Tenant Rights: What if your rental is falling apart?

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) – What would you do if your landlord rented a house that was literally falling apart? But now, there's something new for people who don't know where to turn.

Virginia is one of a few states with two sets of laws governing landlord-tenant responsibilities.

"Look closely at the roof. You can see the dips in the roof. You can actually see that the roof is getting ready to cave in," said tenant Tyrone Wallace.

Inside the Cliff Avenue house Tyrone Wallace rented for $750 a month, there's mold, exposed electrical wiring, no central air or heat, and, a leaky roof. Parts of two ceilings collapsed in two days. Tyrone photographed ceiling debris on his furniture and floors. His remedy was to pack up and leave the landlord's house.

DIANE: "Do you owe him any money?"
TYRONE: "I didn't pay for this month and he won't get anything from me this month."

As of July 1st, all tenants seeking relief from bad, or no repairs are covered by the Virginia Residential Landlord Tenant Act. In the past, only apartment dwellers and landlords with multiple properties had guidance under the law.

"Oh, it's an absolute victory for tenants," said Martin Wegbreit with Legal Aid.

Now, even a tenant whose landlord rents out only one property, has a legal remedy, if confronted with bad housing conditions.

"They had nothing they could look to in the code of Virginia that says ok, if your landlord is not following the law, this is what you do," he said.

  • Be current in your rent
  • Give your landlord written notice of the problem and,
  • Wait a reasonable amount of time.

If repairs aren't made, take the notice you gave the landlord and next month's rent to General District Court. The clerk can help you file, a rent escrow case.

"It also protects the landlord by being sure that the rent money is available and is held by the court if a judge determines, hey this problem existed but it wasn't the landlord's fault," Martin said.

Tyrone was aware of the home's condition moving in, but says, he and the landlord agreed to work together.

"If he's collecting rent money then he should be the one to take the initiative. I don't mind helping nobody. But, I am not going to pay you and then initiate to come and get you to pick up materials to do this. Take something off the rent. Let's make this fair," Tyrone said.

I tried several times to reach the landlord. My numerous calls to Richard Soules have not been returned.

Copyright 2011 WWBT NBC12. All rights reserved.