Rent it Right
Go online and learn all you can about the dangers of thirdhand smoke -- the Mayo Clinic has something to say, as do sources interviewed in the New York Times. That article quotes a Harvard researcher as saying "breathing air in a room today where people smoked yesterday can harm the health of infants and children." You may be able to enlist local health inspectors, who would make excellent witnesses.
If, on the other hand, you want to hold the landlord to his promises, you'll need to move in and then sue for the benefit of your bargain -- a rental with cleaned walls and new carpet. Your argument is that these features were essential to your decision to rent, and that the landlord knew this. It became part of the rental contract that the landlord is not honoring.
A judge in small claims court is not likely to order the landlord to paint and recarpet. Instead, judges will give tenants damages, which in your case is a reduced rent equal to the true value of the apartment. If the judge decides it's unlivable, its value is zero -- you could end up with a judgment that tells the landlord to drop the rent to nothing. That will get his attention.
The problem with this approach is obvious and twofold: Not only must you move in at least initially, but you have only your word against the landlord's regarding the promises to paint and replace the carpet. For these reasons, it might make better sense to look elsewhere and prepare your case for getting your deposit back.
Janet Portman is an attorney and managing editor at Nolo. She specializes in landlord/tenant law and is co-author of "Every Landlord's Legal Guide" and "Every Tenant's Legal Guide." She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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