What Happens When a Landlord Is Unresponsive?
There are two main parties to a residential lease: a landlord and a tenant. Each party has rights and responsibilities under the law. For example, landlords are responsible for making certain repairs to the property after becoming aware of the problems. When landlords are unresponsive, tenants have options they can take under the law.
Tenants Are Entitled to a Habitable Place to Live
One of the tenant's rights is the right to a habitable place to live. A "habitable" home is a home that is free from dangerous conditions, substantial infestation, or other problems that make the living place inhabitable.
One of the landlord's duties is to make the necessary repairs and conduct necessary maintenance to ensure that the property remains habitable and in compliance with housing codes.
Examples of issues that can make a home inhabitable (which vary by state and locality) include:
- Lack of running water
- Unsafe wiring
- Holes in floors or stairs
- Broken locks
- Rats or cockroach infestation
Habitability is an implied warranty, meaning the landlord has a legal duty to maintain the standards of habitability, no matter what it says in your lease. When your rental — whether it is a house or an apartment — becomes uninhabitable, you should notify your landlord right away and ask for repairs.
Steps to Take When a Landlord Refuses to Make Repairs
If your landlord refuses to make repairs or perform necessary maintenance in a timely manner, there are a few steps you can take to encourage your landlord to act.
First, it is wise to inform your landlord that you are aware of your rights, and that the rental's current condition violates habitability standards.
Next, review your state and local laws to determine your next steps, which could include the following:
- Repair and deduct: Hire an outside party to do the work to fix the problem and then deduct the cost from your next rent payment.
- Contact the local housing authorities: If the issue is in violation of state or local housing code, contact local housing authorities for an inspection and report. Your landlord could then be ordered by housing officials to fix the problem.
- Reduce or withhold rent: You could withhold or reduce rent payments until your landlord fixes the problem. Note: Certain requirements must be met before rent can be reduced or withheld, so take this step with caution.
Make sure to take photos of the issue and document every attempt made to contact your landlord. Consider sending certified mail to have proof that your landlord received your complaint and had knowledge of the problem.
An Attorney Can Help Protect Your Rights as a Tenant
When your landlord refuses to make repairs or perform maintenance in a timely manner, affecting your home's habitability, it could be considered "material noncompliance." Material noncompliance is essentially a breach of contract and the landlord could be liable for damages.
Consider meeting with a landlord-tenant lawyer for help protecting your rights as a tenant.