Here Now, the Country's Strangest Rental Laws (and 'Suits)

Curbed

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Background photo: Ralf Kleemann/Shutterstock

It's no shock to anyone that things can get a little bit, uh, messy when one person lives in, but doesn't actually own, a residence that belongs to someone else. Hell, one landlord in Washington State forced a prospective tenant to take a "recycling quiz," designed to prove one's ability to "properly recycle," lest the future lessee pay an additional $40 a month. Good times. Anyway, from lawsuits over urban tilapia farms (below) to what happens if there's a mention of the Golden Gate Bridge in the brokerbabble, here's a look at a recent crop of totally wackadoo rental laws, lawsuits, or, better yet, both:

1) NYC:

In May, an ingenious soul was busted for running a tilapia farm in his 14th-floor Bronx apartment and was sued by his landlord to, like, leave. His neighbors complained about his lack of "good perception of boundaries" and the fact that he made a racket dragging aquariums through the hallway at 3 a.m. Yet the fisherman wasn't just doing this for his own personal enjoyment; in fact, his nonprofit, the Society of Aquaponic Values and Education, "encourages urbanites to grow tilapia and other denizens of the deep in their cramped city apartments." As for how this, err, most fishy situation was resolved, Curbed reached out to the tenant and is awaiting an update.

2) Toms River, N.J.:

In April, a Jersey couple sued their landlord for the rent they've paid, as well as the security deposit, on a house they believed was haunted. Josue Chinchilla and Michele Callan witnessed "paranormal activity": lights that switch on and off by themselves, footsteps in the kitchen, and a mysterious force tugging at bedsheets during the night. The property owner, in turn, filed a countersuit "over his fears that the publicity and accusations [...] may prevent anyone from wanting to live in the house." The media flurry only intensified when the parties decided to air their grievances on the legal TV show The People's Court. After surveying the "spooky evidence," Judge Marilyn Milian ruled that the family must pay the three months in lost rent and let the landlord keep the security deposit. And probably only because it makes for good TV, Milian also ordered the landlord to spend one night in the house.

3) San Francisco:

The home of Dwell magazine is an awfully eccentric place, full of a stable of bizarre lease laws landlords probably wish would be kept quiet. For example, security deposits are supposed to gain interest over time, greatly benefiting those who stay put for a while (as many in San Francisco do), and if an apartment or home is advertised with a "View of the bay!" or "View of the skyline!" tenants are entitled to have their rent reduced if new construction comes in and blocks said "View!"

4) NYC:

It's no surprise that the country's most populous metropolis has more than a few wacky rental laws. Last summer, for example, the city began enforcing a law that made it illegal to rent out one's apartment for less than a month, thereby cracking down on holiday-related Craigslist posts, Airbnb and similar short-term sites, and so on. Then there's the 1982 Loft Law, which required landlords to bring commercial space being used as homes up to code and obtain a residential certificate of occupancy for these spaces. This summer, one landlord's failure to do so actually allowed one (very lucky) tenant to live in a Brooklyn loft for nine years without paying a dime of her $600-a-month rent. Meanwhile, Hurricane Sandy has brought out a whole host of nitpicky leasing laws—dust off that monocle and check 'em out.

5) Salem, Mass.:

Here's a bizarre tidbit from the Massachusetts city steeped in religious history: married couples may not sleep naked in a rented room. The law dates back hundreds of years and while it's unlikely that it's still enforced, today it's hotels and vacation rentals that are affected—not exactly booming industries in Salem.

6) Rumford, Maine:

In this tiny town of less than 6,000, it's illegal to bite your landlord, apparently. Even if the situation calls for it?

· He's got a lot of "gill" [New York Post]
· Insisting Rental is Haunted, Jersey Couple Sues Landlord [Curbed National]
· Update on Josue Chinchilla and Michele Callan [Miami Paranormal]
· Renting Laws Your Landlord Probably Doesn't Want You to Know [Curbed SF]
· A Guide to When to Pay Rent, or Not, After Hurricane Sandy [Curbed NY]
· 10 Obscure Marriage Laws in the U.S. [Women's Day]
· Weird American Laws [Azzit]
· How Not to Pay Rent on a Brooklyn Loft For Nine Years [Curbed NY]

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