Dear PoP – Landlord/Tenant Drama, Help!

Photo by PoPville flickr user ekelly80

“Dear PoP,

I read your blog regularly and the posts on landlord/tenant questions have helped me figure out that my landlady is acting in a dangerous and illegal fashion. I rented a room in a large house in Columbia Heights last fall.
It seemed like a really good deal. The woman who rented it to me, never met with me in person but had another tenant show the room. She didn’t ask for any information from me, all she cared was that I deposited cash into her bank account the next day. I suppose that should’ve been my tip off that something wasn’t kosher.

But I moved in and everything seemed okay for a month for so. Then the electrical started failing. I called / texted the long distance landlord to no avail. The other tenants complained also. I ended up calling pepco out 3 times. Pepco said that because part of the electrical wouldn’t turn back even with breakers being flipped back on, that that might indicate a problem in the walls. They also told me that the breaker box was behind an illegal wall and that it needed to be torn down.

On top of this, other problems started arising. The people who lived in the building’s basement apartment started having huge drunken fights and the police/ ambulance/ fire department were called out. Because the breaker bx is/was located in their basement ‘bedroom’ I was scared to even enter their apartment to try and flip on the electric.

Finally after breaking the glass in the door to the apartment in a drunken rage, the tenants in the basement left.
On top of that a roommate who lived in room near mine was also an alcoholic. Shortly after the raging tenants left, he started to fall apart. Drink all night, start fires in the fireplace and then pass out while they were still burning.

I finally confronted my landlady on the phone. She was utterly dismissive. She said I could leave if I didn’t like it.

So I started to do research on the building and reading posts on your blog.

I figured out that she wasn’t even the real owner, merely the building manager. Also the building is being illegally rented out and she doesn’t have a BBL.

I called DCRA and tweeted with Mike Rupert about making an appointment to have building inspected.
I also told my landlord that I would be putting my rent into escrow if things didn’t get fixed and straightened out with DC Zoning.

Then someone snitched to her that I made an upcoming appointment with the DCRA to do inspection. She went ballistic on me.

I actually recorded her swearing at me and telling me that she would take my cats to the SPCA and throw my things on the lawn if I caused more problems for her. I told her that I know my rights and that only US Marshals can make people move out in DC.

She replied that just because there are laws that that doesn’t mean she follows them. I was so shocked and scared that I placated the crazy woman, canceled the DCRA inspection while she watched me do it and paid rent.

In the meantime I left the building and an acquaintance has been staying in my room where I still have my bed and furniture. I caught my landlady in a good mood and have a text with approval for someone to stay in my room. I am afraid if I leave the room furnished but don’t stay there that she will throw my stuff out and replace me.
Now things have come to a head again and landlady has flipped out again.
Long story short I need a good suggestion for a decent tenant lawyer.

If you have any suggestions I’d appreciate it.”

I think you should just go with a friend and remove your belongings immediately. I don’t think this situation needs to be drawn out. And that is exactly what I would do. It sounded like she would let you out of the lease, right? So is the only concern getting your belongings? Getting your deposit? I feel like this is a cut and run and situation.

What would you guys do in this situation?

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