Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Fairhaven Rental - Off the Charts

At the end of my last blog posting, the Zonemaven promised an unvarnished tale from a renter. That tale follows. The Zonemaven was planning on providing comments but decided to let the story stand on its own. The email quotes below are from the mother of a WWU student. She recounts the recent experience of her and her daughter as they attempt to deal with the management of the daughter's rental. (The photos were taken by them.) It is a rather long read but worth the time.

On 6 Nov 10.

"My daughter is living in what I'm …sure is an unsafe split-level "apartment" in Bellingham. It is apparently a converted detached garage. It is very old. She is a student at WWU and supporting herself. I am visiting for the weekend from […]. I have been here once before and was not thrilled as it looks like an uninhabitable building; however, she assures me that for the rent ($545/mo) it is the best she can get.

She has had a chronic mold problem, but it has exploded in recent weeks. About 2 weeks ago maintenance men came to fix a leaking water heater which is located in the bathroom (and still has water dripping from overflow pipe). The bathroom has no opening windows nor exhaust fan, and definitely has a moisture problem. When they ventured along the side of the house they noticed that there are boards rotted and missing on the exterior with what appears to be moldy exposed insulation. The area of exposed insulation being about 1'x3'. They indicated this was a big problem and would notify the landlord. Nothing has been done. Yesterday, when we went to the property mgt. office, we were told the mgr. would be in Mon. so they would tell him and let my daughter know what he says on Tues.

While here this weekend, we discovered mold on the living room windows, curtain, and bookcase which are in close proximity to the hole in the exterior wall and above the bathroom. There is constant condensation on all upstairs and downstairs windows. To me it looks like the exterior wood siding may all be rotting to some degree (paint is peeled everywhere). It also appears (from insulation protruding inside between the floor and paneling, and which has been painted over) that the walls are made of only paneling, insulation, and exterior wood boards some of which are rotting/missing.

Well, you probably get the picture. I have just gone online to try to discover whom to contact and the health hazards involved with mold. My daughter wants it fixed, but of course doesn't want to move. The property management company, this summer, had her sign an early renewal for another one year lease. In over a year, she has never met the person who is her "property manager." Would building code enforcement be the place to start and would they come to do an inspection upon request? Seems we should start with the landlord, but at this point I do not trust them to put more than a Band-Aid on these problems, because I suspect they know about them."

On 9 Nov 10

"Just thought I'd let you know we filed a complaint with city planning dept. on Mon.

Called [...]prop mgt twice on Mon and the man in charge of that property didn't call back. Left a message that I was filing a complaint. (Also left a message on Fri for him.) No one seems to know his schedule or when he will return the call but they said he talked to the owner and maintenance man last week about what needs to be done to the place. I said it would be good if he gave us an update about that!

I imagine he will hear from the city before we hear from him. Sounded like that would be today. I'll keep you posted."

On 22 Nov 10

"She was finally able to meet with the inspector on Fri. He wrote in his report that a wall is "not structurally sound," roofing needs repair, and there needs to be a railing on the inside stairway. Not sure what else, but she is now going to let the property mgt know in writing with a copy of the inspection report attached. We know they knew about this more than 3 weeks ago when the maintenance men reported it, and they haven't returned numerous calls, but my daughter still has to put it in writing. She also met with the law students on campus on Fri which was apparently really helpful.

Oh, the inspector said she needed to contact that Clean Air group you mentioned regarding the mold. He doesn't inspect for that. Also, the city said they do not contact the owner or prop. mgt. that it is up to my daughter to do that which surprised us. I also wondered at what point they say a building is not inhabitable if the wall is not structurally sound?"

On 30 Nov 10

"My daughter feels like she doesn't have time to do any more than study for finals and look for a new place right now. Maybe when finals are done she can help by giving you the info first hand.

Turns out the city did let her know that they are contacting the property mgt or owner to say they need to fix the problems or abate the building, but my daughter doesn't know what the timeline is. [...]'s prop. mgr. has still not returned her messages.

She did say I could go ahead and send you photos, so some are attached. FYI-it is the bathroom window you can see at the bottom of the picture with the large hole. The inside photo is the corner above the bathroom."

11 Dec 10

"I just have to write anyway as things have gone from bad to worse and it will make me feel better! Never heard from [property management]... until yesterday when they called ME to say my daughter hadn't paid rent for Dec! I mentioned the inspector saying the wall was not structurally sound and that I found it amazing that they never contacted us about that, but only when rent was overdue! She hung up on me. I called back and another woman said while my daughter gave them the inspectors report on Nov 22, (and they knew of the problem from their maintenance men the first of Nov.) their broker said they needed a letter from the city before addressing the problems which they got on Nov 29 saying they needed to fix things within 30 days. They said they've been waiting to send people out to fix, but couldn't get a hold of my daughter because she had let them know her phone was lost (she gave them her email). I pointed out that they found a way to contact me about the RENT and that THEY KNOW WHERE SHE LIVES and could obviously have contacted her at the house. Tom (prop. mgr) did go out there today to intimidate her and tell her he's been to court lots of times and wins.

She went today to the free lawyer at the courthouse who said she has no rights if she didn't pay rent and... that Tom has been to court lots of times and wins because tenants don't do it right. Said even tho my daughter gave notice of the damage in writing, it was not in HER handwriting, (inspection report), and apparently them knowing of the problem a month earlier doesn't hold them accountable if she didn't put it in her writing. And they are fixing it now so she has no case.

She tried to rent another place today, but when they called [property management], even tho she had told them the story, they would not rent to her because [property management] gave negative responses about her to every question.

Plumber and person who came to look at the wall today were nice and supportive and shocked at the condition of the wall. Said hers is not the only [property management] property that doesn't get repairs done. Oh, she got a posted notice today to pay rent + late fee in 3 days or leave. I guess she is going to pay. She doesn't know what else to do. Tom at [property management] said she could leave while the work is being done and not have to pay rent during that time. woo woo. Don't really know if it is possible for her to stay while the work is being done if she wanted to. And she doesn't know when it is going to be done. Don't know if they will still hold her to her lease. Wouldn't surprise me.

Hope she can help with your blog. Might help things change for future tenants. It is so unfair.

On 13 Dec 10

"Just wanted to correct something I wrote. My daughter still has never met Tom. Her conversation last week was over the phone when he actually called her back for once.

Sounds like she is held to her lease since they are fixing it. She is going to pay tomorrow. A 2nd atty she consulted with Saturday agreed she doesn't have a case, but said she should talk directly with the contractor about repairs, whether she can stay while they repair, etc. instead of going through [property management]. So she is going to try that."

5 Jan 11

"Before [she] left WA, [property management] told her they were going to fix the place and she could stay if she wanted. They either didn't realize the extent of the problem or wanted to get 1 more month's rent out of her. As of about Dec 15 they had not applied for a permit from the city. When she returned from […] on Dec 29th there was a letter saying to please move as soon as she could because they are going to tear the building down and rebuild it. So they broke the lease and she hopes to get her deposit back though I don't at all trust them for that. I think I told you they gave her a bad reference when she tried to move out earlier in Dec. so another place would not rent to her (even though she told them the story). Then when [property management] wanted her to move out they gave her a decent reference so she could get into another place. She should have the last of her things out by now. Discovered there was only a sheet of paneling between her and the outside world in the place where the large hole was. She also had to throw away her bed because the wall was black with mold where it was up against the wall. I just hope she doesn't have health problems from this down the road."

The property owner is an LLC from British Columbia. If there is another side to this story from the management company or the owner, I would invite them to send me their comments. They know who they are.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

That kind of "Bad Apple" property management is not infrequent.
Beats me why mayor and council support this kind of thing by ALWAYS shelving counter action

Bellingham with its lack of city controls guarantees continuation of district decay