Many landlords neglect their rental properties. Here's what to do if the owner of your home fails to maintain it.
Perhaps you’ve called, texted, and emailed your landlord to tell him your heating is broken, your toilet is leaking, and the sink is making an interminable drip-drip-drip sound that’s driving you nuts.
But your landlord doesn’t seem to have any interest in fixing these issues.
What should you do if your landlord isn’t doing his job? Let’s look at some specific scenarios to give you an idea of your rights and options.
When Time Is of the Essence
Example: I haven’t had any hot water in my apartment for three days. Showering is awful and I’m having trouble getting my dishes clean—it’s so gross. What can I do?
Solution: Your landlord is obligated to repair anything deemed “essential” to the health and safety of his tenants. This includes dealing with heating, water and electrical issues; remediation of mold or fungus; battling bug infestations; and keeping the roof in working order.
Make sure that, in addition to calling, emailing or texting, you also send your repair request in writing to your landlord. This written proof could be necessary down the line if you get into a dispute with him.
Tip: Emailing and texting might not constitute “official written notice.” Your lease may specify which forms of communication qualify as “written notice,” so refer to that first and foremost. However, in the absence of any specific communication method stipulated within the lease, you should snail-mail your landlord a letter. Why? It’s the most commonly accepted legal definition of “written notice.”
Paying a little extra for registered mail is also a good idea if you’re worried your landlord is actively ignoring you, as your landlord will have to physically sign and date the receipt when he accepts the envelope. Plus, you’ll have documentation to prove that you sent the letter. (Save the registered mail receipt!)
In addition, keep detailed records of all important dates (when you first noticed the problem, when you left voice mails, etc…) and take plenty of pictures of the problem (with a date-stamp on the photos, if possible) to show the extent of the issue.
If your landlord does not respond to your request, you are within your legal rights to take any of the below steps:
- Alerting state or local health and building inspectors
- Suing your landlord in small claims court
- Breaking your lease for breach of lease terms (it’s best to consult an attorney before doing this to make sure you have a solid case and haven’t failed to do anything you needed to do under the lease terms)
Should you withhold rent payment until its fixed? Not advisable. Your landlord might use this as grounds for eviction. It’s better to keep your situation simple.
Should you repair the problem yourself (or pay to have it repaired) and then deduct that amount from your rent? Again, that’s not advisable. You’re best off doing your job (paying rent and sending written requests) and urging your landlord to perform his job.
When Your Property Has Been Damaged
Example: A pipe burst in my wall, sending water all over the place. A ton of stuff in my closet was ruined. I called my landlord yesterday and he still hasn’t shown up. What now?
Solution: If your personal property is damaged due to negligence on the part of your landlord — e.g., he hasn’t been maintaining the pipes properly, which caused the burst pipe — then you may have a case against him for reimbursement.
This is only if you’ve taken all steps within your power, including moving your property out of the way of the water (if possible) and alerting your landlord to any plumbing issues that might have signaled there was a problem.
If the pipe simply burst and it wasn’t anyone’s fault — e.g., due to an “Act of God” such as weather — your landlord is not responsible for the damage. You should always pay for renter’s insurance to cover your own personal property if calamity strikes.
When It’s Not Life-Threatening
Example: My kitchen sink has been dripping for the past three weeks. It’s driving us all crazy and keeping us awake at night, but my landlord doesn’t seem to care. Help!
Solution: Unfortunately your landlord is under no specific legal obligation to make repairs that are not deemed “essential.” Non-essential or cosmetic issues are up to his discretion, including changing light bulbs, fixing leaky faucets and patching a hole in your window screen. These things are annoying to put up with, but they don’t pose any immediate risk to your health and safety.
How can you determine whether or your not you have the right to minor repairs? First, examine your lease agreement. Some leases specifically state whether a landlord will make only essential repairs, or whether he’ll conduct non-essential repairs that you bring to his attention.
You’ll also want to consider if your repair request is the sort of thing your landlord would be concerned about from a business standpoint. Your hole-ridden window screen is something he may not care about (until he needs to rent the apartment out again), but a leaky faucet could wind up boosting the water bill, which many landlords cover themselves — giving you added arguing power.
When the Problem Is Your Fault
Example: I had a party and things got a little crazy. My ceiling light fixture got knocked off and now it’s hanging by a thread. Why won’t my landlord take care of it?
Solution: A landlord is only required to make repairs necessitated by normal wear-and-tear or by a defect in the property (appliances not installed correctly, etc.).
If the issue is a result of damage, misuse or negligence on your part — or on the part of any guests, children or pets staying with you — your landlord does not have to take care of it. For instance, if your cockroach problem is a result of your failure to keep the kitchen clean, good luck talking your landlord into ponying up the money to take care of it.
In cases like these, you’ll have to take care of the issue yourself, on your own dime, or risk having the damage deducted from your security deposit when you move out.
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