Sharon Bell, her husband, and her three teenage children couldn’t even safely walk up the steps to their Baltimore apartment because the staircase was in disrepair. “The last step as you climb up, you had to take a giant step over,” she said. There were water leaks in the bathroom. The roof leaked thanks to a problem with the gutter.
But the landlord either refused to fix the problems or didn’t spend enough to actually get rid of them. He also failed to get the correct permits and inspections for problems like lead paint. So the Bells called upon their legal right in response: rather than keep shelling out rent each month to a landlord who refused to make their apartment habitable, they started putting the rent into an escrow account until the repairs were made. “We kept paying and nothing was getting done, so we decided to hold the rent,” she said. “You don’t want to live in deplorable conditions for what you’re paying.”
But rather than act to fix the building, their landlord took them to rent court.