In August of this year, the St. Louis Post Dispatch reported that Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley sued The St. Louis Housing Authority and the company that manages the Clinton-Peabody Housing Complex. The grounds for the lawsuit centered on multiple counts of failure to fix mold, mice infestations, and structural issues. According to Hawley (as reported in the St. Louis Post Dispatch) “Missouri law gives tenants the right to live in a safe and properly maintained home, and I am committed to ensuring that this vital right is vindicated.”
Although Hawley’s suit against the St. Louis housing complex is a rare and high profile case, it does bring to mind the question of when a tenant can or should file a lawsuit against his or her landlord. In most cases, tenants and landlords enter into the mutually-beneficial agreement of a lease with good faith and trust: the landlord trusts the tenant to pay the agreed-upon amount on time, and the tenant trusts the landlord to provide safe and habitable housing. On some occasions, the landlord fails to follow through on this agreement, whether from a failure of communication or an aversion to spending money. But when does a landlord’s negligence warrant a lawsuit?
The question is not an easy one. A successful lawsuit against a landlord is often a long and difficult process, but there are undoubtedly times when it is justified. Here are just a few examples:
Black mold can cause Mycotoxicosis, or “mold poisoning,” can have an adverse effect on the upper respiratory system. Mild poisoning symptoms include coughing, wheezing, and nose stuffiness, similar the symptoms you might encounter with a cold, but for those with allergies or asthma, mold poisoning can be especially harmful and even fatal. A landlord is obligated to investigate and eliminate the presence of black mold and other toxins in the housing units. For the rare case in which a landlord fails to respond to repeated complaints about toxic mold, legal action might be warranted, especially if the tenant has documented proof of the landlord’s failure to respond.
Injury due to unsafe housing premises
Injuries in which the landlord is responsible can be difficult to prove, but they are not unprecedented. If, for example, a tenant is struck by a falling branch from an untrimmed tree, or if a tenant slips on an icy sidewalk, then legal action might be warranted. In rare cases, injuries from unsafe housing can even occur inside the housing unit: a collapsing shelf or kitchen cabinet, an exposed tack strip, faulty wiring or electrical outlets, and more. Of course, injuries that happen inside the unit are especially difficult to prove because the landlord could easily blame tenant.
The landlord is responsible making sure the housing complex is a habitable environment. That means ensuring that the heat is on, the water is running, the electricity is working, and the housing unit is generally safe. Before considering a lawsuit, a tenant should make repeated attempts to communicate his or her concerns to the landlord. If the landlord fails to resolve these issues, a tenant usually has the right to withhold rent and even break the lease. Of course, in the most extreme circumstance, legal action may be warranted.
Just thinking about a mouse crawling through the cracks in the baseboards or a brown recluse making an unwelcome appearance on the walls is enough to make a potential tenant squirm, but these issues are common, especially in older, low-rent apartments. Infestations like these wreak havoc not only on our nerves but on our health. Rodents can spread disease by tainting the food, bedbugs can lead to infections, and spider-bites can end with a hospital visit. The landlord is expected to take these infestations seriously and do everything possible to eradicate them to prevent potential health hazards.
Lawsuits Against A Landlord
These are just a few of the reasons a tenant may find it necessary to sue the landlord. If you or a loved one is having a serious issue with a housing complex, what should you do first? Before anything else, remember to document everything, especially the communication (or lack thereof) between you and your landlord.
Most lawsuits against the landlord will take place in a small claims courts, and these cases you may be forced to defend yourself. The most common lawsuits of this kind involve less significant issues like disputes over security deposits. But other situations may arise in which a lawyer is necessary. If you find yourself serious injured and in need a personal injury trial lawyer, give Lieser Law Firm a call to discuss your options.