After finding an apartment in late August for $475 a month, sophomore Nahid Ibrahim felt like pinching herself.
Instead, she said, bed bugs did that for her.
Sandwiched on the second floor of her 3315 N. Park Ave. apartment building, the transfer theater student said she slept in fear and had woken up to mysterious blemishes seared across her arms.
“I don’t really feel safe in my apartment because I’m scared that maybe I’ll be sleeping and a mouse will crawl into my mouth or a cockroach into my ear, lay eggs and I’ll die or something,” said Ibrahim, who lived alone.
When a student’s concerns shift from making the grade to becoming a living Roach Motel, it’s usually time to find a new place. For many students, apartment hunting can be an arduous task requiring consideration of many factors: rent, convenience and, of course, proximity to Wawa. Although inundated with options, renters are guaranteed to live in a “clean, safe place” as mandated by the implied warranty of habitability, a 1978 amendment to Philadelphia City’s Landlord Tenant Act of 1951.
The warranty binds landlords to abide by certain housing codes where, if violated, the tenant may “have the property repaired using the rent money or [withhold] the rent until the landlord complies with completing the repairs necessary,” said Joe McDermott, director of the Philadelphia Municipal Court Dispute Resolution Program and adjunct law professor at Temple.
“I don’t think it’s normal to live in a house with mice and cockroaches and a place where I can’t leave a trash can without mice getting to it,” Ibrahim said.
Neither did Department of Licenses and Inspections, which found Ibrahim’s landlord, Ali Jooben, in violation of five regulations. If her apartment walls could speak, they would probably say “ouch.” Ibrahim said mice chewed nine holes through the wooden walls of her one bedroom apartment.
She said the insects were so persistent that she would clean the bathroom with bleach daily to repel the critters, and added that the bleach served to combat the stench of sewage that flooded the bottom floor days after she moved in.
Since L&I shut down the apartment house on Oct. 13, Ibrahim said she has been unable to contact Jooben to retrieve owed money. Jooben was unavailable for comment. McDermott said most landlords aren’t as negligent.
“Landlords generally want to keep their property up to the necessary standards since this is their investment property,” McDermott said. “Leaks will only cause the value of the property to drop, infestation from mice or rats can damage wiring or walls, electrical problems can lead to fires and injury to tenants. Most landlords want to do the right thing and most tenants want to pay the rent.”
Some landlords don’t uphold their responsibilities and consequently find themselves in court. McDermott said they were never landlords to begin with.
“There is much more to being a landlord then collecting rent,” McDermott said. “Those individuals who are not aware of their roles and responsibilities are generally the landlords that will encounter problems with their tenants.”
McDermott said renters should give the landlord a fair chance before calling L&I.
“Before you call [L&I], give the landlord enough time, and put it in writing,” McDermott said. “Three weeks, two weeks, whatever you think is enough time. If you just call L&I, you’re starting a bad relationship with your landlord.”
Before signing a lease, McDermott said tenants can avoid paying for unwarranted damages by surveying and photographing all areas of the apartment. He says the same precautions should be taken when moving out.
The acting executive director of the Philadelphia Fair Housing Commission, Rachel Lawton, said reading the lease carefully and taking pictures isn’t enough.
Renters need to outline their wants and needs with the landlord before moving in, she said.
“If there is anything that is important to you, like pets or frequent guests that is not in the lease discuss it up front and get it written into the lease,” Lawton said.
Any disagreement over the lease once signed is usually settled in municipal court, with filing fees between $54 and $75, McDermott said. Lawton said it’s usually landlords taking tenants to court for not upholding their one responsibility – paying rent.
Getting the law involved is sometimes unavoidable, but in many cases unnecessary. McDermott said the Dipute Resolution Program offered by the Philadelphia Municipal Court is a mediation program that offers complainants an alternative to a court hearing, citing an 80 percent agreement rate between parties. He said parties are more willing to agree when they have something to lose.
“Landlords don’t want to evict you, because they may get somebody worse and tenants don’t really want to leave, because there is a cost in moving,” McDermott said.
McDermott said tenants can file an action by contacting the First Filing Unit of the Philadelphia Municipal Court at (215) 686-2900.
Some of a tenant’s rights as guaranteed under
federal, state and municipal laws:
· A clean, safe place to live, in compliance with the warranty of habitability.
· Structurally sound building
· Waterproof roofs, ceilings and walls.
· Walls and woodwork properly painted (paint should not be peeling from walls)
· Adequate heat in winter
· Hot and cold running water
· Bathroom equipment and drains that work properly.
· Apartment/house free from infestation with roaches and/or rodents.
· A building with smoke detectors, fire extinguishers and fire escapes.
· Repairs made promptly and properly by property owner/manager.
· Enforce the right to habitable premises by using legal remedies such as repair and deduct, rent reduction, rent withholding, or move out of uninhabitable premises with the right to recover all prepaid rent and deposits.
· Note: Consult with a housing counselor or your attorney before using any of the above remedies.
· For a complete list of tenant rights visit: https://www.temple.edu/housing/offcampus/resource_documents/tenants_rights.pdf.
– Source: Temple’s Office of Off-Campus Housing Web site.
The Dispute Resolution Program can be contacted at (215) 686-2975, or https://courts.phila.gov/municipal/civil.
Steve Wood can be reached at email@example.com.