Do I have to give 20-days notice in an emergency situation?

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Do I have to give 20-days notice in an emergency situation?

My boyfriend and I were looking for an earring in our bathroom sink drain pipe when we found a used syringe. We notified the landlord of the syringe, sent written and verbal notice, and moved out the following week. We feel that the landlord breached her contract by failing to give us a healthy, safe place to live. We feel entitled to the remainder of May rent, plus our deposit. She mailed us our deposit check however she is demanding the full month of June rent because she feels we breached our contract by not giving enough notice. Even the health department felt they breached their contract.

Asked on June 1, 2012 under Real Estate Law, Washington

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 9 years ago | Contributor

Unfortunately, the health department's opinion is irrelevant in this regard.

If you were on a month to month lease, you owe 30 days notice except when the landlord has breached his/her obligations in some significant way; the most likely violation from what you write would be the implied warranty of habitabiltiy, or the obligation to provide habitable premises, fit for their intended purpose. From what you write, the landlord likely did NOT breach this warranty in a way which would justify early termination. That is because:

1) A syringe in a drain does not impact health or safety: it's not affecting your drinking supply and you would not normally be sticking your hand in the drain. Conditions that do not prevent the safe inhabitation of the premises--even if they are "gross" or "scary" to you personally--do not violate the warranty.

2) Even if the syringe did pose a hazard, landlords are not held to a standard of perfection--that is, they are not expected to never allow a  potentially unhealthy situation to arise. Instead, they are expected to deal with the situation in a reasonable way when it comes to light. If you report a syringe and the landlord removes it, the landlord has fulfilled his/her obligations and you have no right to terminate the lease.

I handle around 100 landlord-tenant cases per year; based on my experience, I would be confident that a judge would not rule that you had valid grounds to terminate your rental.

Therefore, if you were month to month, you have to provide at least 30 days notice, and if you don't, the landlord may hold you liable for a month's rent. Or if you were on a written lease for a definite period (e.g. the standard 1-year lease), the landlord could hold you liable for the full remaining balance of the lease, and only charging you 1 month rent may be very generous on the landlord's part.


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