How doI get back my security deposit, plus related costs,if the condition of the rental was worse than what was represented?

I found a house to rent; it’s in need of lots of cleaning and minor repairs. I came to a verbal agreement with the landlord to clean and fix the place for a $400 security deposit. I went in and took pictures of everything. I gave her the $400 for first month rent, and had planned to give her $400 for last months rent on 08/01 so that I could move in. I haven’t signed a lease. While I was cleaning I had an electrician come in to change ceiling fans and look around. The electrician says the wiring in the house is bad and could cause a fire. And while I asked the landlady about water spots in the roof she told me it was fixed and dried in but since I’ve been doing this work it has been leaking. There is black mold in 1 of the ceilings. I have told her about it all but she doesn’t seem to want to fix anything I have mentioned to her. She thinks I should repair it all but our agreement was minor repairs not roofing and electrical. I am not sure how to proceed with her. Will I get my $400 firsts month rent back plus all the supplies and work I have put in to the house. I am a single mom and can’t afford this kind of thing. I need help understanding what to do.

Asked on July 18, 2010 under Real Estate Law, Florida

Answers:

S.L,. Member, California Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 10 years ago | Contributor

If the landlord does not return your $400, you could sue her for that amount plus the cost of your supplies and your labor in working on the place.  If there wasn't any agreement as to your hourly rate or other rate of compensation, you could recover the reasonable value of your labor based on the market rate for such work in your community.

Although you only had a verbal agreement, you could still sue the landlord for breach of contract because you paid $400 due to detrimentally relying on the landlord's representations as to the condition of the premises.  Detrimental reliance means that you would not have entered into the agreement, paid the $400, purchased the supplies and worked on the place had you known about the faulty electrical wiring, mold, water leak, etc.

Your lawsuit against the landlord for breach of contract should also include an additional cause of action (claim) for misrepresentation since the landlord did not disclose the dangerous conditions on the premises such as the faulty electrical wiring, mold, water leak, etc.  Misrepresentation is intentional misstatement or omission or nondisclosure of a material fact to induce your reliance causing you damage.  Here, the landlord did not disclose the dangerous conditions in order to induce you to pay $400 and make all repairs.

Your photos of the condition of the premises including photos of the mold, water leak,  and a statement under penalty of perjury from the electrician regarding the faulty wiring being a fire hazard will provide you with additional evidence in support of your claim.  This evidence is important because the problem with verbal agreements is that it becomes your word against the landlord's.

Damages (the amount you  are seeking in your lawsuit) should include the $400 deposit, cost of your supplies and labor as mentioned above.  You should also include court costs such as the court filing fee and process server fee.  You may be able to file your lawsuit in Small Claims Court.

If you had entered into a lease, you could have terminated the lease and sued the landlord for breach of the implied warranty of habitability.  The implied warranty of habitability is a part of every lease and requires that the condition of the premises be habitable by conforming to local or state housing codes.  The dangerous conditions on the premises (mold, faulty electrical wiring, water leak, etc.) would  breach the implied warranty of habitability.

 


IMPORTANT NOTICE: The Answer(s) provided above are for general information only. The attorney providing the answer was not serving as the attorney for the person submitting the question or in any attorney-client relationship with such person. Laws may vary from state to state, and sometimes change. Tiny variations in the facts, or a fact not set forth in a question, often can change a legal outcome or an attorney's conclusion. Although AttorneyPages.com has verified the attorney was admitted to practice law in at least one jurisdiction, he or she may not be authorized to practice law in the jurisdiction referred to in the question, nor is he or she necessarily experienced in the area of the law involved. Unlike the information in the Answer(s) above, upon which you should NOT rely, for personal advice you can rely upon we suggest you retain an attorney to represent you.