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Harrisburg area Cumberland, Dauphin, and Perry Counties
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Old 03-22-2011, 02:19 PM
12 posts, read 28,727 times
Reputation: 12


Almost four years ago my ex-husband and I moved into a rental house that was advertised through a property management company. The first time we looked at the house, we passed because there was no shower in the upstairs bathroom and only a dirty shower stall in the downstairs laundry room. After finding nothing else, we asked to look at the house again and on the second showing, we asked the PROPERTY MANAGEMENT COMPANY representative if we could put a shower in. Her answer was yes, so we decided to rent it. The first night, we put a shower in. THEN we were visited by the property owners, who are an odd couple. The husband told me if we had any trouble to call them directly, not the management company. He proceeded to tell me a story about how a previous tenant had really pissed him off by putting a (gasp!) digital thermostat in place of the old one that had malfunctioned. At one point when we realized how awful the water was here, I offered to put in a water softener system at my own expense so my clothes didn't stink. You'd think that would help their pipes, but they said no.
I have called to report water in the unfinished basement coming through the foundation; the landlord said it was no big deal (there is mold down there). I've called to report a mouse problem -- again, no big deal. I have gotten the distinct impression from the absolute lack of any maintenance to this property that they could care less about the condition of the home...BUT my fear is they will explode about the shower even though it's a 200% improvement over what they had in here originally. But the realty company had said okay to it, even though I don't have that in writing. My bad. The house is 160 years old and I highly suspect there is also lead paint. The septic system has not been pumped out the entire time I've lived here. I believe that's a DEP violation.
What is my best course of action at this point? We are planning on moving in a couple months because this house has deteriorated to the point of almost being uninhabitable.
The toilet has been leaking for some time and caused some dampness to the floor which we did not know about until a plumber came and took it off and replaced the wax ring.
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Old 03-22-2011, 03:57 PM
Location: Downtown Harrisburg
1,434 posts, read 3,662,125 times
Reputation: 1015
Being a rental, there's not a whole lot you can do. I am not a lawyer, so I may be off on this. In order to bring a claim against a landlord, one or more of the following needs to be true:

1) The property is materially different than what was advertised or represented in the lease (for example, the landlord showed you apartment #1 which has tile floors, new appliances, and a washer/dryer, but actually rents you apartment #2, which has worn carpet, 50-year-old appliances, and no w/d)
2) The property is unsafe (for example, the lightswitch to control the bathroom lights is located in the shower stall)
3) The property is uninhabitable (for example, the windows are smashed)
4) The property is not up to code (for example, the furnace is plugged into a living-room outlet)

In addition, all of the following must be true:

1) The condition did not exist when you moved in, or has substantially worsened since you moved in.
2) You must make the landlord aware of the problem and give him a reasonable period of time to repair it
3) Your lease must be in good standing (not delinquent) at the time of your first complaint
4) You must not have contributed to the problem in any way

It is always a good idea to send your complaints or concerns to your landlord via certified letter with a signature receipt. If you simply talk to your landlord about the problem, he or she can simply deny that you ever spoke to them and thus never gave them a chance to fix the problem. What constitutes a "reasonable period" is debatable. A good starting point is to speak with Home Depot / Lowes and find out how long it would take for them to send a contractor and repair the problem. Add a few days to that, and give the landlord that long to fix the problem

Regarding your concerns about codes enforcement, I would find your local codes enforcement office (try Googling by your city or county) and call them with your concerns. Be careful how you address the problem -- don't say "My apartment at 123 main street is out of code and I want it condemned", as this could lead to a defamation suit by your landlord. Rather, say "I'm renting an apartment in ______, and I had a question about the requirements for the building's septic system / paint / water supply / etc." However, bear in mind that in this state, many buildings are grandfathered in under older, less strict codes.

Unfortunately, Pennsylvania's Landlord-Tenant Act is very anti-consumer and is heavily slanted in favor of landlords. The best you can hope for is to be let out of your lease early without penalty -- but you will spend a lot of time and money in court first.

I would start by attempting to get the shower modification permission in writing from the realty company. Don't go into the whole back story; simply ask them about the request, and ask if they ever "got around to sending (you) a letter about that". They may say no, but it's worth a shot.

Failing that, I'm not sure what else to tell you. I hate to be the bad guy, but you made substantial modifications to your landlord's building without written permission from the landlord. While I'm sure it is indeed an improvement, your landlord would be well within his rights to flip out over the situation, and possibly charge you for "repairs" to undo your handiwork. I know the realty company told you it was okay, but that can be very difficult to prove.

Good luck!
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