Monday, March 14, 2011
Help Me Howard: Burglars at Apartment
Are you a renter? How would you feel if someone broke into your first floor apartment? Would you like to move to the second floor or break your lease and move out? It's a question one woman needs answered, so she put in a call to "Help Me Howard" with Patrick Fraser.
WSVN -- When we got to Lavencia's apartment, a maintenance worker was there.
Lavencia Nealy, Apartment Broken Into: "Out of all windows, they chose my kids' room. I can't tell you why they chose the kids' room."
Three days earlier, burglars had broken the window in her first floor apartment. The glass shattered into the baby's crib.
Lavencia Nealy: "Yeah, the glass was in the baby's crib. This is the baby's pen. They probably thought they could get in."
Fortunately, Lavencia and her kids weren't home, so the crooks went to her locked sliding glass door, where entry was easy.
Lavencia Nealy: "They lifted the door. Once you lift the door, you can easily slide it open, and that's how they got into the house."
They took three TVs, an Xbox, her kids' Wii, two cameras and more importantly, her children's sense of safety.
Lavencia Nealy: "They won't sleep in here anymore. They don't even want to come in here. When it's time to pick up clothes and go to school and everything, I have to do it."
Lavencia moved into Pembroke Villas Apartments, because it was such a nice looking place, so she went to management with a simple request.
Lavencia Nealy: "All I wanted to do was transfer to a second-floor apartment. That's all I wanted to do."
Lavencia says she was told there were 14 empty apartments on the second floor, but to move upstairs, she had to get management's approval and pay a $500 transfer fee.
Lavencia Nealy: "I told them I was a single mom, raising three kids by myself."
Workers then came back to replace the broken window as Lavencia tried to explain to management that she couldnt afford $500.
Lavencia Nealy: "Get me out of here."
So she asked if she could break the lease and move out. They said sure, but you will lose your security deposit, and you have to keep paying rent on the empty apartment.
Lavencia Nealy: "To me, this is all about money. They want money."
She doesn't have the money to pay the transfer fee, but when she thinks about the safety of her children, she can't afford to stay, either.
Lavencia Nealy: "I want to feel safe. If I am staying here, I want to feel safe, and being in this particular apartment, I don't feel safe at all."
Well Howard, the crooks proved her apartment is not safe. Lavencia just wants to take her three children and move upstairs to feel a little safer. Legally, what does the law say about a transfer?
Howard Finkelstein, 7 News Legal Expert: "Unfortunately for Lavencia, the law does not give a tenant the right to transfer to a different floor, although it would seem to be the right thing for an apartment complex to make sure a mother and her three kids feel safer."
I then called Centennial Management, which oversees the property. They told me they would take the $500 transfer fee in installments.
I reminded them Lavencia is a working single mom who needs her money for her three kids. They said they would get back to me.
Later, an employee told me the $500 fee is standard, and they will not waive it in this case.
When I asked if they considered the property safe, I was told, "Of course we do."
But Howard says if the law disagrees, Lavencia has an option.
Howard Finkelstein: "The law does allow you to break a lease if your apartment is not safe and your landlord has done nothing to protect you. But proving the complex is not safe is difficult and can be expensive. However, if you feel your life is in danger, break the lease and leave. Deal with the legal consequences from a safer place, later."
The treatment from the complex stuns Lavencia, who works in the hospitality field and knows what her goal is every day.
Lavencia Nealy: "Our goal in the hotel business is to satisfy the customer, to make sure the customer's needs are met."
Patrick Fraser: "Lavencia is so upset, she has not paid the March rent. She says she has the money order, but was going to give it to them when she moved to the second floor. Now she says, for her kids' safety, she may just move out. And by the way, who decides if a place is unsafe? Well, sometimes it boils down to what a judge thinks are too many crimes in one area. In other words, it's hard to put a finger on."
Problems shattered your sense of security? Need a break? Steal a glance at us. We will try to repair your peace of mind by unlocking a legal solution.