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tammy444's avatar

Should I pay rent or take him to court?

Asked by tammy444 (94points) January 25th, 2008

we have been living in a house with no furnace down stairs,and it,s freezing.we have to use kerosene and our oven to try to heat our home,.the landlord knows the heater is no good and the chimney is caved in but does nothing.meanwhile our electric bill is sky high and he wants rent money.i say take me to i in the wrong here?

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12 Answers

sjg102379's avatar

Is the issue that the house isn’t heated, or that the heater is broken and your landlord refuses to fix it? I’ll assume it’s the latter. The short answer is: assuming that you believed beforehand when you signed the lease that there would be heat during the winter (if you knew there wasn’t ahead of time, then that’s just what you accepted) and assuming that you’ve asked your landlord to fix the heat and he has not (IMPORTANT: DOCUMENT EVERY TIME THAT YOU LEAVE HIM A MESSAGE, TALK TO HIM, WRITE HIM A LETTER, ANYTHING as proof that he has not acted on your complaints) you could certainly argue in court that the house is not inhabitable, and that you should be able to break your lease and not have to pay rent for the preceeding period of time. However, assuming you litigate, it also means that you are basically saying “I want out of this house” and you need to be prepared to move if a judge rules in your favor.

Basically, without knowing all the facts of your case, it’s hard to predict who would prevail in court. I would always, always suggest exhausting all other options before suing (or telling someone to sue you). Litigation is time-consuming, expensive, and the outcome is never certain. Other options include trying to talk to the landlord again yourselves or hiring an attorney to communicate with the landlord (people start to change their position fast when they see lawyers are involved, even if there is no lawsuit).

If you live in a large city, there is probably a special landlord-tenant court for just these sorts of disputes. If you contact the court, they can tell you how to proceed legally and may have some referrals for lawyers that handle this kind of work.

I don’t think that you should live in unsafe conditions—and heating the house with your oven is definitely unsafe—but you need to prepare yourself for a potentially really long and ugly battle.

tammy444's avatar

we assumed when we moved in the house was ready to go and was told everything was all repainted and redone but the carpets.we moved in the end of the summer and when we went to have the gas turned on we where told the bad news we then took the paper work the gas company gave us to him telling him it was unsafe.he just acts like we never told him over and over again.we even had to run all new lines for water in the house he paid for the parts only.we still have no water up stairs.we have mice in the house too.
our pipes we just put in are always freezing and we tell him its because we have no heat.he just says don,t you keep the water,s a lost cause.

glial's avatar

Assumed is probably the key word. If you signed a lease and moved in, I think you are going to have a rough time in court.

Don’t get me wrong; I think you are getting a raw deal. But the courts will take in to account that you signed the lease, as in it was your responsibility to check things out prior to the agreement.

I may be wrong; it is a gamble. Refusing to pay rent won’t help your case though. Pay the rent and sue him for the heating bills, or get it fixed and sue him for the amount it cost to fix things. That you could probably win.

robmandu's avatar

Is moving not an option?

I gotta think any slimeball that’s gonna make you take him to court just to fix something obviously unsafe and unfit for habitation is likely not going to do anything to correct the problem unless ordered to.

So the whole time you’re pursuing legal action, you’re stuck living with frozen pipes, kerosene fumes, and risk burning the entire joint down with the oven. Just on the chance the court might order him to fix it. And on the even more remote chance that he’ll heed the order in a timely way.

In my opinion, move someplace else. Move. Someplace. Else. Now.

And then, if you really want to go to court, sue him for the rent you payed during the time when the place was really, truly unhabitable. Just get yourself outta there first.

freerangemonkey's avatar

the above answers are, unfortunately, ill-informed.

The answer depends on one thing: where do you live??

If, for instance, you live in San Francisco, CA, then you should start checking out flights to Tahiti, or wherever else you want to spend your winter, as you will be in for a very nice settlement. On the other hand, if you live in North Dakota, I would suggest you start looking for another place…

So, where do you live (city, state)??

By the way, if you follow the advice above…i.e. moving first, filing second…you will, in most states, be abdicating all rights under the law. At least, that is the case where I am from and in several other states.

(I am not a lawyer and am not offering legal advice)

tammy444's avatar

i live in virginia,i have not signed any lease at all,does this make it more complicated?
we are on ssi and unfortunately it makes it very hard to move.we barely make the bills now.
it is not a thing of not paying but we do not want a bad mark on us to stop us from renting else where.

freerangemonkey's avatar

I don’t know the law in VA. You should contact the department of professional and occupational regulation at

Also, check out–066/354–066.html
this site summarizes your rights under the VA Residential Landlord and Tenant Act (VRLTA), which requires your landlord maintain the property to the standards of the building code as well as keep it in a “livable” condition. In most states these laws favor tenants and do not require that you have a formal rental agreement in place, but they only apply if you are currently living in the property.

Good luck!

freerangemonkey's avatar

for some reason the link above is not working. You may need to add the http:// to the beginning of it, or just search google for “Virginia renters rights” and follow the first link.

sjg102379's avatar

I just saw this on the NY Times website—it might be a good way to get free legal advice.

cwilbur's avatar

I’d talk to a local lawyer before I did anything drastic, as landlord and tenant laws vary considerably.

However, in many jurisdictions, apartments and houses offered for rent have to meet certain standards of livability, and having heat in the winter is one of them. These laws often override things stated in leases; for instance, in Massachusetts, if the landlord asks for a security deposit, he or she must keep it in a bank account that earns interest at ordinary bank rates, and this is true no matter what the lease may say on the matter. Virginia probably has a set of standards that landlords and rental properties must meet, but only a local Virginia lawyer is likely to know exactly what they are.

That said, as a general rule, you have two options: once you’ve notified the landlord of a problem affecting the livability of the property, you can, instead of paying rent, use the rent money to fix the problem. Alternately, you can continue paying rent and take him to court; if you don’t pay rent, it weakens your case, though it might not weaken it enough for you not to win.

The best plan, given your situation, might be to just move out.

andrew's avatar

Here, I think, is a relevant part of the renters rights (empasis mine)

You have the right to a decent and safe place to live.

Virginia law requires that the landlord:

* Meet the requirements of local building and health codes concerning the condition of your apartment.
* Make the necessary repairs to keep your home in livable condition.
* Keep all common areas shared by two or more apartments of the property in clean and safe condition.
* Maintain in good and safe working condition all electrical, plumbing, sanitary, heating, ventilating, air-conditioning units as well as other facilities and appliances, including elevators, supplied or required to be supplied by the landlord.
* Make a reasonable effort to prevent the accumulation of moisture and the growth of mold.
* Provide and maintain good quality trash cans and trash pick-up services in common areas of the apartments.
* Supply running water and reasonable amounts of hot water at all times as well as reasonable air conditioning, if provided, and heat when needed.

I’d withhold rent, and document, document document.

@freerangemonkey: Sorry about your link. That’s a bug of ours. This link will work.

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