Dear PoPville – Apartment Flooded and Reeks – Grounds to Terminate Lease?

Photo by PoPville flickr user djdc in petworth

Dear PoPville,

Had a bad flood in my apartment. The sewer burst and backed up into my living room and kitchen. It’s a mess and my roommate and I don’t think we can live there anymore (the landlord has been cheap on any repairs and has already said he won’t replace the carpet. He’ll just clean it, but there’s no unsmelling this smell.). Is this grounds to terminate our lease? We really would like to just move April 1st or immediately to avoid paying rent for a sewage-filled apartment.

38 Comment

  • Yeah you have the right to get out of this lease under the letter of the law. — for exact info..

    If you email me personally, I can help you with any legalities – I’m a barred attorney I promise!

  • T

    6. BUILDING CONDITIONS: The landlord must ensure that your unit and all common areas are safe and sanitary
    as of the first day of your tenancy. This is known as the “warranty of habitability,” which is implicit in your
    lease and explicit in District regulations. The landlord must maintain your apartment and all common areas
    of the building in compliance with the housing code, including keeping the premises safe and secure and free
    of rodents and pests, keeping the structure and facilities of the building in good repair, and ensuring
    adequate heat, lighting, and ventilation. (14 D.C.M.R. §§ 301 & 400-999

    • If a landlord rents his/her apartment in clean, no pest, insects, etc condition, but after the tenant lived in the unit for a year or so reports insects, pests, etc shouldn’t it be the tenants responsibility to clean up and get rid of whatever happend under their care? Especially little things like roach that can fly in through an open door but stays due to the favorable living condition?

      • That’s more of a grey area than sewer-floor-itis, though.

      • I’m curious about this too. I rented a house that developed a roach problem when the AC unit died. The roaches that were living next door suddenly found our hot, humid house a lot more desirable and migrated over. It wasn’t our fault but we paid an exterminator to get rid of them.

  • “he’s not taking adequate steps to 100% fix the problem and bring it back to livable conditions. ”

    I’m not sure it’s that clear-cut. What if the carpet is completely sanitized once it’s been cleaned? Wouldn’t the apartment be liveable then?

    • I don’t think even removing a sewage damaged carpet completely will help. I’m assuming that the sewage touched baseboards and walls? In that case, the smell (and probably mold and God only knows what else) is there for a long time – at least until it is checked by a professional. This situation MIGHT require walls to be removed, additional drying, who knows.

  • How long ago did this happen?

    • 15 hours ago. I’m the housemate of the OP. We stayed at a hotel last night. We’ve lived in the apt for only 3 weeks. The rental company is letting us out of the lease without any penalty. We still have to deal with damages to personal property and the bill for the hotel.

      • …and finding a new place to live ASAP.

      • For replacing your damaged property- do you have renter’s insurance? Maybe others who have actually filed claims will report that it’s not worth it, but my understanding is that renter’s insurance will help you replace your property in situations like this, because the landlord isn’t liable. Not sure whether insurance would pay for your hotel, or if that’s the landlord’s responsibility, or if you’re just SOL.

        • Yes, even if only one person in the house has renter’s insurance they should be able to use it to cover everyone’s stuff.

          I’ve been in a situation where I had to stay in a hotel (no heat in the dead of winter) and had to pay for that myself.

          • Are you sure about this? If only one person has renter’s insurance, it will cover everyone’s loss of personal property? I’m only surprised by this because I thought insurance was individual/property specific. Did this person just list everybody’s stuff as his/her own?

            Anyway, for the OP, sounds like a big mess and hope everything gets resolved quickly.

          • This is not true – if you have renters insurance it will pay for the damage to your stuff, not your roommates. My brother had a situation where he and his roommate bought coverage together for both their stuff, but the agent screwed up and only put one name on the file, and when their house got robbed they refused to pay for the other guy’s stuff that was taken. Also, for floods/sewer backup you often need an extra policy add-on. BUT renter’s insurance should pay for a hotel (should be in the policy under “loss of use”) if you have it.

          • “This is not true – if you have renters insurance it will pay for the damage to your stuff, not your roommates. ”

            Well, my rommate and I were able to do it when we were burglarized and she didn’t have insurance. I guess it depends on who you have.

      • I hope you had/have renter’s insurance.

        • And let me guess, no renters insurance?

          I will never understand how someone thinks saving 180 bucks a year on renters insurance which pays for months of hotels and thousands of dollars in personal property coverage etc isn’t worth it.

          Secondly, this happened last night. I would hardly claim in less than one day ( a Sunday at night no less where it isn’t like you can get contractors out there to make repairs) that the landlord isn’t taking all necessary steps to remedy the problem.

          You sound like someone who has had friction with this landlord before and is just looking for any and all option to get out but even the uber tenant friendly laws of DC aren’t going to let you out scott free because of something that happened last night.

          • Yeah, it drives me up a wall when tenants think nothing’s allowed to break while they’re living there. I had tenants use the appearance of mold in the unfinished basement as an excuse to leave– by the time they moved out the mold issue had already been remediated, but it was obvious they didn’t like the neighborhood and just wanted to live somewhere else. Not saying that’s what is happening here, but understand that things happen and it’s not always possible to fix problems instantly.

        • Renter’s insurance is great…too bad it does not cover flooding.

          Sounds like a crappy situation, hope you get it resolved.

          • Isn’t that a different kind of flood that renter’s insurance doesn’t cover? i.e. the natural disaster kind rather that the defective plumbing kind?

          • Gdoppler – renter’s insurance covers neither natural disaster type flooding nor sewer backup flooding, unless you buy addiitonal coverage (at least for the companies i looked at when getting mine)

          • Fair enough, I actually don’t know much about it. Just seems odd that if the pipes in the apartment upstairs go crazy and ruin my stuff that renter’s insurance wouldn’t cover that. Seems arbitrary to exclude that.

          • From an actuarial perspective, renter’s insurance is actually a pretty lousy bet. I still have it for the wife’s piece of mind, though, which is worth something.

      • So, wait, this happened less than 15 hours before the blog post? And you’re saying that you have grounds to move out?

        Let’s be reasonable. Shit happens (literally, in this case). Give the landlord a chance to get a professional company to do the clean up. If, in the professional’s opinion, the carpet/walls/whatever doesn’t need replacing, that’s fine. After all, they’re the professionals and see this stuff all day long and can give a good opinion as to what needs to be done ot make it habitable.

        Sounds like you want to move anyway, and are using this as an excuse.

  • Where was the above flood picture taken? I see what looks like the Titanic statue in the distance, but I read that is has been displayed in two different locations. Is this picture from SW DC?

  • I would go speak with the Office of the Tenant Advocate. They will probably recommend that you have a Housing Inspection, which will give you a much stronger legal leg to stand on if you do break the lease.

  • The joys of living below sea level. Hope your favorite shoes were spared.

  • I’m sorry, but this happened yesterday? You have to give the landlord a reasonable amount of time to assess and remedy the situation. This is a ridiculous question.

  • Get a housing inspection from DC. Get a third party (neighbor, co-worker, someone with no credibility issues and not so close to you as to be biased) to take photos of the problems. Document all the problems in great detail and put them in a letter to the landlord, certified mail, return receipt, and keep a copy and all the receipts. Give him a chance to fix it. If he doesn’t fix everything in a reasonable amount of time (give him a week or two in the letter), then you can stop paying rent and wait for the landlord to either let you out of your lease voluntarily or sue you for the rent, in which case you bring all your photos, your letter, etc. into court. That’s how the landlord-tenant law works in DC. It’s time consuming and a pain in the ass for everyone involved. Don’t expect to be done with this by April unless you voluntarily work out a deal with your landlord.

    • forgot to mention too that the photographer needs to be willing to testify in court later if need be.

  • Updated: OP here. The landlord allowed us to get out of the lease. A stop at the DC Office of the Tenant Advocate was key and very helpful in getting the information we’d need to break the lease with no penalty. They’re located at the Reeves Center and I highly recommend people going there if they find themselves in a similar situation.

    I understand some people might not think this is grounds to terminate, but you’ve obviously never woken up to a river of shit in your home, so I’m really not concerned with those opinions. Just happy to almost be done with this.

    • Not saying it applies here, but makes me wonder if tenants who want to break a lease could potentially help things break?

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