‘You have options:’ Central Virginia Legal Aid Society offers advice for tenants experiencing maintenance issues
PRINCE GEORGE, Va. (WWBT) - Issues with apartment maintenance can be frustrating for tenants and property management.
“The right of every tenant in Virginia is to have the landlord provide fit and habitable premises that comply with building and housing codes. Now, if the landlord is not doing that, making an oral complaint is a good place to start,” explained Marty Wegbreit with the Central Virginia Legal Aid Society. “It is not a good place to end.”
A Prince George mother reached out to 12 On Your Side after spending a year with maintenance issues at the Bailey’s Ridge Apartments. Her first issue was a lack of a Charley bar, also known as a stick in the door, that helps with security.
“It’s been a year. I haven’t had a Charley bar on that door,” the young woman said, who asked not to be identified. ”Really, if you have any type of tools, someone who breaks in all the time, just move the latch and come in. There is nothing from stopping the door from going back.”
The issues did not stop with the Charley bar. Beginning in June 2021, her air conditioning unit was leaking, or the system had gone out altogether. She shared at least a dozen maintenance requests filed from the last year. At one point, her AC went out two days before she was supposed to give birth.
“You’re paying money to live in a place, and they are not making sure you are safe. With my door, safety, even with the air, you know it is 95 degrees outside, and it’s 80 to 90 degrees in the apartment. Things keep not getting fixed. That they say they are going to fix, and it is not being done,” the tenant explained. “Being a parent, you have to stand up and do what you have to do for your safety and your child’s safety.”
In May 2022, she made an emergency call when temperatures were in the 90s, and the AC went out again. Frustrated after waiting a week for repairs, this tenant says she called corporate, and eventually, a portable unit was placed in her bedroom.
She says the day the portable unit was installed, she came home to her screen door open and noticed valuables missing. She is concerned the door was left open, and someone was able to walk by and easily steal from her. She filed a report with Prince George police.
“My laptop and stuff was sitting on the island I have in my living room. The iPad and the laptop, both of them are missing,” she said.
After the On Your Side Investigators first reached out to the leasing office and corporate, we got an email saying, “Good morning Mrs. Turner--Update they just came and put in the [charley] bar.”
When it came time to renew her lease, the tenant decided moving out and to live with a family member was a better option.
“They asked me my reasons for [not renewing]. I stated security issues. I put that maintenance requests are put in and not done in a timely manner - if they are even done at all - my items being stolen. The only thing they really said to me is to contact my renter’s insurance,” she explained. “I hope what comes out of [my story] is people can live in their households [safely]. You are paying your rent, but things are broken. Hopefully, after this, other people will speak out. Hopefully, they hire whoever they need to for maintenance.”
The On Your Side Investigators reached out three times via email and spoke twice via phone to Andrews Avenue Residential, the company managing Bailey’s Ridge. We were not sent a formal statement following several requests.
For tenants who may find themselves with seemingly consistent maintenance issues, the Central Virginia Legal Aid Society says tenants have options.
“Any oral complaint should be put in writing by first class mail. A 14 day notice, and then after the 14 days, if the landlord has not responded, the tenant has two choices. Number one, repair and deduct. In other words, contact a licensed contractor and arrange to have the work done yourself out of your own. Next month’s rent money. Now the sky is not the limit. It’s only $1,500 or one month’s rent, whichever is greater. But the nice thing about repair and deduct is that you don’t have to be current in rent, and you don’t have to involve the courts,” explained Marty Wegbreit. “Or the other choice is after the 14 days, to file the tenant’s assertion. But there, you have to be current on rent, and you take the next month’s rent out to the General District Court, and you sue the landlord by filing what’s called a tenants assertion.”
CVLAS also suggests the following if something needs to be repaired:
What should I do if something needs fixing?
“Some tenants just stop paying rent when something goes wrong. This is a bad idea that can get you evicted.
“There is a legal and effective way to get bad conditions fixed. However, you must be current in your rent and stay current.
“You have five steps to follow: 1) Identify the problem and who is responsible. 2) Get your proof together. 3) Give proper written notice to your landlord. 4) Allow a reasonable chance for your landlord to repair. 5) Take the case to court if necessary.”
If it is an emergency, such as a lack of heat or water, a landlord should fix it within 1-3 days. Other repairs must be made within a reasonable time, usually 14 days.
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