A Tenant's Rights to Landlord Repairs
A tenant has a right to live in a habitable rental property, but what about cosmetic or minor problems? Can landlords be forced to make these repairs? What kinds of repairs can a landlord ignore?
Landlord Repairs: What Must a Landlord Fix?
Even if it is not in your rental agreement or lease, your landlord is required to keep your building and unit in a habitable condition. This means that your landlord must ensure that the building is structurally sound, provide hot and cold water, ensure that the roof is not leaking, and keep the plumbing, electrical, and heating systems in safe operating condition.
Also, if a rental property has become infested with pests, landlords must pay for an exterminator unless the infestation was caused by the tenant's poor housekeeping.
Landlord Repairs: What Does a Landlord Not Have to Fix?
There are minor problems that a landlord is not required by law to fix. These minor problems can include things like dripping faucets, running toilets, small holes in the carpet, grimy grout, or torn window screens. Even though these problems may be annoying for the tenant to live with, a landlord may not be under any obligation to repair these issues.
There are a few occasions when a landlord might be required to make minor repairs:
- If the terms of the lease agreement state that the landlord will fix a specific problem, then the landlord is under a legal duty to do so.
- If the landlord promised to make the repair, either verbally or in writing, the tenant may be able to hold the landlord to their promise.
- Lastly, state and local building codes, as well as state landlord-tenant laws may require your landlord to make repairs that would otherwise be left to the landlord's discretion.
Getting a Landlord to Make Minor Repairs
Tenants with uninhabitable living conditions may fix the problem themselves and deduct it from the rent, may withhold rent, or may pay rent to the clerk of records until their dispute is resolved. If tenants with only minor repairs try these same actions, they can get into trouble. If you need your landlord to make minor repairs, try these tips:
- Put it in writing: Landlord repairs are handled more often when the request for the repair is made in writing. By putting your request in writing, you give your landlord time to consider the request and how the repair might benefit them in the future. It gives you a chance to make a convincing argument. And you can show the landlord the potential for injury caused by a minor problem.
- Mediation: There are free or low-cost mediation services that specialize in landlord-tenant relations. If your written request fails to get the repair done, talk to a mediation service. The service will get in touch with your landlord and invite them to sit down with a neutral mediator to come to a resolution.
- Report your landlord: There are situations where a minor problem is actually a violation of a building or housing code. You may want to contact your local housing authority. These agencies can inspect the problem and may contact or fine the landlord. Once you involve a government authority, you may sour the landlord-tenant relationship. If you are only planning to stay in the rental unit for a few more months, that may not matter, but it will be hard if you plan on renting for many years.
- Bring a lawsuit against your landlord: If nothing has worked, your last resort may be to bring a lawsuit against your landlord. You will need to prove that because of the problem the rental property is not up to the value of the rent paid. If you can do so and win your lawsuit, the judge will award you the difference between the rent you paid and the rent that should have been charged based on the condition of the rental property. However, a lawsuit will most likely end any good relationship you may have with your landlord, which is why it should always be a last resort.
Protect Your Right to Landlord Repairs: Contact an Attorney
Landlord/tenant issues can become contentious, which is why all communications should be carefully planned and in writing. A clear understanding of your rights and obligations will help you navigate the exchange successfully. Contact a local landlord-tenant law attorney to learn more about your rights as a tenant.
You Don’t Have To Solve This on Your Own – Get a Lawyer’s Help
Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to best protect your rights. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.