our house needs your advice and help

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We need legal advice. I live in a set of apartments that were built inside a former convenience store that was rezoned as residential. Our landlord bought the building, built the apartments, built a soundproofed venue into one of the apartments, and started the place rolling as a popular place for house shows in our town, and a landing spot for lots of touring metal and hardcore bands. There are five apartments in addition to the venue space, all occupied.

Those of us who live here do not have written leases. The landlord is a guy who used to be our close friend. We have asked for them and he has agreed, but put it off. He has always been helpful about repairs and such in the past, but this has changed recently. He has now moved to Cali and appointed his ex-girlfriend to the position of "property manager" - she never comes to the house, and none of us has her phone number. We just deliver our checks to her and she deposits them into the landlord's account.

He has started ignoring us when we tell him about things that need repair. (For example: We told him our bathroom ceiling had completely caved in and he took three months to find a person to fix it. Meanwhile, there were birds flying into our apartment and rain leaking into our bathroom. It was ludicrous. We told him we weren't going to pay rent until it was fixed and he said "Ok, then you have until next month to get out." We said, basically, "uh, no," and he finally got it fixed.) We now have 2 more bad roof problems, one in a downstairs apartment, and one in the venue - a really bad one. My downstairs neighbor called him to complain and he angrily told her that he didn't have the money to fix it and that he might "just give the house back to the bank."

Essentially, we all think he has stopped paying the mortgage and is living off of the money we pay him for rent. We have tons of roof problems that need repair, and we can't afford them and he won't fix them. Lawyers are another expense. And we don't know if we have any rights at all since we don't have written leases.

Moreover, and despite all the problems, we love living here and don't want to move. Ideally, he would sell my boyfriend and I the house, or let us take over the mortgage payments (at least we would pay it).

Here is a link to a donations place, please tell any and all rich friends about it: http://www.gofundme.com/b6r40

And please, lawyers, I need your legal opinions.

roxymuzak, Sunday, 11 December 2011 17:03 (ten years ago) link

I'm not a lawyer, but Those of us who live here do not have written leases seems like it could be half of your solution and half of your problem. If he tries to evict you for withholding rent because BIRDS are flying around your apartment, ask to see his license and permits from city hall. If he can't be bothered having you sign a generic contract you could copy from the Internet, I'd bet his paperwork skills are lacking everywhere else too.

This doesn't fix your holes, though.

Pleasant Plains, Sunday, 11 December 2011 17:18 (ten years ago) link

we all think he has stopped paying the mortgage and is living off of the money we pay him for rent.

I think you are right about this.

In Oregon leases are assumed to be month-to-month if there is no written contract, that's all I got right now on the legal end.

Can you do some benefit gigs to pay for the repairs?

Or start putting your rent in an escrow fund? Sometimes people do this when there are disputes so that you can't be evicted - the money is there but only gets paid when the problems are fixed. I know NYC rent strikers have used that tactic before.

sleeve sandbox, Sunday, 11 December 2011 19:18 (ten years ago) link

don't know the answer but i looked around and found ways to at least get more information:

When a home goes into foreclosure the bank files a notice of default or notice of trustee sale with the county. These notices are public record so you can search for them at the county assessors.


The city's tax assessment department, where the home is located, will have information on file that will help you uncover whether or not the taxes are up to date.

The same department will also have on file from whom taxes are collected, so if taxes are part of the mortgage, the assessment department can tell you if it's paid up to date.

eboue I, Sunday, 11 December 2011 19:37 (ten years ago) link

It'll depend on tenancy laws in yr area, but there could be some useful protections: In some places, if a landlord cashes your checks a certain number of times, he or she is assumed to have approved your tenancy and you assume the rights & responsibilities of a legal tenant.

In general if you're going to withhold rent for any reason, it's best to put it in writing in a date-stamped way (which is p easy by email) at least 30 days in advance.

OH GNUS (Pyth), Sunday, 11 December 2011 19:52 (ten years ago) link

It depends on what county you are in, but there is a Landlord and Tenant Act: http://tn.gov/consumer/lanlord.shtml

The federal Housing and Urban Development site has legal assistance links that might be useful: http://portal.hud.gov/hudportal/HUD?src=/states/tennessee/homeownership/legalaid

The TN Human Rights Commission looks like it's only about discrimination: http://www.state.tn.us/humanrights/index.html

Mr. Jaq and I got into a similar situation when we were living downtown - the landlord was out of state, stopped paying his condo fees, had a state judgment against him. Everyone was after us to pay our rent to them instead of to the landlord - who threatened to evict us if we complied with the legal state mandate. Fortunately (I guess), our lease was about up and we were able to get out to a different place. Weasel landlord kept my huge deposit though and since he was out of state with no known address (by that point), I couldn't take him to small claims court without being even more out of pocket.

I hope it all gets resolved for you quickly, roxy. Good luck.

jaq, Sunday, 11 December 2011 20:02 (ten years ago) link

could give you chapter and verse bout our regs/standards, but unfortunately not much use. Hope the local laws cover you well, good luck.

bloating forecast: ruff swells (p much resigned to deems), Monday, 12 December 2011 12:50 (ten years ago) link

Are you in TN? Your local county/municipality probably also has a landlord/tenant code that's going to govern a lot of this stuff.

Speaking very broadly, there is an "implied warranty of habitability" at play, and a caved in ceiling/bird infestation may well violate that, although what specifically constitutes such a violation should be outlined in your local landlord/tenant code.

You should also search your area for tenants' rights organizations. Such groups will provide free or very cheap legal advice to renters, and since landlord/tenant laws are so specific to location, they'll be able to give you much better and more accurate advice than people on a message board. If there are no tentants' rights orgs in your area (the larger your community, the more likely there is to be one), try to find a legal aid organization. Since this sounds like an artists' space/community, you should be able to qualify for help from a group like this.

Good luck! From everything you've described, your landlord is falling down on his duties so now it's a matter of educating yourself on the law and/or finding some help so you can either take control of the property yourself or force him into complying with the law. (Note: you don't want to just stop paying rent only to find that your LL/tenant code strict prohibits that remedy (in Chicago you can after written notice of a serious problem that violates the implied warranty of habitability, but in other places I've lived you cannot), thus opening up yourself to a serious lawsuit, so at least reading all of your local ordinances before you do anything is pretty key here. Also note that if LL/tenant laws in large cities, college towns, and northern states tend to be more favorable to the tenants than those in small communities and southern states. This doesn't mean you have screwed in you're in TN - your ceiling caved in and there are birds in your apartment, which is pretty egregious wherever you live.)

thejenny, Monday, 12 December 2011 13:38 (ten years ago) link

Oh - and in some states/municipalities, if you pay for repairs yourself, you can deduct the cost from your rent going forward. Find out how this works in your area and keep that in mind if your fundraiser is successful.

I followed your link and figured out where you live (I am so smrt) so maybe this will help get you started - http://www.knoxleaselaw.com/Articles/l_and_t_act.htm.

thejenny, Monday, 12 December 2011 13:42 (ten years ago) link

One more thing: law firms might do pro bono work for you since you are an artists' community (especially if you have any fans who are lawyers) so don't be afraid to call around and see who can help you if you do decide you need legal representation.

Also I see jaq already linked the LL/tenant act for you. Sorry!

thejenny, Monday, 12 December 2011 13:45 (ten years ago) link

oh geez - this is a really shitty stressful situation! you have my utmost sympathy.

one potential worry is whether the apartments and venue are legal with the city. if you get the law involved, would they come in and say that no one's supposed to be living there and/or you can't have shows there.

where in California does your landlord live? Not suggesting paying him _that_ kind of visit. But if you have to serve him papers, i dunno.

Also, it makes me wonder about his relationship w/his ex-gf.

sarahel, Monday, 12 December 2011 18:46 (ten years ago) link

the relationship with the ex is increasingly O_O the more I learn about it.

thanks to everyone for all the lovely starting points and advice, etc. we're all really confused and unsure of what to do. complicating matters is that our house functions as a venue somewhat illegally and we're worried about being investigated and shut down. it feels like we're walking a tightrope.

worse, we're apparently registered as a one family home - we are definitely 5 apartments with 5 separate "families." this is his fault, though - not ours. but again, we're afraid.

roxymuzak, Tuesday, 13 December 2011 04:33 (ten years ago) link

we will prevail though. we kick ass at raising money/throwing benefits and stuff. also, he's dumb.

roxymuzak, Tuesday, 13 December 2011 04:34 (ten years ago) link

fuck yeah, kick his ass!


Z S, Tuesday, 13 December 2011 04:37 (ten years ago) link

This is the song everyone likes to listen to

Z S, Tuesday, 13 December 2011 04:37 (ten years ago) link

obv different cities have different rules and practices, but I would think (based on my experience with somewhat similar situations) that if you have a licensed contractor that's cool with you, he/she would be authorized to get permits for the repairs, and that gov't officials would be less likely to give you trouble, require inspections that could get you in trouble, if it's an emergency repair, as opposed to "new construction" or something along those lines.

sarahel, Tuesday, 13 December 2011 04:44 (ten years ago) link

basically, the two big problems as I see it are:

1. getting the money to make the repairs
2. getting the repairs done w/proper permits which sometimes require authorization from the property owner

sarahel, Tuesday, 13 December 2011 04:46 (ten years ago) link

re 2) this is where the 'house' part of it could come in handy. a house may not need a permit to get a new roof

eboue I, Tuesday, 13 December 2011 06:29 (ten years ago) link

re: the illegality of the living arrangement - that shouldn't stop you from looking around for a lawyer for some expert legal advice from someone in the area. Most lawyers will advise you that your living situation is illegal, etc. etc. but they aren't going to call the cops and have you shut down.

If you are seriously considering buying the building yourself, however, you definitely need to talk to a lawyer and find out what kind of liability you're opening yourself up to. In some municipalities, single family homes cannot have more than one stove, for example, and a violation can carry a significant fine for the property owner. I'm not saying don't buy it (I wouldn't, but I have a higher aversion to that kind of risk) but at least do so knowing exactly what you're getting into.

wore glasses and said things (thejenny), Tuesday, 13 December 2011 13:41 (ten years ago) link

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