Dear PoP – Landlord/Tenant Drama, Help!

Photo by PoPville flickr user ekelly80

“Dear PoP,

I read your blog regularly and the posts on landlord/tenant questions have helped me figure out that my landlady is acting in a dangerous and illegal fashion. I rented a room in a large house in Columbia Heights last fall.
It seemed like a really good deal. The woman who rented it to me, never met with me in person but had another tenant show the room. She didn’t ask for any information from me, all she cared was that I deposited cash into her bank account the next day. I suppose that should’ve been my tip off that something wasn’t kosher.

But I moved in and everything seemed okay for a month for so. Then the electrical started failing. I called / texted the long distance landlord to no avail. The other tenants complained also. I ended up calling pepco out 3 times. Pepco said that because part of the electrical wouldn’t turn back even with breakers being flipped back on, that that might indicate a problem in the walls. They also told me that the breaker box was behind an illegal wall and that it needed to be torn down.

On top of this, other problems started arising. The people who lived in the building’s basement apartment started having huge drunken fights and the police/ ambulance/ fire department were called out. Because the breaker bx is/was located in their basement ‘bedroom’ I was scared to even enter their apartment to try and flip on the electric.

Finally after breaking the glass in the door to the apartment in a drunken rage, the tenants in the basement left.
On top of that a roommate who lived in room near mine was also an alcoholic. Shortly after the raging tenants left, he started to fall apart. Drink all night, start fires in the fireplace and then pass out while they were still burning.

I finally confronted my landlady on the phone. She was utterly dismissive. She said I could leave if I didn’t like it.

So I started to do research on the building and reading posts on your blog.

I figured out that she wasn’t even the real owner, merely the building manager. Also the building is being illegally rented out and she doesn’t have a BBL.

I called DCRA and tweeted with Mike Rupert about making an appointment to have building inspected.
I also told my landlord that I would be putting my rent into escrow if things didn’t get fixed and straightened out with DC Zoning.

Then someone snitched to her that I made an upcoming appointment with the DCRA to do inspection. She went ballistic on me.

I actually recorded her swearing at me and telling me that she would take my cats to the SPCA and throw my things on the lawn if I caused more problems for her. I told her that I know my rights and that only US Marshals can make people move out in DC.

She replied that just because there are laws that that doesn’t mean she follows them. I was so shocked and scared that I placated the crazy woman, canceled the DCRA inspection while she watched me do it and paid rent.

In the meantime I left the building and an acquaintance has been staying in my room where I still have my bed and furniture. I caught my landlady in a good mood and have a text with approval for someone to stay in my room. I am afraid if I leave the room furnished but don’t stay there that she will throw my stuff out and replace me.
Now things have come to a head again and landlady has flipped out again.
Long story short I need a good suggestion for a decent tenant lawyer.

If you have any suggestions I’d appreciate it.”

I think you should just go with a friend and remove your belongings immediately. I don’t think this situation needs to be drawn out. And that is exactly what I would do. It sounded like she would let you out of the lease, right? So is the only concern getting your belongings? Getting your deposit? I feel like this is a cut and run and situation.

What would you guys do in this situation?

46 Comment

  • randomduck

    I’d call DCRA and get that inspection, hold rent in escrow, and if she shows up to intimidate (which is illegal), call 911 and have DCPD handle the situation. The fact that the building manager blatantly admitted that she doesn’t follow the law is a clear sign that the law (DCRA and DCPD) need to be involved.

  • Move. Out. It’s not like you have a lease that she can enforce.

  • Take the cats and run! You aren’t going to win against crazy and you don’t want anything bad to happen to your kitties. Seriously – bail fast and good luck.

  • For someone with so much money you aren’t very smart. Guess that’s how the GOP stays in business.

  • I know things may be a little tough finding a place affordable, however, all this drama for a room?
    Get out of there!! and quick.

  • I’d move out. If she didn’t return my deposit I’d take her to small claims court. I’d call DCRA and make them inspect on my last day there, and might also call the council member for the district and the mayor’s office in an attempt to get the place condemned, if it’s truly life-threatening (I just had a friend lose all her belongings in an apartment fire caused by poor electric maintenance). I definitely wouldn’t pay April rent–let her take it out of your security deposit, which you wouldn’t be getting back without a court fight anyway, from the sounds of her.

    But you don’t have to take my advice (and shouldn’t! don’t listen to anonymous internet commentators!). There’s a landlord-tenant resource center at landlord-tenant court (open every weekday from 9-noon) and DC has an office of the tenant advocate.

  • I am thoroughly confused as to why you’re continuing to entertain this horrid situation by keeping your belongings there??? I would still report her, but why you are still interacting and participating by having your things there is beyond me…

  • pablo .raw

    Fire happens because of bad electricity sometimes, and you may not have renter’s insurance (your bed and belongings may burn and hopefully you will not be there). Also, if electricity problems are that bad, DCRA may ask tenants to leave after the inspection, and return once the situation is fixed and if that is going to happen, maybe you should be already looking for another place to live!

  • Do the following in order
    Schedule an inspection, pack your things, forward your mail (with Post Office, banks, etc.), move, meet the inspectors out the house and then walk away.
    For karma’s sake – report this house so others don’t get suckered into this same situation.

  • Are you stupid or just stupid? What are you waiting for? GTFO!

  • Whatever you do, do not pay your last month’s rent. You are never going to see that security deposit again! Trust me.

  • I really love it when people don’t question cheap places, don’t care about whether a place has a cert of occupancy, or whther it is a registered apt UNTIL you don’t like something. Then you are all indignant about it.

    The lady sounds like a really crazy person, but YOU are entirely responsible for your situation.

    Remember that next time.

    • Exactly!

      Here’s what I’d do: Don’t pay your last month’s rent, find a new place, move your stuff, call DCRA & meet inspectors to give them access, then terminate your lease with the old place.

      I don’t know why you’r asking for lawyer referrals; it’d cost more than it’s worth and you really wouldn’t get anything out of it. You, after all, are (er, should be) responsible for your own situation.

    • I agree with joker… Landlord is crazy.

      Your recourse is to move out, with your property and dignity intact.

      You’re not going to straighten out your crazy landlord AND improve your living situation AND maintain your same rent.

      People want to live on the cheap, yet when the shit hits the fan.. they suddenly start caring about business licenses, and Certificate of occupancies, etc.
      It doesn’t make any sense to me.

  • 1. Move out immediately; rent a U-Haul and put your stuff in a self-storage unit if you have to.

    2. Pay no more money to this landlord.

    3) (optional) Pursue legal/administrative action against this landlord. I say optional because this will be a pain in your ass with little gain for you (assuming you have moved out), but it would be a service to all decent people if you help take down this slimeball. I doubt you will get your deposit back (if there is one) and if you do it likely won’t be worth the time and effort you spend to recoup it.

    But basically, it sounds like you are surrounded by bad people (roommates and landlord) and you can probably only “win” by getting away from them. Getting a “decent tenant lawyer” sounds like you mean to stick around and do battle with these people but I’m not really sure what you would get out of that even if you prevail.

  • Why the hell would you have to write into this blog to figure out what to do in this situation? You clearly don’t have the stones to stand up to this woman, so get the hell out now.

  • Ummm, yes, get out now for your own safety and sanity. But PLEASE don’t let this lady and the building’s owners continue to get away with it. Reschedule the DCRA inspection and follow up with them until something actually happens.

  • Stop reading/typing and move out right now. It doesn’t sound like you have a lease or anything with signatures on it so grab your things and run like hell.

  • Just in case you missed it the first time, here’s Andy(2)’s winning entry:

    Do the following in order
    Schedule an inspection, pack your things, forward your mail (with Post Office, banks, etc.), move, meet the inspectors out the house and then walk away.
    For karma’s sake – report this house so others don’t get suckered into this same situation.

  • Sweet Jesus… I hope the rent was a deal you couldn’t pass up. But then again…. you get what you pay for.
    I would call DCRA and plan your move out for the day of the inspection. It may help save lives!

  • I am honestly having a hard time believing that this is real.

    • Same here – unless there’s something that the OP left out of their story, it sounds like they are free to move out. Why do they need a lawyer?

  • Get a moving pod today – you can easily store your stuff until you get yourself sorted.

  • get a temp place off craigslist to move you stuff into. Run and don’t look back there is no use with reasoning with crazy

  • Cut and run, of course.

    But, then you need to figure out how you got into this predicament, why you tolerated the drama, why you would let a “friend” step into this, and why you need this chorus of people confirming that you need to move out and move on.

    It’s time to start making better decisions.

  • This stuff is common in rooming houses. This is why neighbors don’t like them. You end up with multiple renters who aren’t responsible to each other, just pay the rent and do their thing. Its cheap and nice while it lasts. Its unfortunate that the house has so many problems but the OP shouldn’t be complaining if the lady is letting him leave. He signed up for the room and should have known that you can always have roommate problems with people you know or don’t know. As for the inspection– you could be messing up other peoples’ situation and maybe they can’t afford better. If its really dangerous, then yes inspect, but if its just OP being cranky and upset, then everyone else might lose their home or end up paying 200-300 more per month.

  • GET OUT!
    As everyone else has said, get out. Don’t delay, do it today.
    Also this advice is useful should you find yourself in an abusive relationship. You can’t change your landlady to become the person you want her to be. You can’t force the drunks in the house to suddenly join AA and 12 step. What you can do is protect your cats by getting out.
    If like an abused woman you have no idea of what to do or where to go here’s a few ideas. Put your stuff in storage and crash with a friend while you find a new place. Don’t have any friends? Find temp lodgings, sublets on Craigslist, AirBandB, or on fliers at universities. Find someone to foster your cats while you find a replacement place.
    Also tell us the address of this place so if no real changes are made (or if you decide not to pursue) someone might be able to google this and decide if they want to risk this dramafest.

  • Before you leave you should host a “demolition rent party”. $5 at the door buy little bit booze, get some sledge hammers and let people go to town!

  • Do everything other people have told you to do to screw this landlord, but FIRST, move all of your belongings out except for a mattress and minimal necessities.

    The mattress will maintain your ability to claim residency there and go after the landlord, while most of your belonging will be safe from anything she would try to pull.

  • Visit the DC Law Students in Court landlord/tenant clinic for free advice:

  • No offense, but you don’t need landlord tenant advice you need a psychiatrist.
    You end up in a building with a “crazy” landlady and electrical problems that amount to a house fire waiting to happen and your solution is to . . . have an acquaintance stay in your room while you live somewhere else?
    Good looking out for your acquaintance.
    And your priority here is not losing the room? Really?

  • The renter’s credibility is burnished by his admission to owning cats (plural emphasized).

  • Get the kitties and flee. Chalk up any lost money to the cost of a lesson learned. If the electrical is bad, you could lose everything tonight in a fire (or to water/smoke damage), and this woman has already threatened you and your cats and your things.

  • To echo the comments here: get your stuff and your cats and leave immediately. Crash on a friend’s couch, don’t wait to complete a housing search. If you can do this quickly enough, leave and put a stop payment on the last check you wrote her.

    Do NOT forget to forward your mail, I’d recommend doing that immediately and changing your address to a friend’s place. Don’t wait until you have a missing check or haven’t seen bills and letters for a month etc.

    Then, re-schedule the inspection, report her to everyone you can think of (consider filing a police report over her threats) and be done with it.

    Lastly, go to a cyber cafe, pay cash for the time (you want to be annonymous) and post her name and the property address far and wide on DC blogs, listservs etc. Do your part to make sure nobody else gets taken in.

    Finally, chalk it up to a learning experience.

  • One more thought. I am not a lawyer, but DC is a ‘One Party Consent’ “state” meaning that you’re probably ok with having taped her and using that information in a police complaint etc. Hold onto the tape and it may be that it can be used or disclosed. Again, you’d need a lawyer for a real answer on this issue.

  • take your stuff out, and start a fire.. burn that mothafucker down!

    (just kidding.. just move out, and dont make other people stay in your room, thats just mean)

  • OP here. Thanks to PofP for posting this.
    The advice is all appreciated.

    I don’t think anyone is ever a total victim.

    I feel stupid for not being more careful before moving into the house (a landlord who just wants money fast and doesn’t care WHO you are is probably bad sign)
    And also for not leaving the 1st time she acted nutso.

    Note to self: deranged people don’t suddenly get better.

    I’m handling things okay now and won’t ever make a dumb mistake like this again I hope !

    Oh and thanks to DCGuy for the reminder about forwarding my mail !

    • You sound great.

      After all this learn and then have some compassion for yourself.

      Make a thoughtful decision next. Promise. Don’t dwell in guilt though. It’s totally useless.

  • More forward with DCRA inspection, it’s the best leverage, she’ll also have to repair everything an inspector finds immediately, no debate. If you move out, DCRA is not an option because you aren’t a tenant if you don’t live there.

    Also, because the house is not legal, she is not legally able to collect rent on it. Therefore you are entitled to ALL of the rent paid back. You thought she went ballistic before, wait ’til a judge requires her to pay you.

  • If you have the actual owners number/email, you should probably inform them as well.

    I have a similar situation, where my soon to be ex pressured me to renting to someone .. whom we have had to handhold through paying the bills on the house.

    DC law makes it difficult to remove them. Documentation helps, although it’s a pain for all involved. It sounds like you have some. Pass it along: Perhaps others won’t have to be screwed in the manner you are – including the building owner.

  • Holy Monkeys.
    I wish I didn’t have any updates on this situation.
    But I might as well share the continued insanity.
    My landlord sent me an email with a thinly veiled threat to ruin my personal life if I continue to have “anything’ to do with the house.
    She also mentioned once again how she has ‘powerful friends’ in DC.
    I’m completely single and going to be staying in NYC with friends so Im not worried about her trying to ‘ruin me’ in DC, but is this considered blackmail ??

    Next up I wanted to get a DCRA inspection done finally while I’m still legally a tenant there.
    It was scheduled for 3-18.
    But the DCRA inspector never called me for me to meet him at the building for the scheduled inspection on last Friday.
    I left a couple of voicemails for DCRA since then.
    Finally I wanted to find out what is up and how the inspection went.
    I spoke with Mrs. Stewart today at DCRA and she told me that her records showed that I called and CANCELLED it on St. Patrick’s Day last week …
    So now the insane *landlord* pretended to be me.
    I have now left a voicemail with the supervisor of inspections and await his phone call to discuss further.

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