Dear PoPville – Help with an Agressive Landlord

Photo by PoPville flickr user johnmcochran2012

Dear PoPville,

My landlord is harassing me with angry, threatening emails and I am concerned he may try to forcibly remove me from my house. I recently asked my landlord to remove trash and belongings in the basement of my house. I did this as last week a torrential rain caused a flood in the basement and soaked these items. It now smells quite awful and I’m worried about mold.

My landlord adamantly refused until I suggested I would contact a housing inspector. He claims he has no responsibility, but the trash and belongings never belonged to me or my other housemates. The items were already there when we started our lease, and some of the items belong to the landlord, and the rest ostensibly belongs to former tenants. In other words, all these soggy, moldy items were there when I arrived. I also notified the landlord before and after signing the lease that these former tenant objects were still in the house. Another housemate also emailed the landlord that the items constitute a pest risk after a pest inspector said they could harbor pests.

The landlord has now agreed to pay for removal, but he continues to harass me and threatens that he will ‘fully resolve’ this situation later. I have tried to contact the DC Office of Tenant Rights, but they haven’t responded to my emails and voice messages. I have also tried to get a housing inspector out to visit the house, but every time I call I am put on hold far longer than I can reasonably wait (as I write I’m on hold going on 55 mins).

What should I do?

27 Comment

  • Aside from these nasty emails, there’s little that the landlord can actually do to forcibly evict you. DC has particularly favorable tenant laws, and from what you wrote above it would seem that you’re keeping up your end of the bargain.

  • jim_ed

    pull your address in DC PIVS and see if your landlord even bothered to get a certificate of occupancy or a business license for the rental. Chances are that if he’s dumb enough to threaten a non-legal eviction, he hasn’t gone through proper permitting to even have a tenant, or pay taxes on the income. Use that leverage how you see fit.

  • DC CapHill

    From my experience with this scenario, although my landlord was nice about needing the place back, it was clearly a rouse to remodel and charge more. Legally, they cannot remove you without documented cause. They would have to prove you failed to pay rent, for a period of months, and they notified you in writing, and delivered via certified mail that you signed for, and gave you the appropriate time to rectify the situation. Also, if they want to ask you to leave for any reason, again, that needs to be in writing and delivered/signed for, and you still have 6 months or so to comply. Additionally, they cannot forcibly remove you without giving you first right of refusal upon putting it back on the market. In my case, the landlord used the DC low income program to purchase a condo in a co-op, and if I had wanted to be an ass about it, I could have taken him to court and proven that he a.) Never registered the unit as a rental (legally bound if you used DC low income HPAP money to buy your place,) b.) Asked us to leave to remodel, and charge more ($650 to $975 per room,) c.) Never gave me first right of refusal in writing, prior to renting it again, etc. All of which could have led to him forfeiting the residence, potentially to me as the rightful tenant, and I could have assumed his lease and ownership, from what I understood.

    DC HPAP, which they could have renamed it now, was a tremendous resource for me, during my aggressive landlord phase in DC.

    Good luck!

    • I don’t see how any of this is relevant. Nowhere did the OP say the landlord was trying to evict him for any reason.

      • DC CapHill

        Clearly you didn’t bother to read the OP’s post. FIRST SENTENCE. “…..and I am concerned he may try to forcibly remove me from my house.”

        So, I provided my experience with that scenario, in the eventuality that this escalated into an attempted removal, which is illegal.

        1.) How exactly is that not relevant? 2.) If you aren’t the OP, why even take the time to respond negatively to my post in the first place? Perhaps investing in some reading comprehension would help you?

  • OTA is awol. I left 2 messages with them almost 2 weeks ago. The message says they’ll get back to you within 24 hours. Still waiting….

    I have generally found DC government helpful and responsive. But OTA seems to be a sad exception.

  • I’ve fought some horrible landlords in the past, and I’ve been a tenant under some awesome landlords in the past. My advice? Move. While you are in a situation you and your housemates will ultimately win, you have to ask yourself if it is worth the pain and stress and anxiety of waging the battle to begin with. A landlord like this is going to keep your deposit – that’s already gone. If he wasn’t going to keep it for spite, he will now keep it for “damages” because of the flooding in the basement. You didn’t cause it, but that’s not the issue anymore. Why fight with a landlord when you can have a happy relationship with a landlord in a different property? Trust me, it’s like dating someone you always fight with. When it’s finally over (and it will end eventually if you like it or not) and you find yourself in a better position, you’ll wonder why you didn’t do that sooner.

    • Yeah, I’ve had a similar experience with an awful landlord and a basement apartment that flooded each time it rained…

      I went the same route as ShawGuy. I broke the lease and tried to get my security deposit back, but after all of the semi-abusive treatment at the hands of this landlord, he refused to give me my deposit back. I could have taken him to small claims court to get my deposit back, but at the time, I simply didn’t have the emotional resources, or the time it would have taken to persue it. In the end, I chalked it up as a price I was willing to pay in order to have my freedom, personal safety and emotional health back.

      If you’ve got the energy and cojones to fight him, then fight on! Do it, and get back at this guy! But if youu don’t, don’t beat yourseslf up too much about it. I kind of felt like a failure, and to a certain extent, I’m still embarrassed at the fact that I just let him get away with it. But in the end, I had to do what was necessary to keep myself safe.

    • Been there before too, same advice as the rest: leave. It’s not worth the time, money and emotions to get him back. You live, you learn and you know what to look for next time.

      • This brings back memories. I once had a landlord who decided that he was going to kick me out for wanting crazy things like heat in the winter. I was lucky to be able to negotiate a semi-reasonable moveout date. But he was still aggressive and unreasonable, staring me down the whole time I was moving out, stealing some household things of mine and changing the locks when I was halfway moved out (he left the rest of my stuff on the porch.) My deposit was thankfully small, because I obviously wasn’t getting that back. When I thought of how exhausting it would be to deal with him to get my money and my things back, it took about five minutes before I decided to write it off as “paying the Crazy Tax” to not have to deal with him anymore. I still think of it as a good deal. I’m with ShawGuy, life is too short to deal with disturbed people making your home life stressful and scary.

      • @BeenThereToo – don’t beat yourself up about it or be embarrassed or feel like a failure. Sometimes, if you are able to, the absolute smartest thing in the world you can do is to throw a little money at a problem and make it stop or go away. Your time, your mental health, and your sanity overall are worth fighting for, and yes, when necessary, paying for.

        These landlord tenant disputes are actually remarkably similar to trying to convince one of those crazy Westboro Baptist Church protesters that gay marriage won’t affect them at all so they should just settle down. You know that you are 100% right and nothing will change your mind on that. They think they are 100% right and nothing will change their mind on that. You can stand on a street corner while they hold up those awful signs and argue with them for hours – people do it everywhere they go. But at the end of the day, I have never once seen a gay guy say “you know, I think you’re on to something here” and pick up one of those signs and join them, and I’ve never seen them put down one of those signs and pick up a pride flag either.

        You can fight this, and you may very well win, but why fight if you could just make peace with the fact that you’re in a bad situation, that it will not likely ever get any better, and that as soon as you are able to find a better situation you’re going to act on it? You’ll feel better right away because you’re taking control back over what you will do and how and when you will do it instead of being chased by the anxiety of him trying to get rid of you, and when you do find something better, you will literally be in a much better place. Trust me, it’s the best choice in the long run.

        • Thanks for that first sentence, ShawGuy. I too had a bad renting experience and I beat myself up over it so, so much. For about 6 months. Until we moved. I think I only just recently really sloughed off all the leftover resentment and all the self-hate.

          • @Anononon – Never feel bad about finding your way out of a bad situation. If you come across a traffic accident that blocks the road you planned to take and you come up with a way to get around it and still get where you’re going, do you feel like a failure because you didn’t go the way you’d planned to and you lost a buck or two in gas or tolls going the longer way or do you feel awesome for figuring out another option on the fly and getting to your destination? 🙂

  • I took my landlord to court for keep my deposit and won. I don’t have the financial resources to be “chaulking deposits up as a loss…”

    • There is a simple way to make sure you don’t lose your deposit in a case like this, simply don’t pay your last month’s rent and tell the landlord the deposit is your rent. If they really want they can sue but from the way you describe the situation I would imagine you would win.

      • I think the landlord will win since you are legally required to pay rent.

      • That only works as long as your lease doesn’t state that the security deposit is not to be used as last month’s rent. Mine does.

  • lovefifteen

    I’ve dealt with an abusive, unhinged landlord. My advice is to move, even though you are in the right. A toxic environment just drains you of all joy.

    Also, provided that you haven’t damaged the place at all, do not pay your last month’s rent. Tell the landlord to take your security deposit instead (assuming your deposit is one month’s rent). It sounds like this guy will try to keep every last penny of it, otherwise.

  • Write him an e-mail, or better yet send a certified letter and keep a copy, saying that if your landlord does not remove the items by a certain date that you will hire someone to remove them and deduct that cost from your next rent check. You have a legal right to a sanitary living environment.

    • notlawd

      I am wondering why the renter didnt just have the items removed themselves the first time the landlord said they were not responsible for them. Annoying, sure, but at least you would have saved yourself a lot of hassle.

  • Go to the OTA, you don’t need to make an appointment. It’s right by U street. I recommend going in the morning. They are very helpful and will probably suggest that you file a Tenant Petition against your landlord. Bring all documentation of this issue with you.

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