If they promised a pool, shouldn't it be usable?

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Question:

What recourse do you have when you rent a condo that includes swimming pool facilities and when you show up the pool is under repair or is otherwise unavailable to you?

Answer:

Whether renting an apartment or buying a toaster, you're entitled to get what you paid for -- and what you were promised. It is quite likely that the advertisement in the paper, the glossy brochure at the realtor's office, or the walk-through by the perky leasing agent all included a prominent mention of that lovely pool. And the rent you're paying reflects this nice amenity.

Before you plunge into action against the broken pool promises, there are a number of things you should heed. First, make sure that the pool's unavailability will go on for a substantial time -- even landlords get a break if they have to do short-term maintenance. If the dry spell looks long, however, think again.

You may be tempted to withhold your rent as a way of pressuring the landlord into either making the pool available or reducing the rent in light of the fact that the pool is dry. Don't do it. In fact, not all state laws allow rent withholding. And even if your state's does, you can't use it for this problem, since rent withholding is only available to tenants whose rentals are made uninhabitable or unfit as a result of the landlord's inattention to repairs and maintenance. Withholding the rent for the wrong reason exposes you to a speedy eviction notice.

But don't despair. There is a way that you can assert your right to pay less rent, if not show off that new Speedo, without risking an eviction lawsuit. You can file a lawsuit in small claims court, alleging simply that you're not getting what you have paid for -- and that you want it now. Remain polite, of course.

If you win, the judge will order the condo owner to adjust the rent to what it would be without a pool; and you might get a retroactive reduction, sometimes called rent abatement, to boot. If you lose, you're out time, energy, and a small filing fee, but you haven't risked being sued for eviction.

Take a look at Nolo's Everybody's Guide to Small Claims Court (National edition) for more specifics on how to proceed.

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