What to Do If Your Landlord Won't Make Repairs to Property
Holding a Landlord Accountable for Repairs
All too often, people cringe at the mention of the word landlord. In some cases, this predisposition of dread is well-deserved. While many landlords are responsible and caring individuals, there are many property owners who dodge their responsibilities of providing the legally required duty of care to paying tenants. Landlords choose to be in this position of responsibility and regardless of the relationship with the tenant, they must abide by the law when it comes to repairing damages to a property.
What to Do If A Landlord Won't Make Timely Repairs to Property
Here are some early steps you should take if your landlord is not rushing to make repairs.
- Consult your lease. Your first step after noticing any damage or issues is to consult your lease for the proper procedures on how to proceed with a repair request. Follow the instructions to the letter in your lease. Learn whether or not your repair is covered by the terms of your lease. For example, if you damage the property by your own negligence, the landlord may not be responsible for the repairs. If your lease states that all requests for repairs must be handled in writing, make sure you send it. While this may seem like red tape, most states do not allow landlords to enter the property without a written request for services or a 24-hour notice in writing to the tenant that they plan to enter the property for any reason. It is always in your best interest to send requests in writing with the date of the request. Always keep a copy for your personal records.
- Learn your local laws. You must have a firm understanding of the laws in your state. Almost every state has a law of habitable warranty that specifically outlines that any landlord has a duty to provide a tenant with a habitable home fit for occupation. Such state laws protect tenants from potential slum lords. State laws override written and verbal contracts and agreements. If the necessary repairs make the property uninhabitable, the law is on your side in most states, regardless of the terms of your lease or contract. Some states such as Florida give the tenant the right to withhold rent payments to a landlord if repairs go undone. In other states, it is illegal to withhold the rent. If you are not familiar with your state law on this issue, it is best to consult a legal professional in your state.
- Send a certified letter. If you have taken the steps in the lease to get a problem repaired and the landlord has not acted, it is time to send the landlord an official (or second official) request for repair in writing. The second letter should be sent with a copy of the original request (if retained) and mailed by certified mail with a return receipt. This will give you a legal document proving that the request was made and received by the landlord. It is a criminal act for any landlord to attempt to evict you for requesting repairs to the property. If you suspect you have this type of callous landlord, it is imperative to communicate with them in writing in order to protect yourself.
Things to Consider Before Escalating the Situation
If your landlord is being very unhelpful, some rather drastic measure may need to be taken. Before that occurs, you should examine your situation to see if these measures are warranted.
- There is a major habitability problem. The problem must be threatening to health or safety. A minor annoyance or defect does not mean you should take action against your landlord.
- You didn't cause the damage. You have no case if you or your guests caused the problem yourself.
- You followed all the rules in notifying your landlord. You need to have told your landlord about the issue and given them a reasonable chance to fix it. Some states have laws for a minimum amount of notice if the problem is not an emergency.
- You're not behind in rent. If you have any plans on withholding rent or deducting repair costs from your rent, you can't be behind on payments. Most areas that allow withholding rent require that you are caught up in payments.
- You are willing to lose tenancy. Taking legal action against your landlord will probably not endear them to you. Most states have laws protecting tenants from retaliation such as raising rent or eviction, but some states don't offer these protections. Know your laws and keep this in mind before doing anything.
Escalating a Case Against a Landlord
At this point, most landlords will acknowledge your request for repair. If the property owner still refuses to make the requested repairs or dismisses them, it is time to escalate your case. Here are some actions you can take.
- Report to a building or health inspector. If your repair is urgent in nature and poses a health or safety risk for you and your family, you will want to take many photos and videos of the problem with timestamps. Take your photos, videos, and copies of your letters to your county or borough's inspection department. These offices are normally located within the Health and Human Services Division of your local Department of Social Services. For urgent problems that may lead to illness and injury, a county inspector will act quickly to inspect the damages. If it is determined that the necessary repairs are urgent, this agent will have the authority to force the landlord to make the repairs by a certain date or face significant legal punishment.
- Withhold the rent. You can only do this if your state and local laws allow this, so do your research. Even if you are allowed to do this, you may need to place your rent money into an escrow account. This is to show that you are not trying to live at the property for free. Withholding rent where you are not allowed to do so could get you evicted and sued.
- Repair the problem and deducting from rent. Known as repair-and-deduct, this action is not allowed everywhere. Even if it is allowed, it is only for major habitability issues. This is where you would get repairs done with your own money and deduct the amount from your rent. This is obviously not the best course of action if the issue is very costly.
- Moving out. This can be done either temporarily or permanently. In some states, a landlord must pay for temporary housing if there are court mandated repairs being made. You may be able to break your lease with no repercussions if the landlord is unable to fix your problem.
- Sue your landlord. You can file a lawsuit if the property has not met the standards of habitability. Most of these kinds of lawsuit look for rate abatement. This basically means being compensated the difference between the rent paid and the real value of the rental unit. You can also sue if your property was damage, such as your personal furniture from a leaking roof.
When Can I Report a Landlord to an Inspector?
Here are some potential reasons you can report your building or landlord to an inspector.
- Pests: You can make a report to a health inspector if the property is infested with rats, roaches, or bed bugs.
- Mold: Mold should be reported as it can cause breathing problems.
- Lead: Older properties may have lead paint, which can pose health risks.
- Lack of vital services: You can make a report if you don't have running water, electricity, or heat.
- Plumbing: Tenants have the right to have working plumbing.
- Buildup of garbage: You can report a landlord if waste is not being collected.
- Structural problems: You can contact the health department if the building is not structurally sound and is a potential hazard.
What Is Landlord Retaliation?
This refers to any illegal activity that a landlord does following any reports made to the authorities. This can include raising the rent, refusing to renew a lease,filing an eviction lawsuit, or creating any petty inconveniences, such as draining a pool or cutting cable services.
You can take your landlord to court over retaliation. The good news is that many states have laws in place that assume retaliation if any such actions occur within a certain timeframe of reporting a landlord. Be sure to check your local and state laws.
Can a Landlord Make a Tenant Pay for Repairs?
Determining whether you or your landlord pays for repairs often depends on what is damaged and how the damage happened. You generally have to pay for repairs if the damage is caused by you or your guests. Your landlord is also not obligated to fix or pay for repairs for any cosmetic damage that does not affect the habitability of the housing. In short, landlords are only obligated to make repairs on things like plumbing and heating or anything covered by the lease agreement that was not damaged by you.
Landlord Responsibility During a Natural Disaster
In the event of a natural disaster such as a flood, fire, or tornado, renters cannot hold the landlord accountable for the disaster. The loss of personal items may be covered by the tenant's rental insurance, but the landlord can not be held accountable for the loss of personal items.
When a natural disaster strikes and damages rental property, it is the the landlord's responsibility to fix the property and make it habitable as soon as possible. The landlord is not responsible for providing alternate shelter and housing for tenants in this case. Renters have the option of purchasing rental insurance that provide temporary housing and provisions if this should occur.
However, in most states, if a rental unit is destroyed by a natural disaster, the lease becomes void and non-enforceable. A landlord cannot force a tenant to stay in an unlivable rental property and tenants can not be sued for leaving the property for a habitable property.
Infestation of Cockroaches, Bedbugs, and Rodents
If you sign a rental agreement for a property, it is important to understand beforehand whether or not the landlord will provide scheduled preventative treatment against insects and other pests. If there is no mention of this in your lease, it is reasonable to request this service before signing the contract. In some leases, the responsibility will be mandated to the tenant.
If you move into a home and notice cockroaches, insects, or mouse droppings, it is important to photograph this evidence. If the home is furnished, check the mattresses and furniture for evidence of bed bugs and notify the landlord immediately if anything is discovered.
If the infestation occurs later on, the fault falls on the tenant. In this case, a landlord may not be responsible for paying for an exterminator and the tenant may be liable for the damage caused by the invading pests.
Illegal Acts of Landlords
Here are some actions that your landlord is legally prohibited from from doing if you request some type of repair.
- Evicting a tenant for requesting repairs or making an official complaint about conditions.
- Entering the property without a 24-hour written notice unless service is requested.
- Not revealing that an apartment is infested with cockroaches, bedbugs, or other creatures.
- Interfering with a tenants right to quiet enjoyment of the property.
- Seizing a tenant's property for non-payment of rent. This includes selling the tenant's property to collect unpaid rent and fees.
- Providing an uninhabitable property.
- Not notifying tenants a property is known to be haunted.
- Changing locks on a property for non-payment of rent.
- Turning off utilities to threatnen or evict a tenant.
- Attempting to evict a tenant without a court order.
Laws vary state to state. Check with a lawyer if you are dealing with any of these activities.