If landlord doesn't follow through, can I break my lease?
Q. My daughter lives in a mobile home in Indiana. It was not in the best condition when she moved in, but the landlord told her they would fix everything after she moved in. It has been four months and they have only completed a small portion of the work. We are now finding black mold in the master bath ceiling, the A/C does not work properly and fungus growing up through the floor by the living room door. Does she have the right to terminate her lease under these circumstances without repercussion?
IndianapolisA. Mold can be a serious health concern, so I think you have a great argument here. But first – has your daughter been in touch with the landlord since he originally promised to make the repairs? If not, she should put in a call and ask, nicely but firmly, what the hold up is. If he makes excuses or puts off fixing it again, she needs to contact her local health department.
"Mold is becoming more and more of an issue, and there are typically state health department regulations in effect regarding it. They may require the landlord to deal with it," says Bill Deegan, the executive director of the American Tenants Association. If that's the case, she should follow up that phone call to her landlord with a letter via certified mail. Tell him exactly how long it's been since he promised to fix the problem, and include information about the health department's regulations. Then say if it isn't taken care of within X weeks (I'd give him one or two at the most), she'll be terminating the lease.
If he still refuses to fix it, she's probably within her rights to break her lease because the home is uninhabitable. She should send him another certified letter letting him know that she'll be terminating the lease and that she'd like her security deposit back. And keep careful records, says Deegan. "If she provides that paper trail, even if there's no mention of mold removal in the lease, she shouldn't have a problem getting her deposit back." That paper trail includes taking photographs of the mold, just in case.
Finally, the lesson here: A handshake doesn't go as far as you think. If there's a problem with a rental unit before you move in, point that out to the landlord and if he agrees to fix it, have him include that in the lease, as well as a date that the work will be completed.
Consumer Ally problem solver Jean Chatzky is the Today Show financial advisor, a longtime financial journalist and best-selling author.