Landlords' Duties: Repairs, Maintenance, and Notice to Tenants for Entry
If you own real estate, and have a rental agreement with tenants, it's your legal responsibility to ensure that the facilities are "habitable" by maintaining the common areas and plumbing, making sure the heat works in the winter, fixing appliances, and keeping the rental property structurally sound. While heating and plumbing problems should be addressed within 24 hours, less-immediate repairs should be handled within 48 hours.
Below is an outline of these particular landlord duties, including:
- The legal duty to perform necessary repairs and maintenance for occupancy
- What can happen if a landlord fails to carry out these duties
- Constructive eviction
- The requirement to provide notice to tenants prior to entry
- How an attorney can help
Duty of Repairs and Maintenance
In most states, a residential landlord is required to make sure a rental property is in a habitable condition when the tenant first moves in. Also, once the tenant moves in, a landlord is required to make repairs and conduct maintenance to keep the rental property in a habitable condition. A habitable property is one that is free from infestation, has adequate heating, hot water, smoke detectors and electricity, and is structurally sound. Laws vary from state to state, and even from city to city.
Because of the varying nature of landlord duties, you should consult your state laws and city ordinances regarding rental property. Normally, you can find this information at your local building or housing authority, as well as local health and fire departments.
What Can Happen If Landlords Do Not Make Required Repairs
When a landlord fails to make the necessary repairs or maintenance after receiving advance notice from a renter, there could be a number of consequences.
First, depending upon your state's laws, your tenant could elect to withhold monthly rent until the repair is made adequately. Some states realize that this is pretty harsh and often require the tenant to put the rent money aside in an escrow account that will be released to the landlord once the repairs are made. In addition, your tenant may elect to simply pay less rent until the problem is fixed.
Next, if the landlord fails to make the needed repair in a timely manner after receiving proper notice, Most states have a notice requirement, and then the tenant has the option of hiring an outside party to make the necessary repairs. The tenant should do that in good faith and should be reasonable in choosing who to make the repairs. The tenant will deduct the cost from their next rent check.
Also, if the problem violates state or local building or health codes, such as no running water, a tenant may decide to contact the local authorities regarding the issue. If inspectors come out and find the problem, the landlord may face an order to fix the problem, plus possible fines and/or penalties.
Lastly, if the problem is pervasive and disturbs the tenant's right to live in a habitable structure, the tenant may choose to simply move out of the rental unit and end the lease agreement. This could lead to a lawsuit against the landlord, called a constructive eviction lawsuit.
In order to prevail in this suit, the tenant must be able to show three things:
- The tenant must prove that the uninhabitable conditions were a result of the landlord's lack of action to fix the problems.
- The tenant should give the property owner written notice of reasons for the constructive eviction and provide them with a reasonable time to repair problems.
- The tenant must also show that they left the rental property in a reasonable time.
If the landlord cannot put up a strong defense, they may be facing money damages for breaking the lease terms and tenancy, emotional and physical stress, attorney fees and discomfort from the bad conditions.
Notice to Tenants About Upcoming Entry Onto the Rental Property
Most states require that a landlord give reasonable notice to tenants, usually a days notice or 48 hours before entry during normal business hours, is to take place. However, a landlord can enter a rental property or dwelling unit at any time without notice in case of emergency. In some jurisdictions, landlords can exercise their right of entry without notice, if the tenant is away for an extended period of time in order to check on the property to make sure everything is in working order and make any necessary repairs.
If a landlord breaks this law, they can be subject to a lawsuit by the tenant. Some states, like California, provide tenants the option to claim harassment if their landlord enters the rental property without proper notice, and also provide for a monetary fine against the landlord.
More Questions About Landlord Duties? An Attorney Can Help
Landlord-tenant issues can cause a significant amount of disruption, and if this is your property, the stakes are pretty high. When conflicts arise, it's important to understand your legal rights.
A landlord-tenant law attorney can answer any questions you may have, such as:
- preparing a written agreement for a new tenant,
- Interviewing prospective tenants
- The amount of rent and rent increases
- Security deposits and nonpayment of rent
- Obtaining a court order eviction
A local landlord-tenant law attorney can give you proper legal advice to help you fully understand and protect your rights.
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