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October 22, 2008 8:00 AM

Mold, broken dishwasher vex tenant

Posted by Elizabeth Rhodes

Q: After moving into our rental house, we discovered the dishwasher didn't work. Several months later the landlord has done nothing about this. We also discovered the house has mold, which the landlord will neither get removed nor allow us to remove and then deduct the work from our rent. What are our options?

A: Read your lease to see if it gives your landlord the option of not repairing (or replacing) broken appliances. It very likely doesn't, which means your landlord must provide you with a working dishwasher -- not because rentals must have dishwashers, but because you leased your house with the understanding you had one.

If your landlord won't repair yours, the state's Landlord Tenant Act allows you to do repairs, then deduct the cost from your next month's rent.

It's important to note that you must follow the law exactly, says Kirkland attorney John Rongerude, or risk being evicted for not paying the full rent.

The Tenants Union's Web site, explains the steps involved in repair and deduct, and also gives other options for renters in your situation.

As for the mold, Rongerude says this is "a hard issue because it's something that develops inside the building with common use. Mold that grows in bathrooms and kitchens is just a cleaning issue. It's not something that's the landlord's fault."

Most molds are cosmetically unappealing, but not dangerous to the home's inhabitants, he adds. The few that pose a health threat are expensive to remove "and nothing you'll be able to do on your own in a practical sense."

If you think mold is making you sick, consider getting it tested to see what strain it is. Then if the results alarm you, talk to your landlord about breaking your lease. Should the landlord decline to work with you, contact an attorney to explore your options.

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