If your landlord won’t fix problems with your rental, there are a variety of proven techniques that can help you successfully navigate the situation.
An unreliable or unscrupulous landlord is always frustrating. As a tenant, it’s easy to feel powerless when dealing with someone that appears to have financial leverage and could adversely affect your life and home. But while landlord-tenant laws vary from state to state, there are strategies that can help when your landlord won’t fix a vital issue that’s affecting your life, health, or safety.
In this article, we’ll discuss your rights as a tenant, background on tenant-landlord disputes, and the steps to take when your landlord won’t fix a problem with your rental.
Legal Disclaimer: We are not lawyers and are not offering legal advice. This article hopes to provide useful information on how to interact with a landlord who won’t fix your rental’s issues or make necessary repairs.
Repairs are a common dispute
Repairs and who pays for them is one of the most common legal issues between landlords and tenants.
While the terms of repairs are negotiable — more on that later — landlords are generally responsible for the exterior and structural elements of a rental. Tenants are typically on the hook for other repairs.
Nevertheless, disputes often arise when either the landlord or tenant disagree on who caused a particular problem. For instance, if there is a roof leak that damages flooring a landlord may claim that it’s the tenant’s responsibility to fix it. Resolving that issue could be expensive and time-consuming.
Thus, it’s important to understand a rental repair agreement before you sign a lease. Keep detailed documentation that explains what types of repairs fall into the agreement and the process of how repairs are to be made. Make sure the agreements are in writing — not a handshake.
Know your rights
Nearly every state in the U.S. has some variation of an “implied warranty of habitability” for tenants renting an apartment or home. It is in essence, it means that the landlord is required to provide a clean environment, make timely repairs and keep the premise in compliance with health and safety laws.
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. Even if you signed a lease that conflicts with habitability rules, most judges will not enforce a contract that contradicts your rights to a safe, clean, and habitable rental.
Put everything into writing
As mentioned above, it is crucial you carefully read your lease and understand your repair agreement before signing it. If something doesn’t make sense or if you’d like something amended, ask the landlord to clarify or add in details. Make sure any changes you discuss are written down in the lease — don’t accept oral agreements.
After you’ve signed a lease, it’s equally as important to always put repair requests or complaints in writing — no matter how big or small. Some landlords may have a digital tool to communicate repair requests, but if not, use certified U.S. mail to send your complaint. You need to create a paper trail that shows you’ve communicated with relevant parties — such as the landlord, managing agent, and or the building’s superintendent — in the event you go to court. Keep copies of the letters, emails, or other communications.
Tenants need to give landlords a reasonable amount of time to complete the repairs. Thirty days is a typical deadline unless it’s an emergency, such as a broken furnace in the winter.
Complain to the city or county
If your landlord isn’t responding to repair requests in a reasonable amount of time, you can file complaints or code violations with your city or county government. In addition to adding regulatory pressure on the landlord to complete a repair, the complaints add to your paper trail if you take them to court.
To start, make note of the violations you see, when or how often they occur, and the impact they’ve had on you and or your neighbors. Once you’ve created documentation, seek out your city’s or county’s health inspector or building inspector to report the violations. Emphasize if your issue has caused bodily harm, safety concerns, and or prevented you from living there.
Log all communications with your city or county government, including the time and date, as well as the person with whom you spoke. Ask for a copy of any reports they produce on the building or unit.
Be cautious with this approach as your landlord may not be pleased with your workaround. That could come back to bite you if need to re-negotiate your rent at a market-rate rental. It’s always best to directly communicate issues with landlords but if that’s not possible, this could be an alternative.
Work with your neighbors
If you’re in an apartment complex or building with an array of issues, you and your neighbors have power in numbers. Work together with your neighbors to record issues, file complaints, and communicate with your landlord. As a group, not only is legal representation more affordable but your landlord is also more likely to communicate and fix issues.
One way to organize your neighbors is to form a tenant association. An association enables a group of tenants to collectively exert more pressure for their repair requests than an individual can by themselves. You can learn more about how to form a tenant association here.
While this strategy should be a last resort, withholding your rent is certain to get your landlord’s attention.
It’s best to speak with an attorney before you decide to withhold rent. An attorney will be able to better guide your decision and discuss with you the possible legal fallout. Importantly, if you decide to withhold rent, it can’t be a problem you, your family, or guests caused.
If you decide to withhold rent, make sure you send a letter notifying your landlord that plan to not pay your rent or some of your rent until the repairs are completed. Make a copy of that letter. If you have an attorney, have them review it.
Next, collect and compile all evidence you have of the problems, your communications with the landlord, and their failure to rectify the issues. Include times, dates, and people with whom you’ve spoken. Take photos and video of the problems. Obtain any copies of letters to the landlord and any reports filed by housing inspectors. You may also want to build a list of witnesses to the problems.
Lastly, make sure that you’re setting aside your rent funds — do not spend it. With this approach, you’re merely withholding the rent to compel the landlord to make repairs. You can put this rent money in a separate bank account or your attorney’s trust account. If you don’t have the rent money available, that could hurt your case in court.
Fix the problem, charge your landlord
If it’s a relatively simple fix that you’re landlord is ignoring, you can consider repairing it yourself and charging your landlord for the project. Similar to withholding rent, it’s best to speak with an attorney before taking this approach.
If you try this strategy, make sure it’s after you’ve notified and waited for your landlord to make the repairs. If they’re still not fixing the issues, get an estimate for the repair, send it to your landlord and ask them to complete the job in writing. If they don’t, pay for it and deduct the total from your next rent payment.
Make sure you keep copies of your communications with the landlord and the repairman, as well as the repair bill and your receipt of payment.
Take your landlord to court
If you’re going to court with your landlord, you’ve probably tried just about everything.
Make sure you’ve collected all evidence you have of the problems, your emails, phone calls, and letters with the landlord, and their failure to rectify the issues. Compile photos or videos of the issues, as well as any witness testimony.
Once you’ve begun the legal process, tell your judge that you didn’t pay the rent because of poor conditions in your home, have evidence of the problems, reached out to your landlord regarding them, and have the rent money saved. You can request that your case be postponed if you need more time to collect evidence. If there’s an emergency or a significant safety concern, share it with your judge and the court may expedite your case.
Find free legal help
An attorney can provide valuable insight on your issues, your local laws regarding tenant-landlord disputes, as well as guide you through the process if you end up in court. You can get free legal advice via Law Help or find a specific answer with the legal forum Avvo.
You can also find more information on free legal help with this guide from Low Income Relief.
While not a comprehensive list, these strategies can help when your landlord won’t fix a problem that’s affecting your life, health, or safety. We hope through this article you’ve learned more about your rights as a tenant, background on tenant-landlord disputes, and the steps to take when your landlord won’t fix a problem with your rental.
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