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Property Repairs and Safety

Busy landlords may be tempted to let repairs slide. However, when the repair concerns tenant safety, it's important to make it as soon as possible. The urgency of the repair often depends on whether the damage to the apartment makes the rental unit uninhabitable.

Does the Repair Violate the Warranty of Habitability?

In almost every state, a lease contains an implied promise that the rental unit is fit for human habitation. This usually means:

  • The walls, floor, ceiling, and other basic structures are in good repair;
  • The apartment has reliable electricity;
  • Tenants have running hot and cold water;
  • The apartment is free from major pest infestations.

Some states and cities also require that the landlord provide basic safety devices such as locks and smoke detectors as part of the warranty of habitability. Be sure to check your local housing code or consult with a local real estate attorney to get a better idea of exactly what your local government requires.

If something breaks in the apartment that violates the warranty of habitability and the tenant notifies you, the tenant has the right to withhold rent for as long as the problem remains unsolved. Be aware, most states require the tenant to continuing paying rent but the money is held in escrow until the issue is resolved. If you fail to repair the damage for an extended period, the tenant may break the lease without consequence.

Does the Damage Pose a Hazard to the Tenant or Guests?

Certain types of damage to a rental unit, while not strictly violating the warranty of habitability, may nevertheless pose a safety hazard. This can include things like loose floorboards, faulty ventilation systems, or defective exterior lights. Landlords, as property owners, are minimally responsible for the welfare of anyone who walks onto the property. If a tenant contacts you about one of these kinds of defects, you should schedule a time for the repair as soon as possible. Landlords often have to give advance notice before entering an individual rental unit. However, a tenant may give you permission to enter sooner if you ask.

If the repair is in a common area, such as a loose tile in the stairwell, let all the tenants in the building know about the hazard and post signs around it so that people can avoid it. Make the repair as soon as possible. If the repair requires closing a common area, remember to let the tenants know when the repair is taking place so that they can make the appropriate arrangements.

For more information, see FindLaw's sections on Tenant Rights and Repairs and Maintenance.

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