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What Happens When a Landlord Is Unresponsive?

A residential lease has two main parties: a landlord and a tenant. The landlord is usually the property owner. A property manager or property management company may represent them. The tenant or renter is the party who will inhabit the rental property during the term of the tenancy.

Each party has rights and responsibilities under landlord-tenant laws. For example, landlords are responsible for making certain repairs to the rental unit after becoming aware of 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
  • Other problems that make the rental premises unlivable

One of the landlord's duties is to make needed repairs. They must conduct necessary maintenance to ensure the property remains habitable and complies with housing codes. Even if the rental agreement doesn't require certain real estate upkeep, it doesn't matter.

Local government and housing code enforcement agencies compel certain repair duties against landlords. If a landlord fails to make necessary repairs or otherwise retaliates by threatening eviction, you may be able to report them to your state's department of housing.

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
  • Structural deficiencies (e.g. falling beams, unsafe roof)

Habitability is an implied warranty, meaning the landlord has a legal duty to maintain the standards of habitability. This is true no matter what it says in your lease agreement. When your rental — whether it is a house or an apartment — becomes uninhabitable, you should immediately notify your landlord and ask for repairs.

An unresponsive landlord might mean you may need to follow up a few times. But you might think, "My landlord keeps ignoring my phone calls!" In these situations, you may need to take legal action.

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, you can take a few steps to encourage your landlord to act.

First, it is wise to inform your landlord that you know 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 violates the state or local housing code, contact local housing authorities for an inspection and report. Housing officials could then order your landlord 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 cautiously. Some states require that withheld rent be placed in an escrow account.

Make sure to take photos of the issue and document every attempt made to contact your landlord. Save all contact information and keep a paper trail of all your actions concerning the repairs. Consider sending certified mail to have proof that your landlord received your complaint and had knowledge of the problem. Ultimately, you may need to file an action in court with the help of an attorney.

An Attorney Can Help Protect Your Rights as a Tenant

You may need legal aid when your landlord refuses to make repairs or perform maintenance promptly. Issues affecting your home's habitability 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 and legal advice protecting your rights as a tenant.

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