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updated: 5/27/2012 9:40 AM

Renters should take action if management won't enforce rules

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Q. I live in an apartment community where there are numerous 60-pound-plus dogs. However, the complex has a 35-pound pet limit, which it advertises on its website and is included as a legal rule on the lease that all tenants sign.

Many of the dogs are allowed to roam free on the grounds, which can be intimidating. They are also extremely loud, and some are breeds that can be dangerous at times especially around children.

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When I signed my lease, I did so believing that the 35-pound pet limit was enforced. Had I known the complex was overrun with large, noisy and aggressive dogs, I would not have moved here.

I went to the on-site management office, but they were very defensive and now say that the limit is not a "hard and fast" rule. I think that they are concerned about too many vacancies and have had to look the other way when prospective tenants with large dogs apply. I like my apartment, but my question is this: Can I break my lease based upon the fact that management refuses to enforce its own rules? If management does not respect the legality of its own lease, why should I?

A. You certainly seem to have a valid position. However, in the vein of "two wrongs don't make a right," I would suggest you exercise caution before you just move out and break your lease.

The lease should be enforced uniformly, and it is reasonable and a good argument in your favor to point out the failure of management to require all tenants to comply with the rules it established. There are also legitimate health and safety risks with the lack of enforcing reasonable limitations on the size and breeds of dogs.

The problem is that if you just move out, management could come after you for the balance of the lease, and it is possible that you could end up in court and have a judge rule on whether your reason for vacating was sufficient to break a legally binding lease. You may prevail and everything would be fine. But, it is a risk.

Instead, I suggest you send letters to the property management company (with a copy to the owner) and tell them your concerns. They may also see the problem from your perspective and require the on-site staff to begin enforcing the rules. This will not happen overnight, but it could resolve the issue without you having to move.

Q. I am an elderly female and unemployed. In order to afford the mortgage payment on the three-unit property I own, I live in a small one-bedroom apartment upstairs and rent out the other two apartments to Section 8 or Housing Choice Voucher tenants. My 44-year-old nephew was in the Army but returned from Afghanistan recently and is living with me on my couch in my small apartment.

One of my tenants is fine, but the other tenant has not paid her portion of the rent for eight months and refuses to do so. She is loud, aggressive and indecent. I need the apartment for my nephew who assists in taking me around town and managing my affairs.

I need legal advice but cannot afford the legal fee and don't know who to turn to.

A. Seeking legal counsel can be helpful in some situations, but I would not recommend it as the first step when you are having problems as you describe with a Housing Choice Voucher tenant. (By the way, the Housing Choice Voucher program is the current name for the Section 8 program.)

You are receiving the monthly payments from a local housing authority that administers the Housing Choice Voucher program for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). This check may seem to come from some processing center and you may not realize that there are actually real people that you can contact and explain the unfortunate situation you are facing with this one tenant.

Contact your local housing authority and ask for the person assigned to your property and your tenant. Explain to them the failure of your tenant to pay the rent for eight months and the other problems you are having. They will need to investigate and give the tenant an opportunity to respond to your allegations, but they will not allow this tenant to continue to not pay the rent or to be abusive to you or the neighbors.

You may or may not be able to get this tenant to vacate right away so your nephew can move in, but you can at least get help with the back rent and resolve the behavior issues. You should certainly tell the housing authority representative that you do not want to renew this tenant's lease when it expires and that you plan to allow your nephew to move in when the tenant vacates.

Don't feel you are helpless or need to hire an attorney, as I have found that the local housing authorities are usually quite an ally in these situations. Remember that they want more property owners like you to participate in the program so they want to hear when a Housing Choice Voucher program tenant is not abiding by the rules and agreeing to pay rent per the terms of her housing assistance payments. With the benefits of rental payments, HUD and the local housing authorities will make sure that the tenants live up to their end of the bargain.

• Property manager Robert Griswold is author of "Property Management for Dummies." Email rgriswold.inman@retodayradio.com.

2012, Inman News Service

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