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Local News in Virginia

Handling A Slumlord Who’s Making Life Miserable

By Rosaland Tyler
Associate Editor
New Journal and Guide

If your landlord is making your life miserable because he refuses to maintain or improve the building that you live or work in, what are your options? You could tell your story to a local TV station like several female tenants who claimed their landlord wanted sexual favors for rent. “I’ve basically been hiding from him since I moved here,” Kenyatta Vann told WAVY.com in a May 20, 2014 report. She was one of several women who claimed their landlord, Camilo B. Delfinado, who owned more than 30 properties in Hampton, wanted sexual favors for rent. Meanwhile, Mavolyn Jenkins, who lived across the street from Vann, said on several occasions, whenever rent was due or late, Delfinado would make sexual advances in exchange for the payment.

“He sexually harassed me, came on to me in front of my child,” Jenkins said. “This is my child. She’s only three.” Police arrested the landlord, Delfinado, 71, who faced charges of abduction-extortion of money for immoral purpose/attempt to defile, attempted rape and three counts sexual battery, according to news reports. Delfinado was arraigned and his case was continued until May 28.

Meanwhile, in Richmond, a deputy escorted convicted slumlord Oliver C. Lawrence in handcuffs from the courtroom, after he received a 70-day sentence on more than 180 convictions on property-maintenance violations in November 2009, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch. “City officials had been fighting with Lawrence over the condition of his properties for more than two years,” the Richmond Times-Dispatch noted. “He owns 150 to 300 properties, according to city estimates.

In 2007, the city cited 175 violations on Lawrence’s buildings, including some in the 300 block of West Broad Street and the 200 block of East Grace Street that had been heavily damaged by suspicious fires.”Lawrence’s troubles were unlikely to end with his release in 70 days. His sentence also included fines of more than $177,000. Plus, city inspectors promised to keep the pressure on him. Or consider a third option, if you live a neighborhood that is littered with broken appliances, trash, rusted cars or tall grass. They are called nuisances. And if you scroll through the City of Norfolk’s website, you will learn about code violations.

When “any nuisance … exists upon any land or premises in the city,” Section 27-6 notes, the director of public works or his designee may serve, post, mail or deliver a notice that will cause the nuisance to “be abated from such land or premise within forty-eight (48) hours or in the time limit set forth in the notice.” In short, a landlord who refuses to maintain or improve the building where you live or work could be breaking the law. And he could be found guilty on a Class 2 misdemeanor. Also, a judge could order the landlord to pay penalties and correct the violation.

Or consider a fourth option. Before you move into rental property, check out websites that warn you about slumlords. One website, Slumlord Watch calls out people who own rundown and vacant properties in Richmond. Launched several years ago, the website lists more than 1300 vacant and blighted properties. A few times a week, a man spends time calling them out.
“I was surprised at how quickly it seemed to catch on,” said the website owner, who will not reveal his name. His website shows pictures of rundown properties and reveals owners. “The hope is that I do my part and sort of put a spotlight on these vacant properties and the vacant property owners, then other people will see that and maybe be outraged. Or maybe if they know the person they can say something to them and something will happen.”

Or consider this website called Don’t Rent Me.com, which features reviews from tenants. This website not only features state-by-state reviews but also has a Facebook account. Another option is to throw up your hands and move out. But it’s important to know that your landlord cannot keep your security deposit; although a recent survey showed that about a third of the renters (36 percent) did not get back their deposits. The tenants said the landlord gave no explanation which is illegal in 47 states. Unless you live in Louisiana, North Carolina or West Virginia, your landlord is required by law to give you a written account of charges to your security deposit.

“The security deposit is your money – make sure you take it with you on your way out,” U.S. News and World Report explained on March 13, 2013, offering four tips. To get your security back, document everything, especially all problems that existed before your signed the lease and moved in. Second, know the rules and follow them. Third, don’t leave a mess and give your landlord an excuse to delay the return of your security deposit. Fourth, know your rights as a renter.

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If you decide to move out and break your lease, get the facts. Lucas A. Ferrara, a Manhattan real estate lawyer, said that neither a landlord nor a tenant is permitted to break a lease unless the right to do so is in the lease agreement or given to the parties by a statute or regulation. Exceptions, however, could exist. Ferrara explained in The New York Times, “When a tenant is forced to leave an apartment because all or part of the space is unusable, that could be a justification for breaking the lease,” he said. ‘’If a tenant leaves because of issues relating to the apartment’s livability, that could excuse a tenant from having to pay the rent for the time remaining on the lease.’’

But it’s best to try to talk to the landlord, Ferrara said. “A tenant about to break a lease would be better off informing the landlord immediately. In my experience, in the interest of avoiding litigation, many landlords will work with their tenants to find a mutually acceptable solution,’’ he said, such as releasing the tenant from the remainder of the lease in exchange for a waiver of the return of the security deposit and/or pre-payment of several months’ rent.

While the city does not keep records on how many rentals exist in Norfolk, based on tax records about 43 percent of Norfolk housing is owner-occupied. This means the rental market in Norfolk adds up to more than 50 percent. Here is another option. If your landlord is a slumlord, contact HUD. On its website HUD says it is “a double crime against both tenants and taxpayers.” Hundreds of landlords, who operate eyesores, have been fined and/or debarred from doing business with the federal government as a result of failing to provide safe and decent housing for the poor, while enriching themselves on taxpayer-funded subsidies.

To report a bad landlord to HUD, please phone (800) 685-8470. One phone call will allow you to report complaints about property management, poor maintenance, mismanagement, fraud, and dangers to health and safety. Finally, consider these last two options. The Bureau of Community Enrichment offers workshops throughout the year that aim to improve landlord and tenant relationships. Or you can attend a first-time homebuyer’s workshop and stop being a tenant.

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