Dear PoPville: Housing Issue – “Notice of Hazardous Condition” Served

Photo by PoPville flickr user dullshick

Dear PoPville,

My wife and I rent a very cosmetically nice English Basement apartment. With a lot of space, UTILITIES INCLUDED, a front and rear yard, 2 car garage we share with our upstairs neighbors and low rent, we have been here for two years.

The kicker:
Every now and then we face typical basement issues, which we’ve worked through with the landlord (whom resides in NY) and the property mgr, until now. Last Wednesday our hot water was off. We contacted the property mgr whom discovered it was actually the gas, hence no hot water. The utilities for gas were in a rear over $750! Like before, we contacted the landlord and after scheduling an appointment with the Gas company, had someone in today to set things straight.

It didn’t go as planned. The gas rep served us with notice that the house was under hazardous condition and he couldn’t turn the gas back on. He explained that flumes from the water heater were not attached and other parts of the flumes were “too sectional” as he put it. He couldn’t understand why the plumber would have permitted installation of this sort let alone activation. Apparently for the last two years my wife and I (as well as our pets) have been breathing deadly carbon monoxide gas. He told us we were lucky. And that sometimes its good when something like this happens and the tenants find out the LARGER issue. He said we have been very lucky.

Where do we go from here? Whom do we contact first? Second? Any legal advice needed? etc.

We need ANY advice on tenant rights.

The OP needs to alert his upstairs neighbors and get a carbon monoxide detector immediately. If it registers he will need to alert the fire department and stay with friends or at a hotel until the issue is resolved. The OP has already checked the office of the tenant advocate, do you guys have any other general advice?

27 Comment

  • This is a serious situation and I don’t mean to make light of it. However, your “gas were in a rear” type-o has distracted me to the point of juvenile giggling.

  • The good news is that with the gas turned off there is no threat of CO poisioning

  • Before considering legal recourse, I would first ask the landlord to immediately correct the problem at his/her cost. If you have to live elsewhere, hotel, etc. for a few days, the landlord should pay for this as well. I doubt you will get much push back since he almost killed you and very likely did the work without proper permitting or inspection.

  • I once had an issue with the gas company about 12 or 13 years ago. Basically, they couldn’t schedule someone to turn on my gas for a week. This was in the middle of January. Now, I’m not recommending you do this as it is illegal and dangerous but… turning the gas back on is as simple as taking the plastic cap out of the pipe that they probably put in just “upstream” of the meter and then turning the gas valve on. But be sure to replace the cap and turn the gas back off before anyone from the gas company shows up…

    • In this case, they certainly should NOT be considering turning the gas back on, due to the potential health and safety risks.

      If they value their lives over hot water, they’ll work with the landlord to ensure the issues are fixed (and that the landlord compensates them for having to stay elsewhere while the issue is corrected) prior to turning the gas back on.

  • part of it is to figure out what you want. would you like to break your lease and leave? do you want to stay and have it repaired? stay in a hotel until it’s repaired and board the dogs?

    once you know what you want, a good first step is just to ask your landlord for it (email is good so it’s in writing). You might just get it and then what your legal “rights” are don’t matter, because you won’t need to go to court or talk with lawyers to get it worked out.

    If the landlord says no, then you’ll have to figure out what the legal options are. There is a resource center in landlord-tenant court every weekday morning that might be able to give information.

  • DC landlord here. Here is the book on tenant rights:

    You should go to Landlord Tenant Court and get some free legal advice. There is both a volunteer run resource center (in the front by main entrance) and a clinic run by DC Law Students in Court (to the right in the back).

    I think there is probably someone you could contact at DCRA if the situation escalates. You may be able to get the DC Law Students to write a certified letter to the landlord. I believe you may also be able to withold rent provided you put it in escrow and follow required procedures. Good luck!

    • Good advice but contact the landlord first. No reason to go all “I have rights” on the landlord if he/she is totally willing to take appropriate corrective action and compensate you for any actual damages.

  • I’m assuming that a red tag was put on the gas line meaning that until there have been repairs, the gas must remain off. Was the landlord cited by building inspectors? I’m sure the OTR told you to get them out there if they haven’t been. I agree with SB in that you need to figure out what you have as a goal? If you want to bust the landlord’s chops, withhold rent and make him sue you for non-payment and then counterclaim for housing code violation which can go back three years; however, you will need to show the landlord had notice of the violations and failed to repair.

  • Well, I can see one landlord who will be getting a new property manager. For them to have not paid your gas bill in nearly a year is pretty ridiculous.

    Lets not jump the shark. CM poisioning is the new asbestos. I have to giggle every single time someone wants to take up some old linoleum in their bathrom and they think they have to have their house tented and men in suits come do it.

    CM is dangerous in high concentrations, but there obviously isn’t a problem

    The gas guy outted himself…saying something as ridiculous “too sectional” means he has nearly no idea what he is talking about. You can have a 1000 section exhaust flume if you want, nothing against code. What has to happen is that there be atleast a ~2% gradiant on the exhaust from the heater to the outside so the fumes can rise, and until ~8 years ago there was no requirement to connect the top of the tank to the exhaust as there would typically be a “flume then” on top of the tank exhaust .

    Also, one wonders why you or the property manager let the gas guy in. His jurisdiction ends at the meter which is outside and has zero authority or business in any structure.

    Also, if there was a problem with CM, you would have known long ago, during the winter especially when all the windows in the house are shut and it can actually build up.

    So your options.

    Move out. If your are afraid for your life, leave. I don’t know why anyone would want to live in a place they were afraid to live in. You give up your cheap digs, but thats your decision.

    Ask your landlord how he wants to handle it. I would hire a plumber (the actual person responsible by code to ensure the exhaust is or isn’t to code).

    Thats that…

    • +1

      Q: “Whom do we contact first?”
      A: Your landlord. Ask the landlord what his plan is.

      I fully support tenant rights but give your landlord the opportunity to address and correct the problem.

    • Still looking for a subject where Joker does not present himself as an expert. He is damn convincing though. Joker – what are your knowledge gaps. Please self identify them.

  • I think the first step is to ask for repairs. It’s definitely fixable and assuming your landlord has a professional property manager this should get taken care of as an urgent issue. I’m a landlord myself and would be horrified to find out my tenants were at risk from carbon monoxide poisoning – and would get this fixed ASAP!

  • Your landlord probably does not want to kill you, or have his house explode. It sounds like you have been enjoying a good set-up and would like to continue. Start with an email to both the landlord and management company. Decide what you think is fair and request a specific course of action. It might be just giving you a rental credit for living without hot water for a few days while they have the gas lines fixed. It might require you to move out for a few days. Be polite and document everything in writing. You might let them make their offer of compensation first – it might actually be generous and fair.

    • and flumes.

      This might be different than the OPs situation but I had a problem with the gas co.

      I once had a gas rep (3rd party contractor) that tried to red tag my gas line saying I needed to replace my flue when I switching the gas to my name. He told me I was in danger and he couldn’t turn it on and risk killing me. I should have him replace the flue ASAP and it would be around 1k dollars. I told him it is a class b and thats what code requires and he argued with me saying he had a masters in HVAC. Finally I told him ok let me call Wash Gas, he ended up saying he thinks its fine.

      Essentially he tried to get me to pay him $1,000 to turn the Gas on. What a joke.

      Also, I agree just talk to the landlord. Why is everyone so adverse to working together?

  • I had something similar happen. My landlord used “his guy” to replace the water heater in our basement. It was not installed correctly and we had 6 months of carbon monoxide leaking in our basement. In our case, we contacted the landlord who resolved the issue immediately and bought us carbon monoxide alarms. We are on relatively good terms with our landlord and he was prompt with his response, which is why we chose not to make it a legal issue. We also live in the first floor apartment and the leak was in the closed off basement under the house, so our leak wasn’t as severe.

    Good luck!

  • carbon monoxide related brain damage is the number one cause of misuse of the pronoun “whom”.

    • Was thinking something similar but got caught up on “in a rear.” Of course, I am recovering serial comma misplacer so I should not talk.

  • I’m sort of confused by the tone here. Prior to this incident, it seems like OP liked living in this place and didn’t seem to have any real intractable problems with the LL. But with this CO issue, it’s now straight to landlord-tenant court?

    Like many have said, I’d start by calling the landlord. As a fellow LL, I can say that the last thing I want is to have wrongful death suits on my hands due to CO poisoning of my tenants. While there are some reasonable-sounding solutions above worthy of exploration, I’d add this one for a quick-fix: your real problem is the lack of hot water, which at the moment doesn’t seem possible given the venting issues and Washington Gas’ stance on them. So why don’t you call your landlord and ask him just to replace the hot water heater with electric? The new tank + re-wiring probably will run $1500, and you’re happy and not likely to die in your sleep. The unpaid gas bill probably means you’re getting a new property manager, as it is.

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