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Can Renters with Chinese Drywall Break Their Lease?

Sep 3, 2009 | Parker Waichman LLP

Homeowner are not the only victims of Chinese drywall.  The defective material is turning up in rental  homes, apartments and condos as well.   Many renters plagued by the odors, corrosion and health  problems linked to Chinese drywall are asking questions about their legal rights.

Consumers in 24 states have filed a total of 1,174 Chinese drywall complaints with the Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC).  Gases emitted from the drywall are being blamed for significant property damage, including damage to HVAC systems, smoke detectors, electrical wiring, metal plumbing components, and other household appliances. These gases also produce a sulfurous odor that permeates homes, and cause metals, including air conditioning coils and even jewelry, to corrode.

Much of the reporting surround the Chinese drywall debacle has centered on homeowners, but renters are affected as well.   A recent report in the St. Petersburg Times highlighted some of the legal questions faced by these Chinese drywall victims.

According to the Times, one of the most common questions posed by renters living with Chinese drywall is whether or not they can break their lease.  In Florida, landlords are required by law to provide renters with a "healthy, properly maintained" residence.  But renters have obligations too. The mere presence of Chinese drywall in a rental property may not be enough to justify breaking a lease. A spokesperson for  Florida's Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services told The St. Petersburg Times that if the drywall does not pose a definite health hazard, a landlord might be able to take legal action against a tenant who breaks a lease.

According to the Times, the spokesperson recommended that renters with Chinese drywall problems take certain steps to protect themselves before they break their lease. These steps include consulting a lawyer, and contacting their local health department to review their situation to confirm if a health hazard exists that might justify breaking a lease.

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