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A Tenant's Rights to Landlord Repairs

As a tenant renting an apartment, you have a right to live in a property that is suitable for living. To that end, your landlord must make reasonable repairs. But what exactly does this mean? What repairs are landlords required to make, and which are the responsibility of the tenant? We explore these questions in the article below.

What a Landlord Is Responsible For

All tenants have the right to live in a habitable property. Even if it is not specifically outlined in your rental contract, your landlord is legally responsible for keeping your building and/or unit in livable condition. This involves:

  • Keeping the building structurally sound, including fixing cracks in the foundation or walls, repairing roof leaks, and reinforcing weakened floors
  • Keeping heating and cooling systems in good repair, including repairing or replacing malfunctioning HVAC systems, maintaining boilers and furnaces, and ensuring that thermostats and other controls are functioning properly
  • Keeping the electrical and plumbing in safe operating conditions, including repairing leaks, fixing faulty wiring, and ensuring that outlets and switches are functioning properly
  • Paying for an exterminator if there is an infestation – unless the infestation was caused by the tenant’s poor housekeeping. This includes hiring a professional exterminator to treat the property and taking steps to prevent future infestations.
  • Ensuring the property is safe to live in, including repairing or replacing broken locks, fixing broken windows, and ensuring that stairways and other common areas are free from hazards.

What a Landlord Is Not Responsible For

While landlords may help with fixing a variety of minor problems, they are not usually required to by law. This includes::

  • Minor plumbing issues such as running toilets, dripping faucets, or clogged drains
  • Replacing light bulbs
  • Repairing or replacing small appliances such as toasters, blenders, and microwave opens
  • Repairing or replacing door or window screens, unless it affects the habitability of the unit 
  • Cosmetic repairs such as painting, replacing the carpet, or wallpapering 
  • Repairing or replacing locks or keys, unless it affects the habitability of the unit

Although these issues may bother the tenant, landlords are not legally required to repair them 

However, there are certain situations in which the landlord would be required to make these types of minor repairs. These include:

  • If the terms of the lease agreement state that the landlord must fix a specific problem
  • If the landlord promises to make the repair verbally or in writing
  • If local or state building codes or state landlord/tenant laws require the landlord to make the repairs

How to Get a Landlord to Make Major Repairs

If there is a major repair required that a landlord is legally responsible for, there are multiple steps that a tenant can take in order to have the landlord pay for the repair. These include:

  • Fixing the problems themselves and deducting the cost from the rent - This option is only available in some states and jurisdictions, so it's important to check the laws in your area before pursuing this route. You should always get the landlord's permission first and keep all receipts and records of the repair. The amount you can deduct from rent is usually limited to a certain percentage of the monthly rent or a specific dollar amount.
  • Withholding rent until the landlord fixes the problem - This option should only be used as a last resort, as it can lead to eviction if not done properly. Before withholding rent, the tenant should send a written notice to the landlord detailing the repairs that need to be made and giving them a reasonable amount of time to complete the repairs. If the repairs are not made within that timeframe, the tenant may be able to withhold rent until they are.
  • Paying rent to a clerk of records until the dispute is resolved - This option is similar to withholding rent, but instead of keeping the rent money, the tenant pays it to a neutral third party (usually a court clerk) until the repairs are made. This option can provide some protection to the tenant in case the landlord tries to evict them for nonpayment of rent, but it can also be more complicated and time-consuming than simply withholding rent. Again, it's important to check the laws in your area before pursuing this option.

How to Get a Landlord to Make Minor Repairs

Because a landlord is not legally obligated to make minor repairs, tenants cannot use the same actions as they can with major repairs. Rather, they can try some of the following ways to get their landlord to make a minor repair.

  • Requesting the repair in writing, which gives the landlord time to consider the request and how it might benefit them to make it 
  • Inviting your landlord to sit down with a mediator through a free or low-cost mediation service specializing in landlord/tenant relations
  • Report any violations of building or housing code to the local housing authority
  • File a lawsuit claiming that the issue at hand lowers the property value to less than the rent paid

If you are having a conflict with your landlord over the issue of major or minor repairs and believe you may need to take legal action, your first step will be to speak to a lawyer experienced in these types of disputes. They will be able to give you a free review of your case and advise you regarding the next steps.

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