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    Wanting to get out of lease: water/mold issues the landlord is not addressing

    Jurisdiction / State: Ohio

    I moved into this rental house in July with my young daughter. Noticed a musty smell (the landlord had said was just because it was closed up). It never went away, no matter how much I cleaned, kept windows open, etc. and it worsened whenever the A/C was turned on.
    I kept exploring what it could me---the basement was the worst of it, but the smell was throughout the house and again, worsened when the AC was turned on.
    There was a dehumidifier in the basement, but it would ice up within 30 minutes (I included that in information I gave to the landlord--along with other issues). I noted signed of damp in the basement, sometimes a little water, water damage in the basement.
    Once the furnace was running, the odor dissipated somewhat---but then I started realizing there were more problems---weird icicles running down the entire side of the house, and into the windows and window frames.
    He had not painted, but I planned to paint the dining room and kitchen (ugly dark red)---but then noticed that the paint is all bubbled up underneath the window. It's mildewed and mold beneath it. There is mold in the window frames, etc.



    There have been other constant issues with old pipes, old wiring (original 1940's), original light fixtures, etc. and he will only do the bare minimum to repair/replace and only when it HAS to be done (as in when the utility sink won't drain at all---twice within a month, when I'd let him know early on that all the drains are very slow". It's apparent that nothing has been done to maintain, repair or update this home for years and years. There is definitely a drainage problem, especially on the east side of the house. Damaged, smelly, rotted insulation in the attic.
    So---visible area of mold/mildew, bad odor, signs of leaking, water damage.

    I notified the landlord of all of my concerns on 2/5/2010--in writing. All of the mold, water, HVAC concerns. He sent his maintenance man finally on 2/10. Maint. man dismissed my concerns about mold---but acknowledged water problems from the windows (leaks) and said "of course, we don't know what's in the walls". Said he would do something about it when the weather was warmer and would recommend a dehumidifier for the basement. I never heard another word from the landlord or the maintenance man.
    In the meantime, I bought self test kits for mold--two of them. Lots of growth resulted on both Petri dishes (one from the basement and one from the dining room, where the moldy/mildewed/peeling walls are). I took them to a PhD fungal expert/professor at a university here, and he read them. I submitted this info (about having the tests, but not yet the results) and my second notice, in writing, to the landlord on 3/4/2010. The next day, he dropped off a dehumidifier and put it in the basement. There's nowhere to plug it in---only outlets are the 220v for the dryer, and one outlet in the ceiling light fixture. The only way to plug in the washer is to have it plugged into an extension cord and then into the ceiling fixture. The landlord e-mailed me and told me to "unplug the dryer" and get a 3 prong adaptor for the dehumidifier, and just keep exchanging them. (obviously the dehumidifier can't be plugged into the 220v and it's washer plugged into the ceiling fixture, and that's not particularly safe. He said he would call me about the house. He never did. It's now a week later.
    Two nights ago, I got a two page letter from the professory on university letterhead---outlining the mold results, that the various growth is somewhat unexpected, and an indication of water problems that need to be addressed, etc.
    Also, by the way, I shared with the professor photos of the mold, mildew, water damage, damaged insulation in the attic, white mold in the basement rafters and so on. He suggested that I might want to consider breaking the lease.
    From the time we have moved in here, my daughter and I have had constant sinus problems, stuffy noses, sore throats, stomach aches. In the fall, I just kept thinking it was a cold, or whatever, but it never went away. She had infantile asthma. My older daughter lived here for a couple of months and had the same symptoms.
    Now, 2 weeks ago, my 5 year old daughter had what appeared to be an asthma attack---I took her to the pediatrician and mentioned the constant symptoms (again), and the "attack". She gave us an script for an emergency inhaler and told me to put her on Zyrtec. Since I got the letter from the professor, I've contacted my daughter's regular pediatrician to see if we can talk to him about the mold and see if he'll write a statement. I could see my doctor as well---I have complained about constant sinus issues to her.

    So, as far as I am able to interpret---this landlord is in violation of Ohio Revised Code 5321.04 Section A, 1-3 and possibly 4. He was given written notice on 2/5/2010. 2nd written notice on 3/4/2010...and still has not taken action.

    Can I, according to Ohio Revised Code 5321.07--"Remedies of the Tenant", legally terminate the lease? Do I have enough documentation (e.g. photos, copies of e-mails to and from the landlord, copies of e-mails to and from the professor, and the "official" letter from the professor)? If so, how much notice to do need to give him? 30 days, or would 2 weeks suffice?

    Any suggestions?
    Thank you!!
    Last edited by TeresaGRP; 03-12-2010 at 12:59 PM.

  2. Super Moderator Samaritan & Scholar
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    You seem to possess enough information to prove your case.
    Now you have to get a judge top agree with you.
    Filing the case ius entirely up to you.
    You might do better of you try to negotiate a settlement with your lease, in order to get out of the lease.
    Good luck...

  3. #3

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    I don't want to take him to court. I just want out of my lease.
    I want to make sure I have enough documentation that he will not make that difficult, nor try to take me to court.

    Do I have to give 30 days notice? I can't find anywhere that says how much notice a tenant must give if s/he decides to exercise the option of terminating the lease per 5321.07.

    I also want my deposit back--he required one month's rent, which is $900 and I want a positive credit reference (Preferably in writing). I'm planning to include that request in my letter of intent to vacate the premises.

    Thanks!

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    Quote Originally Posted by TeresaGRP View Post
    I don't want to take him to court. I just want out of my lease.
    I want to make sure I have enough documentation that he will not make that difficult, nor try to take me to court.

    Do I have to give 30 days notice? I can't find anywhere that says how much notice a tenant must give if s/he decides to exercise the option of terminating the lease per 5321.07.

    I also want my deposit back--he required one month's rent, which is $900 and I want a positive credit reference (Preferably in writing). I'm planning to include that request in my letter of intent to vacate the premises.

    Thanks!
    If he says NO, you'll have to take him to court.

    That is why I suggested you speak to him informally.

    He doesn't have to let you out of the lease.

    If he doesn't want to agree to let you out, your only recourse would be to sue him.

    You asked for legal advice, i gave you legal advice, not "what you want" advice.

    So, ask your landlord if he would let you out of the lease.

    It will cost you something, most likely 30 days notice and your deposit.

    Most landlords don't let you get out of leases for FREE.

    Therefore, your other option to enforce the code is to take him to court and get a judge to order him to let you break the lease.

    Bottom line, there ain't no free lunches!!!!

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    Actually, you didn't say to talk to him "informally" in your first note. You only mentioned court.

    If he was notified of water in the walls---water draining and leaking problems, and there is resulting mold---doesn't that constitute a violation of Ohio Revised Code 5321.04?? He has to fix things within a "reasonable time or 30 days", and he has not done that. He's gotten written notice twice---the first being over 30 days ago, and he's done nothing to repair the windows that are leaking into the walls, nor to remediate the mold in several areas.

    I already have notified the health dept. as well, and discussed the situation with a health inspector. She is waiting for me to give the word to come in and inspect. She would write him up for all code violations. They aren't equipped to handle mold, but he would be written up for unresolved water leakage/draining issues that are causing the mold throughout.

    By law, he is required to provide a safe, habitable environment. He is not doing that.
    I'm not asking for a "free lunch". The house isn't fit and is causing me and my daughter health problems, because of his negligence. My only recourse is NOT for me to have to "get him" to let me out of the lease or just stay here and suffer for another year and a half. What's the point of the law, if it's not to protect the tenant??
    ************************************************** *********
    5321.04 Landlord obligations.

    (A) A landlord who is a party to a rental agreement shall do all of the following:

    (1) Comply with the requirements of all applicable building, housing, health, and safety codes that materially affect health and safety;

    (2) Make all repairs and do whatever is reasonably necessary to put and keep the premises in a fit and habitable condition;

    (3) Keep all common areas of the premises in a safe and sanitary condition;

    (4) Maintain in good and safe working order and condition all electrical, plumbing, sanitary, heating, ventilating, and air conditioning fixtures and appliances, and elevators, supplied or required to be supplied by him;

    5321.07 Failure of landlord to fulfill obligations - remedies of tenant.

    (A) If a landlord fails to fulfill any obligation imposed upon him by section 5321.04 of the Revised Code, other than the obligation specified in division (A)(9) of that section, or any obligation imposed upon him by the rental agreement, if the conditions of the residential premises are such that the tenant reasonably believes that a landlord has failed to fulfill any such obligations, or if a governmental agency has found that the premises are not in compliance with building, housing, health, or safety codes that apply to any condition of the premises that could materially affect the health and safety of an occupant, the tenant may give notice in writing to the landlord, specifying the acts, omissions, or code violations that constitute noncompliance. The notice shall be sent to the person or place where rent is normally paid.

    (B) If a landlord receives the notice described in division (A) of this section and after receipt of the notice fails to remedy the condition within a reasonable time considering the severity of the condition and the time necessary to remedy it, or within thirty days, whichever is sooner, and if the tenant is current in rent payments due under the rental agreement, the tenant may do one of the following:

    (1) Deposit all rent that is due and thereafter becomes due the landlord with the clerk of the municipal or county court having jurisdiction in the territory in which the residential premises are located;

    (2) Apply to the court for an order directing the landlord to remedy the condition. As part of the application, the tenant may deposit rent pursuant to division (B)(1) of this section, may apply for an order reducing the periodic rent due the landlord until the landlord remedies the condition, and may apply for an order to use the rent deposited to remedy the condition. In any order issued pursuant to this division, the court may require the tenant to deposit rent with the clerk of court as provided in division (B)(1) of this section.

    (3) Terminate the rental agreement.
    Last edited by TeresaGRP; 03-12-2010 at 02:50 PM.

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    And just to clarify---I have just NOW reached the point where I am interested in pursuing the termination of this lease. I have been trying to work with the landlord, but he shows absolutely no sign of doing anything to repair the water issues in this house. The house shows structural signs of water damage---pretty significant, in addition to the mold throughout the building (as substantiated by the "expert", university professor).

    What else would I need to do to document and validate that this house is not inhabitable, and DO I need to go through the courts in order to terminate the lease? I've not found any articles that state that is a requirement---but it does say everywhere, that it's essential to have everything thoroughly documented.

    Thanks,
    TeresaGRP

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    If you wish to terminate the lease (as opposed to forcing the landlord to do the repairs), you notify him in writing that you are doing so. You don't apply to the court to do so.

    It would be up to the landlord to see if they wish to pursue this matter of breaking the lease through the legal system. If so, you present your evidence as to the uninhabitable condition of the home. The judge will decide if you were justified in breaking the lease.

    Quite honestly, I'm not certain if documentation from a university professor who viewed a couple of petri dishes from self test kits for mold would hold much water in court (only because the mold issue has been so overblown that the issue it may cause health risks is now viewed with skepticism) but you can certainly try to present this as valid evidence. However, please be aware that mold is pretty much everywhere and there are only a few strains (out of literally thousands out there) that may pose health concerns for humans. Did the professor state the exact strains of mold found?

    If the landlord does not return your security deposit within the time period required by Ohio law (30 days after you move out) then you need to consider suing him for such.


    Gail

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    I think the biggest issue is that there are known, and acknowledged by the maintenance man, water and drainage issues that aren't being repaired---and they've known about them and not taken action and it's been greater than 30 days.

    From my standpoint, I am concerned about my daughter's health and the letter does substantiate that unusual mold growth is present(as in the variety of types, not the amount--as it's not possible to determine that from those samples), but the major grounds for terminating the lease are that he hasn't fixed the leaking windows, or anything else since he was given notice over 30 days ago. The water is what's causing the mold---and any mold exposure is I don't know that the courts will be willing to break a lease JUST because of mold, though. And you're right--mold results from a couple of self-test kit samples.

    It might be wise, for me to go ahead and give the health inspector an opportunity to inspect and see what she comes up with.

    I'm thinking, at this point, though---that I send the letter from the professor (that included remediation steps---that were pretty reasonable) to the landlord and see what he says about it. If he's willing to do what is necessary, then I would be willing to consider not breaking the lease. I'm curious what the health inspector would find, though.

    Gail--thank you for your response. I appreciate it.

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    I agree that it would be wise for the local health inspector to check this place out.

    Gail

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    I just got off the phone with her. We are going to talk next Friday.
    I'm sending the landlord the letter from the professor, in the meantime. Giving him one more shot, I guess, to take some kind of action.

    Thanks for the advice!
    Teresa

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    Quote Originally Posted by Gail in Georgia View Post
    However, please be aware that mold is pretty much everywhere and there are only a few strains (out of literally thousands out there) that may pose health concerns for humans. Did the professor state the exact strains of mold found?

    If the landlord does not return your security deposit within the time period required by Ohio law (30 days after you move out) then you need to consider suing him for such.


    Gail
    I forgot to address this piece of it---yes, the professor outlined in detail the types of mold and their believed affects on human health. He said that they are all bad for someone, especially a child, who has allergies and asthma. Also, one of them is an important medical pathogen---dangerous for anyone who is "immunocompromised".

    There were several different genera, and he listed the species within.

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    Kind of funny---I've done so much research over the past several months. I know more about mold than I would have ever imagined (or wanted to know .

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    Know the feeling, Teresa. We are pretty much in the same situation with mold in our rented home and are also dealing with a deadbeat landlord who won't fix it or repair the moisture/leak issues that are the cause of the mold.

    Until states pass stronger laws about this to protect tenants, we have our work cut out for us proving our cases in court -- and getting relief.

    All occupants of this house are experiencing the same mold-related illness symptoms you are and it is making our lives miserable.

    We are currently suing the landlord in small claims court for failure to make repairs after written requests w/ no action. In Texas, the judge CAN order the landlord to make repairs if the landlord is refusing to fix things....is that an option in your state?

    Might be worth checking into. Good luck with your case and PM me if you'd like to discuss our mutual problem. Mold is one of the WORST things humans can deal with! Just ask anyone who has ever had to live with it.

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    Thanks for the message---it's nice to know I'm not the only one going through this stuff! I just have a second right now, but PM me or I'll PM you as soon as I have a chance!!

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