Rental Nightmare (e/n type post, long)

So I posted about needing a place to live a week or so ago. I figured it might be entertaining to share my story. I’d actually love it if the legal eagles here could chime in with their not-legal-advice opinions on how to proceed. Or just read it becaues you like hearing about the drama in other people’s lives!

I agreed to rent a room from a woman here in Bellevue. It’s on the lower floor of a split level house. She has two large dogs (60+ lbs each), and I’ve got a small one (23.5 lbs as of Saturday, sez the vet).

So I moved in last Saturday, the 3rd. Get done that evening and I’m setting up my room - she tells me to let the dog out so he can socialize with hers. They’re all running around upstairs being rambunctious. Eventually I figure she’s gotta be tired so I bring the little guy down into the room with me. I am happy - nice big room, lots of privacy, everything seems good. I’m renting it Month-to-month, no written agreement at all - it’s all verbal. 435 a month rent, that’s it.

Until the next day.

The following morning I greet her as she’s doing laundry - she lets me know that the night before as she was going to bed she was shutting off all the lights and found damp spots on two of her rugs. Her assumption was that my dog pissed on them.

Now, I suppose that’s entirely possible. He doesn’t have a marking instinct to speak of (or at least hasn’t since like two years ago), but maybe it came back. Or maybe he just lost control of his bladder while running around like a loon. Or (most likely) her two larger dogs cornered him and he panicked - he has been known to submission piss before. She was never clear just how large the damp areas were, so it’s entirely likely it was just slobber - the dogs were running around like loons for three hours. I never got to see the actual areas he supposedly pissed on because she’d already cleaned it up, so the possibility exists that she was simply making it all up. Who can say for sure?

Either way, she makes it clear that she wants me to move out ASAP. She also makes it clear that the dog is not to be allowed to roam the house - he’s to stay confined in the room until I’m gone.

Now, Washington State law says I cannot be required to move out before the end of the rental period. Full stop. But I figure I will anyway, so long as she’s going to refund the balance of rent. Frankly it sucks having to go home to that kind of environment; and the poor dog is cooped up in the room all day while I’m at work.

So that following Monday (the 5th) she sends me an email stating:

I emailed her a reply - basically saying I would move out as soon as possible but I was subject to the rental market; obviously if I can’t find a place to live I can’t move out. I also speak to her in person about it that evening and she understands and simply wants me to do my best to find a place asap.

So I spend a few days trying to find a place and then think what the fuck Jeff, why are you going to rent from another stranger? The same shit will just end up happening. I have a friend with a room opening up in the beginning of January, so I figure I’ll just rent that one. She’s got a dog too, and my guy gets along with her. So in the meantime my plan becomes:

  1. Board dog in a kennel for 10 days. I’m going to NJ for the holidays and taking him with me, so this keeps him safe & gives me the flexibility to…
  2. Crash on a friend’s couch until I leave for NJ.

So on thursday I send this message to her:

She thanks me for the update. On Monday, she emails me asking if I knew if I’d be moving Tuesday or Wednesday and asking if I have a timeframe. I let her know I’ll be moving Wednesday and my plan is to move in the late part of the morning.

So far so good - I’m being accomodating, she’s being reasonable, everything is OK. Anyway, I’m going to just quote the mailthread for a bit…

Caps, bold, italics, and underlines are hers.

What the fuck. WHAT THE FUCK. Are you fucking kidding me? I am bending over backwards to accomodate this psycho old lady. I am incurring no small amount of financial burden (boarding the dog is costing me 175 bucks), not to mention the added stress during a week when I’m trying to pick up at least 50 hours of work due to my upcoming vacation and the paycheck I’ll miss. I’m fucking buying my only available friend a fucking bus ticket to come down here and help me move. And this broad says that I shouldn’t make it her problem?

So at this point I’m furious. Hands shaking, wanting to wring this lady’s neck furious. I am boggling at her temerity and truly wondering what the fuck she thinks she’s doing - she has not a legal leg to stand on (she can’t kick me out, and wtf she thinks she can bar me from moving out - it’s my stuff!) I basically decide I’m done being accomodating. So I call up a buddy of mine who’s in law school - not for legal advice, but because he has training in negotiations and I want to shift my stance from accomodating to simply drawing a line in the sand. This is the notice I sent to her:

I sent that and haven’t gotten a reply - she leaves work at 4PM and doesn’t seem to do internet at home, so it’s unlikely I will get one tonight.

I’m going to crash at my friend’s house tonight - there’s nothing back at that house I need and honestly I’d rather just not deal with the environment there. Tomorrow morning I borrow a truck, pick my buddy up at the bus station, drive over there and move all my shit out into another friend’s garage. Then I’m going to get another friend to come with me to return the key & get my money back. I’m bringing a friend a) because if she’s confrontational I want a witness and b) he’s big tall and scary looking. I’m kinda big tall and scary looking - but he’s even more of all three.

So getting around for the soliciting advice phase. She mentioned that if there was damage to the room she’d deduct it from the money she’s supposed to return to me. There’s no damage to the room that wasn’t there when I moved in (on sunday I went ahead and documented the few minor bits of damage, forseeing that she might get batty on me).

My plan is thus: I will go over there tomorrow evening and give her the keys back, provided she gives me my money. If she refuses to give me my money I will inform her that I’ll be keeping the keys until the thirty-first and using the room as storage space in the meantime. Is there anything else I should be aware of? I presume if she gets confrontational I should simply take the keys and leave? If she threatens to lock me out should I inform her that it’s illegal & I’ll have her arrested, or let that part be a surprise?

JD

If she doesn’t give you back your rent, I see a visit to small claims court in your future.

Like you said, this isn’t legal advice. And honestly, landlord-tenant law is like its own special area and tends to vary a lot from state to state and even sometimes from city to city. This is really mostly my take on it just from a commonsense perspective, and from having fought back when a landlord tried to jack me around once.

First off, it sounds like you’re being more than reasonable. You’re a much nicer guy than, for example, I am. You definitely shouldn’t feel like you need to do any more than you’ve already done to accomodate this lady. But there are definitely a couple of issues you need to deal with, such as:

-Nature of the relationship. It sounds like you guys have an oral rental contract, which is probably legal and binding. The problem is that you have no way to prove what the terms of that arrangement are or even that one exists at all. She could claim that she let you stay there for a week while you got on your feet, and now you refuse to leave, or that the rent was at will rather than for any specific time period, or whatever. Without a rental agreement, you might have a tough time proving your side of the case. People generally think rental agreements are there to protect the landlord, and in large part that’s true–but they also protect the tenant.

-Security fee. I think this is a big area where landlords often try to fuck tenants. That was what mine pulled when I moved out of my last apartment and into a condo: they decided to just keep my entire security deposit, and I ended up having to sue them to get it back (plus costs and punitive damages, suck it down bitches!). I’d recommend documenting things if you can, like by taking photographs of the room. In California, you can’t be held liable for normal wear and tear to paint and carpet, only for extraordinary damage and cleaning fees. Who knows about Washington, though. And again, the problem could be one of proof and enforcement. If the room has real pre-existing damage (not just normal wear and tear, but stuff that would really be called “damage”), and you didn’t document that it was there when you moved in, you might have a problem. Similarly, if she just refuses to refund the money, you might have a problem–you can take her to small claims court or try to exchange the money for the keys, like you said, but that stuff is sort of a pain.

-Confrontation with the landlady. You should definitely be cool. Don’t threaten anything or say anything that might make your situation worse. I’m sure it’s fine to say that if she won’t refund the rent, you won’t relinquish the room or the keys. But I wouldn’t get into a yelling match with her or anything–that’s not likely to help your situation. And I wouldn’t threaten to have her arrested, since that is almost certainly an empty threat (at least here in LA–if you called the LAPD about that, they’d tell you to go ahead and pursue it civilly, but there’s no crime).

Of course, you have some cards, too. She apparently wants to rent the room right away, so you have the ability to fuck that up for her. I’m sure installing a new lock would cost $238 (or close enough not to make it worth the hassle), so if you tell her “$238 or no keys” the rational thing for her to do is refund your money (not that there is any guarantee she will be rational, though). Your letter might cause her concern (if she’s smart) that you’re preparing for legal action, which might also scare her. If I were advising her instead of you, my thought would be “Hm, possible claim for damages for dog kennel and bus ticket and lost work, just refund the damn $238 and be done with it.” Finally, you have access to her house, which will usually make someone more accomodating just because they have more to lose than you do. (If she’s insane, you’re out $238. If you’re insane, she’s out a house.)

In the end, you may just be over-anticipating here. She sounds crazy and irrational, but other than her saying she’ll deduct money for damage (which is legitimate), you don’t have any reason to think she plans to steal your $238, right? So just go to the meeting prepared for the worst but hoping and presuming the best: assume she’s going to refund your rent and you’re going to leave and that will be that.

This is actually a pretty good sized grey area.

Washington state law requires that the unit be returned to the condition it was in when it was rented, minus normal wear and tear. If the landlord has found damage to the unit, they have fourteen days to present a reason in writing to the tenant describing why the deposit is not being returned.

The kicker is - I never made a deposit. There’s no damage to the unit - but even if there was we’d be in a real grey area because there’s no deposit, just part of a month’s worth of rent that she agreed to return upon me moving out.

So if she refuses to refund the money, my most likely course of action is to simply move as much of my stuff into that room as I can cram into there for the remainder of the month. Hopefully she’ll think better of it and be reasonable, but given the steady descent into irrationality she’s been showing I’m not confident.

JD

Ugh, I’ve had trouble with landlords before but never that bad. A few pieces of (non lawyer) advice.

  1. Deal with a clear head. If she is making you so pissed your hands are shaking, walk away. Loss of a few hundred dollars rent is nothing compared to the trouble you’ll be in if you lose it and punch a woman.

  2. Putting things in email is a good step, but try to put things in writing. I had a dickhead slumlord once. I knew from a friend he would always try to keep the damage deposit regardless of whether the property had been damaged. A little research showed me that I had a right in the state of Nebraska to get an itemized list of damages and the costs to repair them if I requested it in writing. When I did this, his verbal claim that he had to keep the whole deposit suddenly changed into a (somewhat reasonable) claim that he had to keep 1/5 of the deposit.

  3. Be a dick. A polite one, but still a dick. No law says you have to be nice when a landlord is trying to screw you. If you paid her with a check, stop payment on it (if still possible). Write a letter demanding the refund you believe you are owed and cite dates, check numbers, summaries of the verbal agreements made, etc. If she screws with you, find out if there is a local small claims court. That can be a good way to get the situation straightened out without having to pay for a lawyer.

Hey Rywill,

thanks for the lengthy reply. Some notes:

  1. In Wa state, a landlord cannot bar access to a rental for any reason - even if eviction proceedings have been started. If she physically attempts to stop me, or changes the locks then she’s in violation of the law. In Bellevue (a relatively sleepy area, Crossroads notwithstanding) that’s a crime that they will come out and arrest her for. It also immediately makes her liable for a whole shit ton of damages.

  2. I agree her wanting to be able to deduct damage out of the remaining rent is reasonable - and if it turns out there is damage that I caused (under the bed or something, who knows not me) I’m not going to dispute it. There isn’t any such damage though (I checked). But legally there is no security fee - but also legally she’s not obliged to return the remaining rent money to me. Hence if she refuses my immediate recourse will simply be to keep the keys and store lots of my shit in that room.

  3. I’m glad that you’d feel nervous if you were her attorney and you got that letter. :D Some of the phrasings I used were deliberately chosen to make it clear the extent of the financial & emotional suffering I’m enduring. I’m not kidding - it really does suck to go back there; when I’m hitting the end of my workday I get acid in my stomach. I hate uncomfortable home environments.

I had a similar freakish experience in Long Island when I lived in the upstairs apartment of a house. Apparently it’s common knowledge that you should never live in the same building or house as the owner - it just ends up being too much of a hassle.

I ended up getting evicted from the apartment because I left the lights on in both the bedroom and the living room too many times. They were complete psychos.

It really boggled my mind, since I’m a super quiet tenant, and at the time I was completely addicted to Everquest (back in 1999/2000) so I spent the majority of my time in the apartment at my computer desk with no music. It made me wonder what the landlord expected - from my experience it could have been much, much worse.

In any case, I would suggest that you print out the renter’s code or what have you just in case you need a fist full of paper to shove in this lady’s face should she get all up in your grill. You’ve been more than accomodating and good for you for sticking up for yourself. She just would have kept pushing and pushing.

It’s easy for me to believe everything but the arrest part. But if you say the police will arrest her, I’ll take your word for it.

  1. I agree her wanting to be able to deduct damage out of the remaining rent is reasonable - and if it turns out there is damage that I caused (under the bed or something, who knows not me) I’m not going to dispute it. There isn’t any such damage though (I checked).

Right, but my point is that she may not know that. In other words, the fact that she says “I’m holding your remaining rent until I check the room for damage” is totally reasonable and not cause for you to fear that she intends to steal the money. Unless she has already seen the room, of course, in which case I would be a lot more suspicious.

But legally there is no security fee - but also legally she’s not obliged to return the remaining rent money to me. Hence if she refuses my immediate recourse will simply be to keep the keys and store lots of my shit in that room.

I would not bank much on that hypertechnical “no security fee” argument. You have no right without a remedy, and I doubt any court in the nation would back you up if you said “Hey, maybe there was damage, but all she has is excess rent, not a security fee, so she can’t recover from me.” I’m sure you’re right, though, that she has no right to break the lease early (although as mentioned you have problems of proof on your end–nothing documents the terms of the lease). If anything, she should be paying YOU something extra for accomodating her. But that’s sort of water under the bridge at this point, since you’ve agreed to leave and she has your money and the only real question is how you’re going to get it back.

But like I said, at this point I’d just wait and see what she does. Maybe she’ll refund the money and all this hand-wringing is for nothing. Take your witness, go down there and ask for what’s reasonable, and if she absolutely refuses, follow through on your plan. Although keep in mind that the more you use the room, the less you can legitimately ask her to return to you, which it sounds like is your main goal. I mean, you want money, not a storage room, right?

Here’s her latest reply.

So she’s conflating finding a damp spot on a carpet into “pees everywhere.” She’s also apparently mad that he sometimes barks (the room is next to the stairs, when her dogs come down the stairs he sometimes barks… not like constant barking - just letting out one or two barks. As for the shedding - I don’t know where the hell she’s getting that. Dogs shed. It’s what they do.

Also - the demand to be paid hourly for her to be there while I move out is absurd. I will have to contemplate my reply… I’m certain I make more hourly than she does - maybe I should bill her for the hours I’ve spent dealing with this shit?

JD

Wow this woman is insane.

She has no choice but to “trust you” to move out. She can’t dictate when you leave.

And I agree with your storage room strategy… If she wants to keep the rent for bullshit reasons, keep the money. Bring your dog over when you access your storage room. :)

I love how she’s talking about how she’s lost a lot of time by taking you for a walk in the park. :) LOL.

“I wanted to help you as one dog person to another”

This woman is nuts.

“I took you for a walk in the park”

What, she’s thinks you’re a dog and she’s walking you now? Total nuts.

All these things she mentioned, talking with you, etc, are just the normal costs associated with business. Maybe she can deduct it from her taxes as a business expense.

But, forget about that. Arguing rationally with her is as pointless as arguing rationally with Gideongamer. This woman is batshit insane.

Just get the !@#$ out of there as fast as you can, consider your out of pocket expenses to be an expensive life lesson, and be thankful she didn’t slip arsenic into your tea.

Futhermore, this holiday season, if anyone gives you flack for not getting them anything for christmas, tell them what happened with you and your batshit insane landlady.

Wow, she’s nuts. Looking forward to the conclusion of this story.

The best part of this situation for you is knowing that she’s insane and will NEVER find a tenant that will please her. She’s going to run through tenants like crazy.

Now, what have we learned? Never trust your living space (nor anything at all remotely important) with a stranger over a verbal agreement. You can cite tenant laws at her until she’s blue in the face, J. Do you have any way to prove you have a right to be living there in the first place? No offense, but did you really move into a strange house with a strange person with no signed documentation of any kind? Seriously Jeff - that’s like asking a complete stranger to watch your stuff for you for a couple hundred bucks. Sure, she looked sane and okay initially, but check the sitch now.

That’s the thing with person to person small-scale tenement arrangements: usually, at least 1 of the 2 parties involved is bananas. It’s like, why does this person need a place to stay in an off-the-books type manner (not you specifically, Jeff - I had a pal who was always on the move because his credit was shit and he had drug problems)? Or, why is this room for rent, and nobody has snagged it yet? It’s analogous to dating in your 30’s: keep your eye out for the baggage.

I’ll tell you straight-up: I think this old bag is trying to run you. Rotsa ruck getting a refund on your rent (did you even get a receipt or anything?), clazy lound-eye. And dude, it’s probably too late now, but I don’t even have to access the “Star Wars Makes Perfect Sense!” convolutional logic center in my brain to see how your plan to roll over there with your pal Lurch and demand a few hundo from Ma Barker looks a lot like a fucking shakedown.

“You’re gonna let me keep my stuff here the rest of the month, see? And you’re gonna give me my dough back, right? Maybe I’ll ask Bruno here to ask ya for it. Trust me, you don’t want Bruno to ask you, geddit? Bruno, he asks questions widdis hands, usually.”

I mean, wow, the cops are gonna take one look at you and Granny Gumps, a 1/4 look at your pal, and it’s all uphill from there. Your star witness there might get some play for that day, but he wasn’t there for the official recitation of the living agreement when you moved in. I dunno, it probably will work out okay, things usually go a quieter way than events precipitating it might indicate.

Back in med school, I rented a room at this house that was right down the street from the hospital. It was this crazy house that was converted into a doctor’s office and then back into a house. So, it had two master bedrooms (which were the two docs’ offices) and 3 guest bedrooms (exam rooms) and a completely fruity layout, if you can imagine the fallout from turning the living room into a waiting room, the dining room and kitchen into a break room, and then back again. See, the old nutbag who rented the joint (who, fortunately, did not actually reside there) was a nurse whose husband was a doctor. But, he died and thus the conversion. She was this weird old German broad, who used to get plowed on some form of hard liquor and then call the house asking for her dead husband and show up at 7AM on Saturdays wanting to shoot the shit. 7AM Saturday morning, as we all know, is never ever good for visitors. In med school, you’re either post-call and getting home around then (if you pull the horrendously unlucky Friday call), or you’re just beat down from the week (like anyone ) and/or threw a few chilly ones down to numb the pain of a wayward life’s outcome the night before (ibid).

But, you know, it was cheap and this silly cute girl a year ahead of me lived there, who apparently had been raised by wolves, because she said it was one of the best places she ever lived - I think she suffered from POOD (Perpetual Optimistic Outlook Disease), or what I refer to as SSS (Strawberry Shortcake Syndrome). Cheap, my own master bedroom with attached bath, hot roommate, close to the hospital (which was in a rancid part of town, but the house was so damn close it was in the business sector and flanked by offices, so the sketch factor was attenuated some. And, you know, the Glock and all)…What could go wrong?

The prank calls and GOOOOOOOOOOD MORRRRNING! drop-ins (“I called, but nobody answered!”) were the easy part. I don’t think she had the scratch to fix problems in the place when they came up, so she figured she just sort of ignore them and/or blame us for it all. The mailbox rots off its post and falls on the ground. I turn on the shower, and worn-out seals let the knob blow off and nearly take out one of my kneecaps. I use the guest shower for half the time I’m there (a 6-month eternity). I start to like the broken stuff, because it forces her into hiding. But then, in January, the heat goes out.

I learn why the darling little girl who already lives there was so eager to have me move in. It wasn’t, as I previously hoped, because of my stupifyingly large penis and je ne sais quoi, it was because I was a mouthy clown and I had little problem telling that crazy old bag what-for when she retorted to my informing her of the busted-ass furnace with:

“I came over yesterday afternoon and turned it on, and it worked fine.”

“Really? It worked during the warmest part of the day after being shut off for 14 hours? Because, at around 1AM, it wakes me up because it’s trying to warm up the house, but instead it’s just blowing cold ambient air into my face.”

Or, even better:

“What, you’re going to medical school and you can’t figure out how to fix the furnace?”

“I was sick the day they taught Furnace Malfunctions in Pathology class. My bad.”

So, 10 days later with no heat, me and Jenny are sleeping in mummy bags in the wait^H^H^Hliving room like we’re in an ice cave on the face of K-2. Around day 8, I think Scott Glenn climbed in through a window and muttered something about respecting the Mountain God, but I was probably delerious. We sleep near the fireplace, but we don’t use it - I tried, the flume is busted shut. I’ll give the old broad one notch in the plus column, by day 10 we were in the same sleeping bag together (rather, we conjoined-zipped the two to accommodate the both of us), and I’ve never been opposed to Frotteurism by no-fault circumstance. However, thanks to long, soul- and libido-killing hours in OB-GYN (six weeks and I never even had the urge to masturbate. Can you conceive of such a thing? Look at fat smelly prison-inmate poontang all day, and you can) and that it’s grody freezing out, it’s hard to get all candlelight and champagne-glass romantic, y’know?

I call up Mrs. Deadspouse: “Yeah, the heat still don’t work, which is crazy considering you, you know, never had it fixed or anything.”

“Well, it worked yesterday when I-”

“No, see, ha ha ha (<-crazy person laugh), see, we’re not doing that anymore. The heat doesn’t work. Fix it. Fix it, or we’re out of here and I’m going to sue you and file a complaint with the the county over your shitty slumlord tactics.” I would have broke out of there months ago, but see, there was Jenny, and I swear on my cock she literally pleaded with me, little hands tugging on my arm, big Puss’n’Boots blue eyes looking up at me, to stay. That, and on day 9 I heard her get berated by Mrs. Roper over the heat. Jenny’s Catholic, so she she just took all the abuse, apologized nonstop for nothing, and felt guilty as Hell all day.

So, on the morning of day 10, I wasn’t even cold. I was snuggling up to an inner Hellfire. I felt like stuffing this old bag into a fucking box.

“Get someone over here today. Not tomorrow, or next week; today. Take your booze money and spend it on soemthing productive this week.”

“…Is Jenny there?”

“Yes, but she’s in a hypothermic coma and can’t come to the phone. We have nothing more to talk about with you until the heat gets fixed here.”

“Do you have a space heater?”

“No (actually, we did, but that would spoil my groove to admit as much), I figure on burning the busted-ass mailbox in my busted-ass shower for heat.” CLICK. I had to hang up at that point, becuase the next thing preparing itself to come out of my mouth was to tell her to eat a steaming box of fuck, and I wanted to retain the upper hand, diplomatically speaking.

The heat got fixed. No apologies were ever tendered. She actually called me up two days later and asked me, and I quote if there was “anything else [I] want[ed] to bitch about?”

“Yeah, all the other broke shit here is -surprise! - still broke.”

When I moved out, I had to essentially sanitize every square inch of my room, figuring she’d pull the No-refund cleaning deposit gag on me if I didn’t. Boy, was she mad about that. She even wrote “Deposit Only” on my refund, so that she had the day to look over the house and stop payment in case she found something. Part of that was me moving the single-sized bed outta there to make room for my queen, which in itself was the first major hurdle in living there (“but, the room already has a bed.” “That bed is as hard as a brick with the added bonus of being as wide as one.” “You’re responsible for moving everything back!” “Whatever, Hildegard.”).

Never did that again. Apartments and formal renter company-controlled houses, thanks.

I’m beginning to think she got a better rental offer and is trying to kick you out with any excuses possible so she can pocket more dough from the next unlucky soul who has to deal with her.

Or, then again, she’s just fucking nuts.

I HEART BILL.

This thread has a distinctly voyeuristic feel, which I love, but I still haven’t answered the question that drove me to click on it: What’s “e/n”?

Everything/Nothing

jeffd, and I say this as someone who’s been in your shoes, you fucked up – getting into an oral rental agreement with someone you don’t know is worse than playing games on the internet with random strangers. I know the situation burns you up, but if you relax a bit and count the $238 (+damages) as the cost of a cheap legal lesson rather than something you need to get back it’ll go much smoother.

I don’t mean “let the whole thing go”, just go after it with Chow Yun Fat’s grim coolness (bust out two pistols and, errr – just kidding!) and don’t sweat it because your money may already be gone, but you’ve already gotten something out of it. Sure, take it to small claims court – but mostly to learn how it works, as even if you win there is a good chance you won’t get enough to be worth the hassle from a financial/emotional standpoint.

Also, avoid the tit-for-tat moving all your shit into the room unless it will truly make you feel better. It’s enough that she can’t rent the room while renting it to you.

Thanks Bill! Your brand of alternately understated and over-the-top rant really made my evening. :-)