Dear PoPville – My Landlord is a Slumlord

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Photo by PoPville flickr user number7cloud

“Dear PoPville,

I am currently living in an apartment managed by a slumlord in northwest DC. In less than a year I’ve experienced numerous housing code violations, multiple rodent infestations (including a raccoon), and a ceiling that caved in at one point. I’ve talked to neighbors who have the same landlord and they have had similar issues with their units.

I am worried about retaliation but want to stand up to the landlord. The landlord preys on people who don’t have the means, financial or time, to challenge him.

What steps have people taken against negligent landlords in DC? I’ve looked into DCRA housing inspections — what comes next? I know there are also tenant petitions and small claims court. I’d be interested to know what your readers have done to stand up for their legal rights as tenants and how they succeeded.”

Be sure to check with the Office of the Tenant Advocate.

44 Comment

  • In addition to the office of tenant advocate, another great resource is the landlord tenant resource center. There are several ways you can try to force your landlord to live up to his/her responsibilities. The LTRC can walk you through those options and even help you fill out a complaint, if you choose one of those routes.

  • Check with Bread for the City and TENAC as well as the Office of the Tenant Advocate. There are ways to get assistance so you won’t have to stand up to the landlord alone. So sorry you and your neighbors are dealing with this. Good luck!

  • Racoons are not rodents. Maybe when the tenant gets that right, he/she can proceed to the next steps.

    The raccoon is not a rodent. It belongs to the Carnivora order, meaning it’s a meat-eater, although a raccoon will eat anything available, including whatever is growing in your garden or sitting in your garbage can. Raccoons are members of the Procyonid family, which also includes ringtail cats, coatis of South America, and kinkajous of Central and South America. Taxonomists once placed the animal in the same genus as bears (Ursus), but later gave raccoons their own genus (Procyon). Raccoons are native to North America, but due to human intervention (both deliberate and accidental), they can now be found roaming Europe and Japan.

  • How committed are you to living at the property? If you have the means, it might be wiser to just walk. My building has had its fair share of horror stories, and the people who received the worst treatment were the long-term residents (those paying a lot less than market price in a rent-controlled building). A neighbor of mine spent literally months unable to use her own bed because there was flooding in her bedroom. You can imagine the mold, stress, and general awfulness. She had an up hill battle trying to get DCRA’s attention, and threats and certified mail went nowhere. Hiring a lawyer was not possible due to financial concerns. Property management knew she had little options as she could never afford an apartment in our hood nowadays. Management finally relented, but it took a LONG time. If it was up to me, I probably wouldn’t have tolerated it- but I fortunately have the means to leave if I want. Bottom line: even with our very tenant-friendly laws in this city, landlords can still screw with you make life hard. And trying to get a DC agency (DCRA) to respond in a timely manner and with the answer you want- well, good luck… It is not easy.

    • I agree that landlords can try to make your life miserable, this city provides a lot of great resources that make it very easy for tenants to enforce their rights. Special courts geared towards pro se tenants. Special courts that will award money for damages incurred. Special courts that will force the landlord to fix things and reduce your rent or waive it until they’re fixed. Minimal fees that can be waived by filling out a very short form. Free lawyers to represent you. Free walk in clinics to help you fill out paperwork. There is no reason to ever suffer for months on end like the person you mentioned. And lack of funds should never ever ever be an excuse.

  • jim_ed

    Do you know specifically who the landlord is, and not just the LLC he owns the building through? If so, do some research into him, like what other buildings he owns, and violations he may have racked up. Use DC PIVS. Some DC landlords are fairly notorious, and it could be easy to bring the attention hammer down on them if they don’t fix their stuff. One of the few apartment buildings near us is owned by an infamous DC slum lord. I’m pretty sure he’s not even supposed to own any buildings in DC any more, so if problems seem to arise with the building, it can be hopefully dealt with swiftly by the city.

  • Report them to ratemylandlord.com to help protect the next person!

  • Here are the names and phone numbers of DCRA officers & inspectors who might be of help. They hounded me relentlessly on a minor issue based on an anonymous call – so they should be able to pursue your genuine problems without involving your name.

    Investigator Kevin D. Meredith 202-442-8559
    Inspector Deloras Lassiter 202-481-3561
    Supervisor Simpkins 202-481-3535

  • A ceiling can fall from issues other than negligence; a raccoon can enter through an open window; rodent infestations are problems which can arise anywhere. You haven’t given anything that says ‘slumlord’.

    • says the slumlord

      • There’s nothing really negative presented here except in tone. The advice being given, especially below on the withholding of rent, was what I was going to originally say, but when I went back and reread the OP I saw nothing particularly to document, nor any ongoing problems and what was mentioned was really not that egregious and could be explained away. If rent is withheld eviction proceedings are begun and if the violations are not serious the tenant will lose in many ways. The landlord could be a slumlord, or the tenant could a whiner, we don’t know.

  • STOP paying your rent!!! Have everyone that has a housing code violation come together and stop paying rent. The landlord will try and take you to court, once in front of a JUDGE you explain the housing code violations as a group or individually, the JUDGE will issue a order to halt court proceedings until the repairs are made (you all can set up a escrow account and pay your rent into the account). This way takes a longer period of time but meanwhile, Landlord either fixes the repairs UP TO CODE or he goes bankrupt from lack of funds. If he does not fix the repairs, you report that to the court, collect your escrow savings and MOVE!!!
    If you like your apartment location, you can also pay for the code breaking repairs in lieu of rent and present the receipts to the landlord as payment for your rent. If he challenges you take him to COURT!!! I’ve had several SLUM lords who have gone so far as to plead “I don’t speak english (even though he spoke perfectly good English when we were debating why I refused to pay for an apartment that was 100 degrees on the inside when it was only 75 degrees outside) when we got to court.
    Both techniques involve standing up for yourselves and NOT supporting this person. If you all come together it makes a greater impact, than just one cranky tenant.

    • Don’t stop paying your rent unless you’re sure that your situation fits the specific criteria for nonpayment, and you segregate the unpaid rent funds as required by law.

    • Great idea, that way more potential landlords (like me) will decide to take rental units off the market, raising costs

      • The OP mentioned housing code violations. Unless you are going to buy a building with housing code violations, not fix them and collect rent from tenants, I don’t see how this applies to you.

    • This is right. Stop paying your rent. Don’t listen to people saying “no, you can’t not pay your rent” – they are just straight edgers who can’t fundamentally understand the practicality of getting shit done. Set up escrow (so you have the money if you need to back-pay). This is a win/win. Paying rent on time isn’t working, and given DC tenant law, there is NO WAY you will be penalized if even half of what you say is accurate. This landlord will be taken to the woodshed. Oh, and by the way, I can speak from experience. I withheld rent for 3 months, and it forced the landlord to fix the issues. I then paid up. He wanted to avoid the legal system at all costs, because he would lose. Again, there is NO WAY withholding rent will come back to bite you. It is the most effective and clearly the best option. Unless of course you just move immediately. That would be smart too.

      • “This is right. Stop paying your rent. Don’t listen to people saying “no, you can’t not pay your rent” – they are just straight edgers who can’t fundamentally understand the practicality of getting shit done.”

        God, what a perfect way to describe the crowd of commenters that simultaneously fetishizes both complaining and being ineffectual (out of martyrdom I guess).

      • “This is right. Stop paying your rent. Don’t listen to people saying “no, you can’t not pay your rent” – they are just straight edgers who can’t fundamentally understand the practicality of getting shit done.”

        God, what a perfect way to describe the crowd of commenters that simultaneously fetishizes both complaining and being ineffectual (out of martyrdom I guess).

    • Correction: Stop paying your landlord rent.

    • Does your lease obligate you to make repairs if there are issues in the unit while you are renting it? If so, I’m pretty sure you’re obligated to make those repairs- not the landlord.

      • And you’d be wrong. If you’re renting an entire house, the landlord can delegate certain maintenance and repair items to the tenant. In an apartment, short of certain small regular maintenance items (replacing lightbulbs and things like that), a landlord can’t delegate repairs to the tenant in DC — no matter what the lease says.

  • Request repairs in writing. Take pictures and keep records of when the pictures were taken. Keep copies of everything and visit the LTRC as suggested above. http://www.dcbar.org/for-the-public/help-for-individuals/landlord-tenant.cfm
    Hope you get the issues with the apartment resolved – good luck.

  • If you and your neighbors are low income tenants, there are two non-profits that can help you and your neighbors exercise your tenants rights–which are one of the strongest in the country. Tenant organizers are great resources to begin the process of advocating and exercising your tenant rights. They help with language access, tenant rights edu, and can connect you to lawyers that can assist you.

    1. Latino Economic Development Center
    2316 18th Street NW Washington DC 20009
    http://ledcmetro.org/our-programs/affordable-housing-preservation

    2. Housing Counseling Services
    2410 17th St. NW, Suite 100
    Washington, D.C. 20009
    http://housingetc.org/wordpress1/services-for-renters/#TenantRights

    • Tenant Organizer, will the agencies your provided will help black and white residents or only Latino D.C. residents?

      • They work with tenant groups of any composition in the DC renter community that needs assistance. However, because these non-profits receive fund from the city, the majority of tenants have to be low income. They both have bilingual staff that can help facilitate communication in English and Spanish but if other languages are needed, then they bring interpreters with them.

  • Try Law Students in Court – also, in DC you can stop paying your rent, then the Landlord will sue you and you will get a court date. When you go to court, make sure to bring all the pictures and evidence you have (take LOTS of pictures) and the judge will have you pay your money into an rent escrow payments into a court regsitry ntil the problems are resolved. But, from now on, if you go for a background check or apply for the state Bar (if you are an attorney), yo may have to list the lawsuit as a civil action against you. So trying to get this resolved through DCRA and talking to Law Students in Court is probably your best bet first! Also, aside from pictures, make sure you have provided your Landlord with WRITTEN notice of the violations. Email works (as long as he responds to the email then you can show he had actual notice).

  • Slum lords in NW, you say? This isn’t Student Housing Association, is it? If it is, the only way to get results is to go to their offices up on Wisconsin and threaten to sue. When the secretary berates you, you just stand your ground and keep demanding a timetable for all your complaints. Eventually, Joel will appear, get huffy, and fold. Unfortunately that’s the only way.

  • Sue the landlord in DC Superior Court’s Housing Conditions court. This is a special court calendar/docket set up just to handle these kinds of cases in next I did manner. By filing your case you’ll force a DCRA inspector to come out and view the building and then to file a report with the court that talks about the condition of the property. That way it’s not just you making a complaint, but rather it’s the city’s own inspector speaking about the violations.

    Note that you cannot get any money damages from a suit in this court, but rather you can get an order requiring the landlord to fix the code violations within a certain period of time or else be subject to civil fines/penalties. Some landlords rather pay you to leave then to fight with the city about bringing the property up to code. Good luck!

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