Apartment health code violations can be serious issues. They can be even more challenging if you don’t know how to identify them or if a landlord is refusing to make adequate repairs. An unreliable or unresponsive landlord is always a headache and it’s easy to feel powerless when dealing with someone who seems to have financial leverage over your life and home. But while it can be a pain, there are proven approaches to finding, reporting, and fixing apartment health code violations.
In this article, we’ll discuss what apartment health code violations are, why they’re important, how to identify violations, some common examples, and how to report them.
Legal Disclaimer: We are not lawyers and are not offering legal advice. This article hopes to provide useful information on how to identify and report health code violations.
What are health code violations?
Health code violations are when a business, landlord, or tenant fails to adhere to rules about safety or sanitation. Code violations are often reported to county or city health departments.
Most U.S. states have some variation of an “implied warranty of habitability” or “sanitary code” for tenants renting an apartment or home. These rules vary from state to state but their intention is generally universal. Habitability rules aim to protect you, the tenant, as well as ensure that your landlord provides a clean environment, makes timely repairs, and keeps the premises in compliance with health and safety laws.
When the landlord fails to uphold aspects of that agreement, it may be a health code violation. These health codes are segmented into different groups and can include energy efficiency, home safety and security from crime, moisture and weatherproofing, notices and disclosures, occupancy and access, pest control and extermination, smoke and carbon monoxide alarm codes.
Why are code violations important?
Apartment health code violations are important because they could harm your and your family’s comfort, health, and safety. An issue may at first seem small — such as a tiny leak in a ceiling — but could grow to become a more serious problem like mold or structural damage. Health codes are designed to keep you, your family, and the public safe.
If your landlord is failing to live up to a habitability standard, you have a variety of options that we’ll discuss in more detail below. Check out this helpful article from Low Income Relief that discusses your rights as a tenant and how to handle tenant-landlord disputes.
Reporting code violations
Typically, a tenant must first notify the landlord of a problem before filing a complaint with the county or city health department. This affords a landlord an opportunity to adequately and punctually fix the issue and avoid a complaint that may blemish their record.
Check your lease for your rental repair agreement and follow the steps it outlines with regard to requesting maintenance on your rental. Even if you signed a lease that conflicts with basic habitability rules, most judges will not enforce a contract that contradicts your rights to a safe, clean, and habitable rental. If the landlord doesn’t respond or declines to fix it, your next step would be to file a complaint with the health department.
Document the violations
Before you file a complaint, make sure to collect information on the issue.
Jot down the problems you see, when or how often they occur, and the impact they’ve had on you and or your neighbors. Take photos, record videos, and talk to your neighbors to help create additional evidence for the health department and in case you go to court.
Filing a complaint
Once you’ve amassed evidence and information, seek out your city’s or county’s health inspector or building inspector to report the violations. Emphasize if your issue has the potential to cause imminent harm, has caused bodily harm, or prevented you from living there. Ask them any questions about the process and what may or may not be a health code violation.
You’ll need to provide the health department such information as your name, the rental’s address, the landlord or property manager, your correspondence with your landlord, when the problem began, for how long it’s occurred, and how frequent it occurs.
Log all communications with your county or city government, including dates, times, and the people with whom you spoke. Ask for a copy of any reports the inspector produces on the building or unit. Keep these documents safe in the event you must sue the landlord.
There are a few different steps that your health department might take in response to your complaint.
It’s likely the health department will send an inspector to review the property for your complaint and file a report on their findings. The inspector may also look for other health violations at the property as they go.
If there are violations, the inspector will give the landlord a certain number to fix any outstanding issues. The health department official will re-inspect the property at a later date and either give the landlord a Letter of Compliance or a fine.
Common health code violations
There are a wide variety of apartment health code violations. This is not a comprehensive list, but rather a few common examples of health code violations you might encounter.
Lack of heat, water, or electricity
Tenants are assured of basic safety and health services in their rentals. That includes access to reliable heat, clean water, and consistent electricity. If your rental is lacking any of these basic services, you can report your landlord for a health code violation. The array of impacts that clean water, heat, and electricity have on health mean these issues are often top priorities.
Spores and mold can rapidly grow inside homes. Mold is common in areas with leaks, where condensation accumulates and air doesn’t circulate well. Basements, windows, walls, ceilings, and floors can all support mold growth. Mold can adversely affect health, particularly among those with allergies, an existing respiratory problem, or a weakened immune system.
Pests and insects
Mice, rats, roaches, bed bugs, and other insects all carry significant health risks. A tenant can report a landlord whose rental has an infestation of any pests or insects.
As a tenant, you have the right to have working plumbing in your apartment. This typically includes a working toilet, washbasin, and bath or shower. If it’s a severe enough plumbing problem and jeopardizing your health, your rental may be deemed uninhabitable.
Lead paint was commonly used in homes built before 1978. Lead can be dangerous and pose health risks to children.
If you have any concerns with the structural integrity of your rental, contact your county or city health department. Concerning issues could include holes in floors, leaky roofs, broken stairs, decks or fire escapes, and other structural problems.
Tenants can expect their landlord to properly dispose of trash and waste. If trash is accumulating out of control, you can report it to your health department.
Live wires are extremely dangerous. Exposed wires can produce an electric shock or electrocution that could result in harm or even death. Report any exposed wiring immediately to your landlord and health department.
Your apartment should have working smoke detectors and clear exits in the event of a fire. Some health departments consider these violations as imminent hazards that your landlord would need to act quickly to rectify.
Know your rental repair agreement
An important consideration when discussing health code violations is understanding your lease’s rental repair agreement. This is the part of your lease that details how you’re supposed to request maintenance on your rental and how the landlord will make the repairs.
Carefully read your lease and understand your repair agreement before signing it. Ask the landlord about the process if you’d like something clarified or amended. Ensure any changes you discuss are written down in the lease and do not accept oral or handshake agreements.
While all health code violations should be taken seriously, they’re not always the result of your landlord or her property.
All tenants are beholden to rules that they maintain their rental property and follow health and safety laws. For example, if a tenant were to have a filthy home that attracts pests and insects, the landlord would not be responsible for the issues caused by a tenant’s neglect.
Health code violations should always be taken seriously. And with the right know-how, you can easily identify, address, and report apartment health code violations.
We hope through this article you’ve learned more about what apartment health code violations are, why they’re important, how to identify violations, some common examples, and how to report them.