Shady sublease a lesson for South Valley family

Posted at: 10/15/2013 10:32 PM
By: Maria Guerrero, KOB Eyewitness News 4

A South Valley family is scrambling to find another home after finding out the man they were paying their rent to just took off.

Daniel Chavez just needed a modest home for his family.

So he moved quickly on a Craigslist ad for a two bedroom apartment, all utilities paid for $750 a month.

Chavez sublet the apartment from the landlord.

But his home in a building, which may not even be zoned for living, is anything but sweet.

It’s located near Bridge and Goff Boulevards.

“I just...I don't know,” said Chavez. “I'm just lost and confused on this whole situation.”

The first sign of trouble: Chavez claims he’s paid his landlord rent with cash.

“No, he never gives receipts,” he added.

Chavez says his lease ended in August, but he says he’s continued to live in the home on a month-by-month basis.

But the last time he says he paid rent was September.

He didn’t pay October rent, he says, because his landlord vanished.

“…Just disappeared," said Chavez.

And now, the owner of the building has come forward with another hit.

"[The owner] said [my landlord] hasn't paid rent to him in three months. So [my landlord] basically skipped out on both of us," said Chavez.

Chavez’s bills haven’t been paid either.

The gas company just shut off service.

And it gets worse. Chavez says the owner wants him, his wife, 15-year-old daughter and a friend out by the end of the month.

“[A landlord has] to give you first a letter saying why they evicted you and how much time you have and then if you’re not out, then they take you to court,” said attorney Tom Prettyman.

Prettyman works at New Mexico Legal Aid, which provides free legal services to low income people.

Prettyman says landlords must give a 30-day written notice.

As for Chavez claiming he didn’t pay rent because his landlord never showed up to collect, Prettyman says, “The tenant probably ought to write a letter right away to the last known address of the landlord and say: Look, I was supposed to pay rent on the first. I had the money. You didn't show up. Where do you want me to pay rent?”

It’s also up to tenants to document complaints.

“I understand there might be a problem with no gas in this unit and the gas is the landlord's responsibility. Put it in writing,” urges Prettyman. “Write a letter to the landlord saying: I have no gas and if the landlord doesn't fix that problem in seven days, the tenant might have the option of withholding a portion of the rent or just moving out."

Chavez says he’ll cut his losses and be out by the end of the month.

"Don't know how we're going to get out of here," he says.

The building’s owner did not return phone calls from KOB Eyewitness News 4.

NM Legal Aid urges tenants to keep a written lease (Chavez didn’t have his handy), demand rent receipts and keep a copy of complaints.