Can I break my lease without paying due to unsanitary conditions?
Question Details: I moved into a 1 bedroom apartment about 10 days ago without viewing it due to the previous tenants still occupying the space. Upon moving in, the smell of mouse urine/droppings filled the air and mold on top of it. To make maters worse, there were spiders/bugs/centipedes and my car was towed by the complex in a parking lot with no tow warning signs. After I got my car back, I talked to them about the insects etc. This was done yesterday. Although I know we signed the lease and I get that we made a deal, I feel that we had no idea what we were getting. They only had weak pictures of a place that resembled the apartment we moved into. I am afraid to sleep now because of the insects we have found; I fear that my cats and dog will get sick if they accidentally eat one of the creatures as well as us ourselves getting sick of having them about ourselves. I don't want to stay here anymore even though the complex is supposedly going to fix it. I can't trust this place and don't think that I will ever be comfortable here. Can I break my lease and not worry about a charge? Is there anything I can do other than wait?
You may be able to break your lease over this violation of the "implied warranty of habitability": the obligation that a leased premises be safely habitable and fit for its intended purpose (residence). However, you MUST give the landlord a reasonable opportunity to correct the situation--with "reasonable" being after you give them written notice of the problem(s) (which notice should be sent some way or ways you can prove delivery, like certified mail or fed ex). While reasonable is not specifically defined in the law, it will likely be at least 1 - 2 weeks after notice, since the landlord must arrange for and have time for cleaning, extirmination, mold remediation, etc. So you first have to give your landlord a chance to fix this; only if he doesn't would you able to treat your lease as terminated due to his breach of the implied warranty of habitability. (Note that in addition to providing initial written notice, it would be a good idea to send at least one, maybe two follow up notices, asking respectfully for the status of the clean-up.)
If you have to stay elsewhere for health/safety reasons while your unit is being remediated, you may be entitled to a rent credit or abatement for that period of time--though if the landlord does not voluntarily provide one, you'd have to sue for it, which may or may not be worthwhile.