PoP “after” pictures. Myself, mom, and husband spent days cleaning, and the place is now “clean”. Pest control is involved and cockroaches and ants are gone, stove is almost fixed(one more part ordered and installed this week). Rats/mice are being contained and entry points sealed and landlord has been taking care of expense so far directly himself. He is coming out here next week to see the property for himself and I’m planning to have him sign a document with dates for starting the work on the bathroom and fixing the other things on our list, would that hold any legal weight? We would happily move but don’t really want to fork over another 3000-4000 for movers as we did the first time. And, we do like the location and let me reiterate(sans rodents and with a good cleaning) the place is nice, top of the line appliances, energy efficient etc. If anyone knows legally what we can do to try and recover some of our losses, it would be appreciated.

    • Wow! I empathize with your predicament, but really can’t understand how you chose THAT place to rent especially seeing the filth beforehand… That picture makes me want to vomit. I would have called the moving company and had them hold your possessions for a while to look for another place.

      When I bought my condo it had been unoccupied for a few months and had some type of infestation as well and I had to vigorously clean before I could feel comfortable moving in. When I got under contract I brought my folks over to show them and a big dead roach was in the middle of the floor! However it was mostly confined to the kitchen cabinets which I never looked at closely enough.

      I don’t think you will be able to recoup the time you spent cleaning rat poo, but you should be able to get landlord to pay for the pest control treatments.

    • I would ask for a rent reduction for the period of time that you have had to deal with all of these problems.

  • That’s disgusting. Find another place and just move. The landlord won’t take you to court because if he does then you have an inspector come into what is obviously a rental without a certificate of occupancy.

  • And to the fact that we looked at almost 30 places, there were some that might not have had these issues(which again, weren’t blatantly apparent when I looked at the place) and like all the other places we’ve lived, if the place isn’t cleaned the previous tenants are billed for the cleaning via security deposit. They were either in locations that were undesirable, which was hard to determine from far away and very few contacts in the area or worse in terms of lack of cleaning/updating of appliances by landlord, too far from work(we underestimated how bad traffic was). I am not trying to pass blame, we were rushed and trusted what we were told, I just want to know what we can do to either rectify the major problems or get reimbursed for what we’ve already put into the place.

  • Call DCRA, document document document, and start looking for a new place. Just break your lease and leave. Cut your losses with the security deposit and get out.

  • Agreed on escrow if you decide to stay. DC Municipal Code allows tennants to break lease with 60 day notice — at a minimum you can extricate from the lease. Paying into escrow shows the court you’re a responsible party. You can still negotiate with the landlord on outstanding payment issues (ie discount, waiver, etc), but you’re legally covered so to speak

    Also, check to see if the unit is registered and has a current Certificate of Occupancy. You may have firmer legal standing if the unit was rented illegally (which I suspect may be the case if it’s in such horrendous condition — a working stove is also a legal requirement).

    I’m sorry for your predicament. It’s a tough rental market with limited options — you’re not the first person to fall into a bad situation. Good luck

  • See what you think when you meet the landlord in person. If you get a sense that he’s horrified at the condition of the apartment in his absence and wants to fix it, you may be able to negotiate a reduction in rent while the problem gets fixed.

    If he’s not cooperative and he doesn’t show up as a legal landlord then he can’t sue you for leaving before your lease ends. You could ask to be released from your lease due to the problems. If he resists you could point out that if it came to court you can clearly document the issues. If he doesn’t have a CofO he won’t want to go to court.

  • btw, he does not(to my knowledge by checking DCRA site) have a c/o for the main house(where we live) or the basement apartment where the other guy lives. If that makes us in better bargaining position at all?…

    • Yes, 100% chance he will lose in court, if he isn’t a legal landlord. If his “basement guy” isn’t paying all the rent he owes, then it’s obvious the landlord -knows- he doesn’t have the legal standing to evict or even enforce rent(!). Ask him for a new lease agreement with a rent abatement until problems are addressed. Have him void the old lease.

      Come to think of it, I’d get on one of those legal forms sites, and draft your own lease agreement. You can add as many clauses as you want “rent abatement will be in effect until the following items are addressed”, etc.

      Present it to him. If you can’t come to an agreement, point him in the direction of the couple PoP posts that have been addressed landlord legality in DC. It’ll educate him, scare him, and get him to call an exterminator tomorrow.

      Main thing is to use legal action as a last resort. The threat of legal action pays off more quickly and easily than going to court itself.

  • Or, just stop paying rent. No certificate of occupancy? How exactly is he going to take you to court?

    If you want to stay there, then pay for things to be fixed with what would have been rent money. Document it. Then, tell him how much you will pay him after all that, and get him to agree to it. It’s better than nothing for him, and you get to live in the apartment how you want it.

    He’s got nothing on you.

    • I agree with your last assertion, but why should they front the cash for his fix ups? Sorry, but being a general contractor for this guy sounds like a bad deal. Should they have to take off work to wait for Maytag?

      Nah, just get that rent abatement in writing, stating what has to be done as specifically as possible. And I’d wager he’d get the work done more quickly than they would, given his exposure to loss of rent / legal action right now. If he’s smart, he’s in panic mode.

  • There is a new housing conditions calendar in DC Superior Court where a tenant can sue the landlord to fix housing conditions. It will not deal with rent at all and will not give you damages, but the court can help you get the stuff fixed up to code standards.

    Also, you can call DCRA for an emergency inspection and they will come within 24 hours.

  • yes. call dcra now. better yet, call the mayors office of community relations and services at 442-8150 and ask for your ward representative. they can help coordinate multiple agencies that will likely want to take a look at this.

  • People, a couple of mice droppings and a broken stove is going to get you laughed at by DCRA inspectors. You have no idea how completely horrendous perfectly legal rental units in this city can actually be.

    Get a read on the landlord. If he’s reasonable, then he will abate the rent, make repairs, etc. I think your bigger problem is the fact that he lives out of town and basement bozo has been left in charge—that means that even if everything currently wrong gets fixed—you are always going to be the one making repairs and handling problems because basement bozo isn’t competent or willing to do it.

    If you don’t mind handling those type of issues, then you might consider negotiating with landlord to have him pay off basement bozo and let you be the de facto property manager for a break in rent. Landlord could pay off basement bozo to move, get a real full-rent paying tenant for the basement, and be better off going forward, even with giving you a discount.

    Alternatively, if all landlord is interested in is maximum rental and minimal hassle, then landlord should be willing to cancel the lease and pay your moving costs, because if the rental is illegal—you could cause him a world of trouble.

    • I’d just add, the landlord can hire a property management firm like real absentee landlords do. It’s cheaper than housing non paying basement tenants. If the couple self manages, it might be okay, or there may be a host of issues waiting to be discovered in this neglected unit. Roll of the dice.

      The landlord would have to pay them a management fee for the abated months as well.

      Good luck!

  • Thank you everyone for the support, we’ve been pretty frustrated and knowing where to go and what rights we probably have will help when he comes out next week….to those of you dying to see ALL the pics, you are hereby forewarned of the nastiness and I will work on getting them into an album and give you the link, I don’t blame you, I’d wanna see them too(if it weren’t my reality).

  • 100 pictures…you have been warned.

  • 1) Find out if the landlord has the required DC Business License and Certificate of Occupancy
    2) Document all damages and repairs, including time spent for cleanup
    3) Request an inspection by DCRA
    4) Do not withhold rent!! Put it in escrow and have the Landlord/Tenant Resource Center help you.
    5) Sue for damages/repair; sue separately to break lease

    Do better research next time!!!

  • TooTrusting, Not to add to your problems, but do you really want to live in the same structure with the basement bozo? He is obviously an irresponsible slob. And, not the most honest person on the block. What else is he doing? Meth Lab? What is going on in the basement. You have a small child in this house, do you really want to risk the child’s safety by living over basement bozo?

    You can clean the property and get rid of rats and mice. But, skeezy neighbors, that’s a bigger issue.

  • I would get out of there – especially if you have a young child. The poor baby’s health could be in jeopardy. If you want to recoup some of the losses you’ve incurred, I would also contact an attorney. This is horrible!

  • Let me see if I got this right. When you viewed this s**thole, it looked pretty much the same as it does in your pictures? Are you seriously telling us you then signed a lease and moved in, knowing the state of this place? I’m sorry and I hate to be rude, but are you lacking a brain cell or several? Who in their right mind would move into this disgusting apartment? If you moved in already knowing the state of the place, then you have nobody to blame except yourselves.

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