How to Get Out of the Lease for a Flea-Bitten, Water-Damaged Apartment

How to get out of a bad apartment leaseDear Apartment Guru,

I signed on an apartment in Queens and paid the first and last months' rent, a finder's fee to a broker and a security deposit. But when I went to move into the apartment there was a flea infestation, the place was a mess and new water damage had practically destroyed the kitchen. Needless to say, I didn't move in. I did, however take pictures. I have pictures from the time I went to look at the place to show my husband, so I have proof that it was not in such awful shape when I signed.

Can I recoup any of my losses? Ideally, all of them? What do I do?

-- Bitten and Burned

Dear Bitten,

I can think of few things more aggravating than moving when you are not contending with fleas and excessive water damage. So the fact that you showed up to such a mess was probably not the greatest day of your life. But the good news is, today is the first day of the rest of your life. And it is a good day.

I spoke with Gary Dunn, a real estate lawyer in Garden City, N.Y., and he had some great suggestions in this matter: "She should be able to recoup all of her losses and void the lease on two grounds; constructive eviction and breach of warranty of habitability," he explains.

He suggests you call your landlord or building manager and let them know that you no longer want to rent the apartment based on the condition in which you found it. If this is refused, Dunn suggests you let them know you will take further action. "Report the condition of the unit to the Department of Housing, Preservation and Development (HPD) and the Department of Health," he says. "If that does not change their minds, I would call 311. They will take a report and immediately refer the matter to the HPD."

In the end, if you are still unable to get your money back, you will have to take this matter to small claims court.

The good news here, Bitten, and there is good news, is that you had the foresight to take those pictures. Therefore, you have proof. The truth is often backed up by proof -- but even more importantly, courts are very big fans of it.

This is a great lesson for anyone signing leases and handing over money to relative strangers. Make sure you document as much of your move as possible, from hunting for your apartment to locking the door for the first time at the end of a long move-in. Then save those pictures for that future date when you move out again.

After all, you never know what you'll have to do to get that security deposit back!

Check out more of our renters' guides here.

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