9

Problem Overview

I live in an apartment in Georgia and the tenant above me is smoking a lot of marijuana every day and has been doing so for the last three months. While inside the apartment, I continuously experience health issues because I seem to be more sensitive to the fumes than the average person. This evening, for example, my resting heart rate within the apartment has been consistently hovering over 100. I suffer under the symptoms even when the fumes are very weak and barely noticeable. The fumes are entering my apartment through the HVAC system even when the system is turned off, my windows are open, and two air purifiers are on. I spend virtually every day in my apartment for almost the entire day.

Steps Taken and the Current Stage

I'm 33% through my 12-month-lease that I signed with my roommate and my roommate refuses to break the lease even if I pay for the termination fees. Upon complaining to the smoker, the smoker denies everything. However, the fumes could be smelled from his windows when he used to have them open while smoking. Ever since I complained, the smoker has been shutting his windows. My roommate and I have complained to the management company in writing but it seems that they are afraid to do anything, possibly because of potential legal repercussions from the smoker. I have called the police twice, but they arrived 30-60 minutes after the smoking occurred and the smell had already faded.

Data

When the smoking occurs, I also notice several red bars appear on my air purifier air quality indicator. Many samples of my resting heart rate with a sensor reveal that it is 65-75bpm when outside the apartment and 80-110bpm when inside the apartment. My roommate smells the marijuana fumes too, but is not as sensitive to the fumes as I am and only experiences a subset of my above symptoms at a much milder level. The tenant above the smoker also notices the fumes, but only barely.

Questions

Is it possible for me to break the lease?

Is it possible for me to sublease, even if my roommate disagrees with every person I choose for the sublease? (postponed for another question)

What is the recommended action for me at this stage?

  • What does it say in the lease? – Dale M Jun 16 '15 at 3:20
  • The second question you pose should be entered separately, since it is independent of the first, and the answer is presumably independent of the detailed circumstances informing the first question. – feetwet Jun 16 '15 at 3:28
  • @ Dale M: Smoking is disallowed in the apartment. Possession of illegal drugs is prohibited in the community. Lease can be broken with 60 days notice and forfeiture of one months rent and the security deposit. Is there anything in particular I should check in the lease? Thanks – Wuschelbeutel Kartoffelhuhn Jun 16 '15 at 3:29
  • 60 days notice is unnecessary if the landlord breaks lease by not maintaining a healthy environment, as defined by various laws. In some situations, a single day is sufficient notice if things are bad enough, though your situation wouldn't qualify for that extreme. – Taejang Jun 17 '15 at 13:19
7

Short answer: Yes, you can get out. However, this will be harder than you may want it to be.


You will need to check your lease agreement for an arbitration clause. If the lease mentions disagreements will be handled by arbitration (or an arbiter), you need to know that going into this. Arbitration clauses usually stipulate that the landlord picks the arbiter, who will almost always be predisposed to side with the landlord.

This pamphlet sheds insight into the situation. Skip down to PDF page 22, section header "My neighbors are constantly playing loud music..." Summarized, you can get out but if other tenants are not as affected, it will be hard to prove it affects you differently. You do, however, have the benefit of knowing the particular situation is illegal (as compared to the pamphlet's example of playing music, which is only situationally illegal).


First, get written, signed testimony from other tenants (your roommate, the one above the smoker, etc). Preferably, get these signatures notarized. The testimony should include an acknowledgement that the signer has smelled the marijuana and a statement about how often this occurs, along with the date of signature.

Next, send a certified letter to your landlord. Keep a copy of this letter. In it, state your intention to move unless they fix the situation within thirty (30) days. Remind them you already have informed them of this situation. Inform them you have (hopefully notarized) testimony of the marijuana smoking from other tenants, remind them that this is illegal, and that this is affecting your health. You may also warn them that if they do not rectify the situation and you leave after thirty days, they cannot keep your deposit or charge you a termination fee- they have breached your lease contract through failure to maintain a safe and livable rental unit (a gentle reminder that you will seek legal action if they attempt to keep your deposit or charge you fees is appropriate). In the letter, request an immediate, written response with their intentions on the matter, and give a deadline (like 3 days from receipt). As a certified letter, you will know when they get it.

The wording of this letter is important. You want to clearly state the facts without sounding self-righteous, angry, or vindictive. And proofread the heck out of it.

If the landlord is faced with possible legal action for forcing an illegal tenant to follow the law, and certain legal action for trying to keep a legal tenant to remain in illegal, harmful circumstances, they may well decide to oust the smoker. If your scare tactic doesn't work, however, you should make good on the threat- really do leave after thirty days, and if they attempt to charge you for anything or withhold your deposit, you really should contact a lawyer.

You should also, however, have the money saved to pay the termination fees, just in case. Because the smoke affects you differently, and there is no easy way to prove this, an unsympathetic court (or arbiter) may rule against you.


(NOTE: I am not a lawyer, but I did have to break a lease and spent a good deal of time researching and discussing my situation with a lawyer. In the end I lost my deposit but did not have to pay any fees or missed rent.)

  • Thanks for your detailed answer. If the court/arbiter rule against me, I'll have to pay rent until the lease is over (approx. $5000 in total rent), correct? At this point I'd be happy to just pay the termination fee (approx. $1700 in fees) just as long as I can get out out the lease (saving $5000-$1700=$3300). My roommate does not want to break the lease. – Wuschelbeutel Kartoffelhuhn Jun 17 '15 at 2:13
  • I'm not sure about Georgia law (and any local laws that may apply), but usually they can't charge you the entire duration of rent if you aren't there. Two months is standard, but they can only do that if it is worded correctly in the contract. Particularly if someone is still in the unit paying the full amount, you can take them to court for getting paid twice for the same service. A court would likely only penalize you by charging you rent until the unit was filled again. – Taejang Jun 17 '15 at 13:11
  • In a co-lease, either party can break the lease and leave. Your roommate is free to renegotiate another lease after you have left (and if a friend, he/she should be understanding of your leaving). Don't antagonize your roommate! He/she is an important witness for your side if it ends up in court/arbitration, not to mention friendship in general. – Taejang Jun 17 '15 at 13:14
  • This is valuable input. I have one reservation, however: When I talked with the leasing office, I was told that both parties of the co-lease have to agree to break the lease. – Wuschelbeutel Kartoffelhuhn Jun 17 '15 at 21:05
  • @WuschelbeutelKartoffelhuhn Oh? That is interesting. That falls outside of my knowledge; you may want to see if that is actually true or not. If the leasing office you speak of is connected to the apartment, read your lease for details. If it isn't in the lease (or a document referred to in the lease), it isn't true unless it is a law. You may need to check with someone aware of local laws on that one. – Taejang Jun 17 '15 at 21:18

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