7

My fiance and I are currently renting an apartment in Baltimore, MD and recently we have become alarmed by much of the house's wiring. Things we have seen included:

  • countless wires that are spliced together outside of electrical boxes
  • wires spliced together with only electrical tape inside electrical boxes
  • wires spliced together with only electrical tape outside of an electrical box
  • wires that are black spliced to wires that are white
  • single wires running from one electrical box to another (i.e. only hot or only neutral)
  • loose wires laying in the back of our cabinets
  • wires pinned (and chafed) between our oven and sharp corners of the cabinetry
  • lighting fixtures that are wired in series instead of parallel
  • twisted pairs without any sort of jacket running from one fixture to another

A lot of this was here when we arrived but we have personally observed a couple fixes entailing several of the bullet points above within the last few months.

I don't think that there is any combination of grandfathering in and loopholes that could result in this setup being up to code but are things like this common in older(early 1900's) houses? We've brought it up with our land lord but he hasn't taken any significant action to correct the issues. Would it be excessively paranoid to insist that someone inspect the place? If not what type of inspection should we ask for?

  • 6
    I'd get a good lawyer, and get out of the lease. Fixing the issues in your apartment is fine, and can be done. But if you're in a building with multiple units, I'm sure the whole building has similar (or worse) violations. – Tester101 May 4 '15 at 10:13
  • 3
    I would find out who handles inspections for rentals units in your town and call them. I would imagine there are other violations beyond electrical such as fire alarms. – Wayne In Yak May 4 '15 at 15:37
  • 2
    Keep in mind that as soon as the inspectors find something they have no choice but to enforce the law and make sure it gets fixed. Your landlord may retaliate. Mine did by having daily "inspections" and "viewings". I think they call it a "functional eviction" where they do everything within their right to make you want to leave. – Paul May 4 '15 at 15:48
  • Also be aware that building code is very different than residential safety code. For example, splices without junction boxes were not deemed a safety problem if they were not in a living space. – Paul May 4 '15 at 15:57
  • 1
    One point: A black-to-white wire junction is normal in the light box when an old style (i.e. no neutral) switch loop is used. (Normally, you're supposed to use a bit of black or colored paint or a flag of electrical tape to mark the white wire as a hot/switched hot, but that gets missed quite often.) – ThreePhaseEel Oct 11 '16 at 11:39
9

I had this same situation. I made a (written) list of issues (with pictures) and gave it to the landlord. When it became clear that the landlord would not fix them, I called an inspector. It turned out that there was a completely different department overseeing residential safety inspection vs. building code inspection, but after getting that sorted, they gave the home a free inspection and gave the landlord a fine and deadline to fix the issues. The landlord was understandably upset and asked us to leave, and we happily signed the lease-termination. I maybe should have told the landlord that I was going to refer the issues to the city by such-and-such a date and this may have avoided involving the city and angering the landlord. We probably would have been let out of lease under better terms, but there would have been no incentive for the landlord to fix anything and the cycle would have begun again with the next tenants.

I recommend you give the landlord every opportunity to fix your concerns, and seek a mutual lease-termination agreement if/when this fails. Pay your rent! If you don't and this goes to court, then It'll just end up looking like the you wanted out all along and used the safety issues as an excuse. If the inspector condemns the place, and you are forced to move, then you can stop paying your rent.

  • 9
    +1 You took good action. However I do disagree with giving landlord every opportunity. This is your safety. You give landlord one opportunity then call city hall for inspection. No matter what this type of landlord will be upset. – DMoore May 4 '15 at 18:32
  • @DMoore: I'd say give the landlord one opportunity to either fix the problems or nullify the lease. I believe in many cases a legally-acceptable "fix" for the problem would be to declare the unit uninhabitable and tag out any power disconnects that would feed it; doing that wouldn't allow the landlord correct any rent from the unit until things were fixed, but taking such actions prior to an inspection would probably help a landlord avoid expensive fines even if the landlord hadn't yet had time to actually make repairs. – supercat Nov 23 '16 at 18:13
  • @supercat - you need city hall, getting inspector involved to deem unit inhabitable. They will put a big stamp on that apartment - No Occupancy - and possibly fine the landlord immediately (would in my area). From there tenant can easily get out of lease. – DMoore Nov 23 '16 at 21:00
  • @DMoore: If the tenant were to vacate and inform the landlord that the building office was going to be called three days hence, and the landlord were to kill power to the unit, pull a building permit, and disconnect some of the dodgy wiring, an inspector could officially note that the apartment was uninhabitable and would need to be inspected before it could be rented, but I would think the landlord should be able to avoid fines if the apartment remains vacant until repairs are complete. After all, apartments aren't expected to be habitable during renovation. – supercat Nov 23 '16 at 21:31
5

You should read up on what your legal rights (and responsibilities) are. Most landlord/tenant law in the US is at the state level, but your city and county may have additional rules. Most states have an easy-to-read summary of rental housing laws, and many major cities (including Baltimore, it seems) provide additional protection for tenants. You should also carefully re-read your lease, of course, to find out what the provisions are for breaking the lease, if any. Without a court order or mutual agreement with the landlord, you probably cannot just walk away.

Do not stop paying rent, although it appears MD law may let you deposit the money into an escrow account under certain circumstances. Knowing what the law is will make this process a lot easier. I don't think you necessarily need to get a lawyer at this point. Just do some research and let the landlord know what their specific legal obligations are (i.e. maintaining a safe residence) and what your specific legal rights are (i.e. reporting to Baltimore's housing authority).

I have made several maintenance/safety requests of landlords over the years and find it's helpful to be as specific as possible about what the problem is and why they're obligated to fix it. Just complaining that you don't like something or saying "the wiring is bad" makes it hard. I also find that being confrontational right off the bat is not helpful, although I realize that with some landlords you might have to get a little pushy.

1

Move. Soon. Like this week. And stop May's rent cheque if it hasn't cleared already.

Some of the things on your list are actually ok, like the taped connections inside the box (IF they are also soldered) and black-to-white splices (standard with switches). Some of the rest sounds like a fire waiting to happen, and as someone commented will likely be throughout the building.

If your landlord gives you any grief about breaking the lease, tell him you will be happy to stay if the city electrical inspector gives the place a pass. Then call the inspector. After you leave and settle the deposit, call the inspector anyway so the next tenants don't burn up.

(In the extremely unlikely event that the wiring is actually ok, man up and pay for the inspection. Possible if the wiring is actually low voltage.)

  • "This week" may be overkill, but realistically your options are as @paul suggested: live with it, work with landlord to get it fixed, or move out with or without a call to the inspectors. – keshlam May 4 '15 at 14:26
  • 1
    @paul I agree 100% that we need to insist on an inspection regardless of whether we decided to stay or not. There is no reason any tenants should have to live a building with a significant risk of fire. As to the wiring it is definitely all 120V and I think at least a few of the electrical tape joints are not soldered. As to the black/white splicing it happens far from any switches or lighting fixtures so I think it is a violation but I'm not completely sure. Thanks for the helpful response. – PheobeMeow May 4 '15 at 16:25
  • 4
    Your advice to stop paying rent is bad. Two wrongs don't make a right (morally or legally). There is a specific legal process for fixing safety problems in rental properties, and taking matters in your own hand will not be looked on favorably if this ever ends up in court. – Hank May 4 '15 at 21:41
  • @HenryJackson Maybe "withhold" is a better term. You tell the landlord that you have it right here, and the moment the electrical inspector passes the place you will hand it over. Renting property with hazardous electrical wiring is illegal most places I've lived. – paul May 5 '15 at 0:18
  • 2
    "Withholding" rent is the same as not paying it. I understand your rationale and motivation but I don't think it's a good idea. – Hank May 5 '15 at 0:44
1

Two long for a comment , Several items listed are not code issues at all. Wires can be twisted together and covered with electrical tape no solder is required. Black to white in a switch loop can be found in every house I have ever looked at the wiring. the white would be totally legal if fingernail polish, paint or colored tape in a color other than white or green is applied at the ends , Pined and chafed if it is the cord for the range is not a code issue it may be a fire department inspection item in a commercial kitchen but no enforceable code issues there. Fixtures in series still not a code issue. I am not sure what good 1 wire to a box would do other than an antenna for a radio but where is the code issue or concern here? Unless there are 2 single insulated wires? Depending on the date of install this was legal to replace knob and tube wiring. The only issue that I see that would be a code violation since I have been an electrician (70's) and repair work prior to my work would be the splices were required to be in a box. Yes I believe there was a lot of bootleg work done but as far as code issues not so many. Having worked on the side for a friend that owned 30_40 rentals many built in the 40's I did testify about wiring that did not meet current code but since the wiring exceeded code when built I don't remember him loosening but I was only directly involved in a few that I had done repair work on. I do live on the opposite side of the U.S. and would urge caution my friend had a lawyer on retainer that all he did was rental disputes and the rental contracts covered just about anything in his favor.

protected by Community Feb 1 '18 at 15:12

Thank you for your interest in this question. Because it has attracted low-quality or spam answers that had to be removed, posting an answer now requires 10 reputation on this site (the association bonus does not count).

Would you like to answer one of these unanswered questions instead?

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.