From the Forum – Seeking advice on dealing with my rental company

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Seeking advice on dealing with my rental company:

“I recently moved into a studio apartment in the Petworth area. I’m renting a newly renovated English basement unit which is part of a medium size apartment complex currently undergoing renovations. I wasn’t originally looking for a basement unit as light is important to me, but this place has a full wall of windows with wide window wells. When I looked out the windows, the grass line of the small backyard was at eye level and there was quite a bit of natural light. This seemed like a big advantage for me as opposed to most basement apartments.

However, this Friday during a rare work from home day I heard the construction crew drive up to my window area with a large truck. When I looked outside to see what was going I saw them dump a truck load of gravel over the entire back yard area and realized they had started building a partial brick wall right up from the window wells, blocking my view and sunlight. I went out and inquired and they told me they were making a parking lot. I just moved into the apartment complex one month ago and the rental company never mentioned their plans to build up a wall and make a parking lot. Today I came home to my apartment for the first time since Friday morning since I haven’t wanted to be there. It was a beautiful day, but instead of adequate light coming through like previously the apartment was much darker. I feel very mislead by the company. I’m sure they had this plan in the works longer than just the month I have lived there.

The brick wall and parking lot will drastically change the comfort level of the apartment. The amount of light in the apartment is a major concern as a dark apartment is depressing and makes it harder to be productive. Furthermore, I will no longer be able to look out to green space at eye level. Instead, I will have to look at the bricks and deal with the noise of cars, slamming doors and headlights shining through my window at night. This parking lot is being made right at the edge of my window well, just a few feet from my windows. I feel the rental company should have shared this information with me prior to be entering into a yearlong lease. This intrinsically changes the quality of space I agreed to rent and I’m not sure I would have chosen this apartment had I known they were planning to make these changes. I feel like the value of the apartment has decreased just a month after I made a legal agreement to rent.

When I asked about this construction on Friday they tried to say that I knew there was renovations being made and that they had the right to make any renovations they saw fit. When I asked why they hadn’t informed me they just said I had had the opportunity to ask any questions I wanted to during the viewing. I’m not a real estate agent. I wouldn’t have known to ask if by any chance they had plans to make a parking lot in the yard right outside my window. I do remember commenting on the large windows, light and view during the viewing but nothing was ever told to me about how this would soon change.

Does anyone have any suggestions of what to do? I am very frustrated with the rental company as they didn’t ever mention this to me beforehand. I feel like the purposefully withheld this information and put off making this change until after someone had moved into the apartment.

I have had many issues with the rental company in the past month. I have tried to be very understanding and patient and have often had to follow up many time before move-in issues were addressed and resolved. For instance, the refrigerator wasn’t working when I moved in and I didn’t have a working fridge for the first 2 weeks. It took them a full month to get all the items in the furniture package to me (which was agreed to in the lease and I am paying for on a monthly basis in addition to the rent). It’s been over a month and I am still waiting for them to fix an issue with the shower. These are just a few of the many move in issues that I’ve dealt with, some they have addressed right away and others I’ve had to consistently follow-up on. We have also had continuous renovations being made so I spent each weekend trying to stay away from the apartment so I don’t have to listen to all the construction noise. All of these other issues are temporary and things I can deal with. But building up a brick wall, blocking off the light and building a parking lot just a few feet away is something that is permanent.

Thanks for any advice you may have to share!”

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26 Comment

  • While I feel your situation, think about all the people who have much worse landlord/rental company issues than “I will no longer be able to look out to green space at eye level.”

    My advice: suck it up and get some quality indoor lighting to make up for it.

    (Although for the the other issues, I would contact DCHA)

    • DCHA isn’t the right agency. They operate public housing and oversee the Section 8 voucher program.

    • I’d suggest the Office of the Tenants’ Advocate:

    • I disagree. While this is relatively minor there is a point in holding everyone to an honest standard. We really shouldn’t stand for any blatant misrepresentation of living areas since there was no way the tenant could have known about this beforehand and should have been informed.

      • Agree with your disagreement. The rental company pulled a fast one on the OP. They should be able to walk away from this property since the condition of the space has materially changed.
        I agree with the OP – it sounds like they waited to get a tenant into the space and then started construction, knowing that no one would rent it (or demand a significantly cheaper price) during construction.. This is a classic real estate bait and switch scam.

        • Agreed. Contact OTA — maybe they (or whatever info they provide) can exert enough pressure on the rental company to get them to let you out of your lease.

      • This doesn’t seem relatively minor to me. I lived in a basement for 2 years and the only thing that made it bearable was the fact that there was adequate light from a lot of windows. Contact the Tenants’ Advocate office and consider breaking your lease if you can afford to do so.

  • Break your lease and move. It’s not as if they’re not going to build that parking lot.

  • Nothing can stop you from removing the brick wall yourself….. not very hard to “throw a wrench” in their plans…

  • Most apartment complexes would be open to the idea of moving a tenant to another apartment unit. Even if they cannot do so now because of the renovations, they could slot you for a move when another unit becomes available.

    • That is a crappy situation, although there are a few options

      1. Read your lease for agreements on subleasing
      2. Discuss, via email for documentation purposes, If you find a tenant for the apartment can you break the lease?
      3. Go to,, search and make sure the correct permits were pulled for construction. If not, call 311, option #5 and inform them construction was done without a permit. It can be done without giving your name.

  • 1. Check and make sure they pulled the correct permits:
    If not, call 311, Option #5 and request an inspection for illegal construction. Can do this without giving your name.

    2. Email and find out if you find a tenant can you break your lease?

  • I’d go through the Office of the Tenant’s Advocate and figure out how you can break your lease.
    Personally, I’d just walk from the place. How much did you give them for a deposit?

  • Dude(ette)–First, don’t take anything someone says on a comment thread as gospel. Try to get access to an actual attorney. But for the most part, I can say confidently that you should ignore the people telling you to just deal with it. You have recourse.

    Some thoughts:

    Not having a working fridge or shower, having weekend construction such that you can’t stay in the apartment, these are all possible prima facie violations of the law, and probably violate the lease itself. The one about the construction noise preventing you from staying in the apartment on the weekend is a straight-up violation of the covenant of quiet enjoyment. If the landlord is building on the weekend in a residential hood, it’s a violation of DC municipal code and would subject the violator to fines. Definitely call DCRA about that.

    As regards the light thing, your landlord *may* have broken the lease with this parking lot shenaninganery, leaving you with the option to nullify the lease. The condition of the apartment, and the availability of light in a basement apartment, constitutes a representation about the apartment and is likely incorporated into the agreement you signed (read that thing carefully!). It appears to have been a determinant in your decision to sign the lease. If that’s the case, and the apartment building was aware that the windows would be cut off, then they may have committed a negligent misrepresentation of material fact. In other words, assuming they knew of the lot before you signed, their presentation of the apartment to you as it was, without telling you about its impending significant modification, is arguably an act of fraud through negligence, which entitles the victim to nullify the agreement at will. (Hell, I don’t know how big of a dick your landlord is, but they may have done it consciously, in which case it’s just outright fraud.) It comes down in part to your lease documents and conversations you might have had with the landlord. If you had any kind of warning, written or oral, they might be able to fall back on that. Read your lease carefully. Ignorance of your own lease would be a problem here, but if your ignorance was caused by the landlord’s actions that’s a big win for you.

    Keep in mind that there’s no law requiring you to keep your lease. None. The entire matter is civil. So if you leave, the only recourse for the landlord will be to sue you. Housing court will be really unsympathetic with a landlord who turned over an apartment that was basically unfit for living and then built a new structure outside the only windows.

    Ignore the people who say you should just get more lighting and deal with it. That’s terrible advice. This is your life, your health, don’t let a slumlord make you complacent.

  • This is a really interesting situation. Certainly you can try to make the landlord’s life miserable in the various ways already suggested. But at the end of the day, I’m not sure that a tenant ever has a right to a particular “view” from an apartment. You are renting the space within the four walls, and as long as the implied warranty of habitability isn’t breached, I’m not sure that the landlord is prevented from making alternations to the property that are not part of your leasehold. Look at it this way — I would assume that the landlord has not guaranteed in your lease that the same view would always be available through those windows, and it does not appear that the apartment is uninhabitable as a result of the alterations to the adjacent property. I’ll be interested to see if anyone is aware of any cases on this subject.

  • Other posters on this thread seem to be thinking that you may have some kind of special recourse here because you rented a basement apartment thinking you’d get an unusual amount of light. Unless there’s something specific in the lease about this, however, those posters are wrong. Your situation is no different than if you rented a second floor apartment in a building with an empty lot next to you — and your landlord bought the empty lot and built something there that complied with zoning but blocked your awesome view.

    In either instance, you have no recourse. You signed a lease for an apartment with certain amenities. A guaranteed amount of light and a view of your liking for perpetutity wasn’t one of them. Unless the renovations to the apartment complex are either inconsistent with the terms of your lease or have rendered your apartment non-complaint with the housing code — for example, they’ve made it so you’ve lost your egress — you’re just plain screwed.

    • I hear you, and you might well be right. But just to play devil’s advocate — ’cause that’s what we do…

      You’re 100% right that the implied warranty of habitability doesn’t help OP here, but if OP specifically mentioned the light as a deciding factor in renting the place, then the DC Consumer Protection Act might come into play. Failure to disclose a material fact is one of the unfair trade practices listed in the statute, whether or not the consumer was actually misled.

      In DC the courts generally don’t hold residential tenants responsible for future lease payments. In fact, I don’t even think that’s a remedy that the Landlord and Tenant Court can provide. The Civil Actions Branch, sure, but then you’re looking at an expensive lawsuit for the landlord to prosecute. Besides, you can counterclaim in the Civil Actions Branch and triple damages are available under the CPA, so that might be enough to scare the landlord away from keeping the security deposit.

      If OP is truly miserable, there are always options.

      • That’s exactly right. There are options. And the tenant should do his or her best to consult an attorney who is competent in this area, not internet commenters that are not the tenant’s advocate.

    • I had written a note going point by point on why Lawyer’s analysis is mistaken, but I don’t want to start a flame war. (I will note however that no one seems to have said anything in prior comments about an “unusual amount of light” or “special recourse;” those were straw men and not things other commenters said or argued for.) We don’t know anything without seeing the lease, advertisements the landlord might have placed, or other representations the landlord may have made. Can’t emphasize this enough: If the tenant wants this handled properly, s/he should consult a live attorney who can evaluate the documents and the situation. S/he doesn’t need people on the internet saying s/he’s screwed, etc. DC housing law is very favorable to tenants. Try the tenant’s advocate or

    • What is done on another separately deeded lot, regardless of if it is owned by the same individual, does not have legal bearing on your lease in the property with a different deed. However, what is done on the property which is deeded *with* the space you are leasing, does.
      Another point to consider here is emergency egress – if this wall would present an obstacle that is insurmountable in the event of a fire or other emergency, or if the wall would have a likelihood of collapsing into your light well (thereby impeding your emergency exit) in the event of a natural disaster like an earthquake (rare here, I know, but still legally admissible as a potential scenario) then the wall might very well impact the ability to get a Certificate of Occupancy for your unit. Check with DCRA right away and see if there is a CofO for that unit – if not, you don’t need to do anything to break your lease – it wasn’t a legal lease to start with. You are free to move whenever you like, and your landlord will need a solid year to evict you for nonpayment because s/he leased an illegal apartment to start with. Judges in landlord/tenant court are NOT friendly towards landlords that leased without a CofO, and rarely award them back rent, damages, or anything else. If there is a CofO, invite DCRA to come back out and re-inspect. They may revoke it depending on the wall and where it is, etc. If that’s the case, revoking the CofO forces the landlord to fix the problem (tear down the wall) or void the lease and agree not to re-lease the unit until a new CofO is granted.

  • Wow, this sucks. My sympathies, and good luck.
    It’s really lame that they didn’t tell you about this (and from their defensiveness, they know it). Reminds me of the time I signed up for the old Anthony Bowen YMCA and only after I paid all the initiation fees etc. did they mention they would be shutting down in a couple months for the rebuild (I was new to the area and had no idea about the plans) and my membership to the National Capital location (which is no where near my house). This kind of thing just falls below a desirable standard of forthrightness and fair dealing.

  • Are you in the New Quin? I’m a fellow basement dweller, and I had no idea they were building a wall back there.

  • What about the individuals who buy basement apartments and their next door neighbor builds adjacent to their lot, blocking their view? They obviously have no recourse against anyone and are screwed. Why do tenants have a special right to sunlight where construction is outside of the control of the landlord (theoretical), while owners are unable to give back their property to the last seller? Just a devils advocate perspective. Standard realtor DC lease contracts allow tenant to break lease with one month penalty, no questions asked. Tenant certainly has a right to leave, but the penalty should still apply as it appears nothing was falsely promised in the apartment unit by landlord. No need to get attorneys involved and bring down the justice system on the landlord…

    • This is being built on the same property, not on an adjacent property (at least that’s how I read it). If it was an adjacent property owner, both a renter and a buyer are SOL. If you were an owner, though, it is likely the condo board would need your written permission to build a wall that blocked your windows, and if you sold to someone and failed to disclose this would be happening right after they moved in, you could (and should) be sued for monetary damages, all the way up to rescinding the sale.

  • It won’t be in the lease, but what did the advertisement for the space say? Anything about rear yard or very bright or very private?

  • I would just calmly but persistently inform them that you are seeking a reduction in the rent to whatever level you feel is appropriate (if that’s what you want) or that they have changed the apartment that you rented (you rented one with windows and light, and they, not a neighboring property owner, have altered this) and due to that you are insisting that they either restore the conditions to what they were when you signed the lease or that you are breaking the lease for cause and will be vacating on X date.
    Legally, it’s just your tough luck if you rent a place with amazing light and a development on an adjacent property, even if it is owned by the same owner, blocks that light out. However, if your own property owner modifies the conditions inside your unit (specifically light and air flow) by making changes to their own property, you have a right to ask them to change it back or void the lease.
    95% of the time, if you are calm and rational about it, and you just say “this is no longer going to be a functional living environment for me. It is easier on both of us to just void the lease and go our own ways than it is for me to spend the next 11 months complaining to you about everything. Let’s resolve this like adults” – the landlord will recognize this is actually best for them too.

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