Pics or It Didn’t Happen: How to Hold Your Landlord Accountable
In a world where practically, everyone carries a 4K camera with autofocus, image stabilization, stereo microphones, and every bell, whistle, and slider imaginable in their pocket, we are often met with a simple response when claiming something unbelievable or outrageous, “Pics or it didn’t happen.” It stands to reason, therefore, that a story about especially bad conditions in your home should be documented in some way at the time you discover them so that either the landlord has an opportunity to fix the problem, or someone in the future, like a judge or jury can see the situation for themselves and decide on how negligent the landlord was in failing to do something about it. With that in mind, here are some suggestions for creating a record of what happened.
Make a Paper Trail
All communications should be in writing. Some people prefer written letters sent via certified mail. I typically recommend delivery confirmation rather than certified mail if you go this route; however, just in case the recipient refuses to sign for the letter, I generally advise people to also send a scanned copy of the signed letter as an attachment to an email to make sure it is received. Email or text messages also work, though emails are often easier to archive and export for sharing with an attorney or as exhibits in a rent board or other administrative hearing.
Let the Record Show…
If your landlord insists on speaking in person or over the phone, you can take things into your own hands. After having a conversation with someone about your tenancy, you can write a summary of the conversation and send it to them with a note thanking them for speaking with you and informing them that you took some notes to make sure everyone was on the same page. This provides the opportunity to clarify any misunderstandings or let the record stand as a record made in that moment of how you understood the situation.
A Picture Is Worth a Thousand Words
I have always found it very funny that I give this advice so often as a person who cannot see. Whenever you see something out of the ordinary, take a picture. When you report an issue to your landlord, share pictures. Pictures, or even videos, if they add something relevant, can clearly demonstrate a problem to someone in a way that can be difficult to capture with words. Sometimes, just as importantly, it also preserves a record of the thing to be recalled and shared with others lately. Sometimes, a judge or jury might be swayed by something as simple as a single photograph that illustrates your situation more than the most gifted attorney ever could.
Call in Experts.
Sometimes, there is no substitute for a professional opinion. Even if they cannot work on the problem, a mold remediation specialist, exterminator, or plumber, might be able to give you an independent evaluation of a problem in your rental unit. This can even come in the form of an estimate you can share with your landlord that identifies problems that need to be fixed. This might cost money, but if the landlord acts on it or has to pay a judgment or settlement because of it, you will likely be getting that money back.
Stay on Target
It might feel like sending those emails or archiving those pictures is a thankless chore. But if your landlord fails to take the right steps to respond to your reports of uninhabitable conditions, it will pay off, maybe literally.