Can i get out of a lease if the premises is in violation of building, fire, and eletrical codes?

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Can i get out of a lease if the premises is in violation of building, fire, and eletrical codes?

3 months ago my girlfriend and I moved into a basement apartment, owned by an off-site landlord. After numerous water leaks in the kitchen (which continue to happen even after the landlord “fixes” them), I started digging around and found that basement apartments are illegal in this area. In fact, my landlord never even got building, plumbing, or electrical permits for this place. In addition, the windows in the sleeping area are not up to code (too small and too high off the ground). I called the building department and fire departments, but they didn’t care, saying, “What’s done is done”.

Asked on October 25, 2010 under Real Estate Law, Washington

Answers:

M.T.G., Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 10 years ago | Contributor

I would seek help as soon as you can from an attorney in your area.  Generally speaking you can not rent an apartment that is illegal.  But many landlords do and they get away with it.  Also, many tenants know that the apartment is illegal but because the rent is cheap they do not care.  If you continue to stay and pay rent and then choose to get out of the lease and sue for back rent later, you may be out of luck.  Judges don't loom favorably on waiting to cash in until it is best for you.  In other words, act quickly here.  You may have no renters rights here because you do not have the right to occupy the apartment or you continue to do so knowing it is illegal. But you most likely have a right to walk away as the lease was void from the start.  Good luck.


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