When you think about home, you probably think about a two-story house with a nice backyard. That’s what the American Dream tells us home is, anyway. Today’s reality is very different. In fact, more people rent today than they ever have.
Renting is a great alternative to being a homeowner. You don’t have to worry about emergency repairs or expensive property taxes. You do have to worry, however, when your landlord fails to uphold their end of the bargain and leaves you with a home that’s in worse condition than when you moved in.
Irresponsible landlords can be an unfortunate part of renting. You’re probably asking yourself, “who do you call when your landlord will not fix things?” Thankfully, you have options. Read on to learn all about what you can do when your landlord leaves you in the lurch.
What Are Your Landlord’s Responsibilities?
Your landlord has a large number of responsibilities when they rent out a home to a tenant. Many of these responsibilities are outlined in the lease itself. There are still more responsibilities, however, that are found within federal, state, and local laws.
Implied Warranty of Habitability
One of the most basic aspects of landlord-tenant law is the implied warranty of habitability. This means that, regardless of what is in your lease, your landlord guarantees that the property you rent will be habitable for as long as you live there.
What does this mean in practice? It means that your lease doesn’t have to say anything about your landlord’s obligation to make necessary repairs, courts in most jurisdictions will automatically read that obligation into your lease. So, if your water heater breaks, then your landlord must repair it or they are in breach of the lease.
Does this mean that your landlord is required to repair absolutely everything? Unfortunately, it does not. For example, your landlord is not required to change lightbulbs or air filters.
Think about what you need to live comfortably in your home — heat, hot water, air conditioning if you live in a warmer area, and security. If the lock breaks on your front door, then your landlord must make a good faith effort to repair the lock in a timely manner. If you notify them of the problem, and they don’t repair the issue, then they are in breach of the lease.
Federal, State, and Local Laws
There are multiple laws throughout the United States that protect renters. These occur on the federal level in the form of the Fair Housing Act, and on the state and local level in the form of landlord-tenant laws.
The Fair Housing Act covers discrimination in housing based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status, and disability. These categories are known as protected classes of people. This means you cannot discriminate against someone who is a member of these classes simply because they are a member.
The Fair Housing Act is often used to protect people who are looking for housing, but it is also applicable to current residents. If you believe that part of the reason your landlord may not be making the repairs is due to your membership in a protected class, then your landlord may be in violation of the Fair Housing Act.
Your lease is going to be one of your strongest resources when determining your landlord’s responsibilities. Good leases lay out the responsibilities of both the landlord and the tenant. For example, it may say that the landlord is responsible for major repairs and the tenant has to cover ordinary wear and tear such as drip pans and light bulbs.
The lease may go above and beyond what is prescribed in the implied warranty of habitability. Since your lease is a contract between you and the landlord, the landlord must fulfill its terms even if they promise more than the law requires. Nearly every lease has a covenant of quiet enjoyment. Landlords must deliver and maintain the premises in the same condition they were in at the time you entered the lease. It’s very similar to the implied warranty of habitability, except that it is more broadly applicable to things like the right to enjoy your home free from nuisances and harassment.
What Are My Responsibilities?
Tenants have responsibilities for the care and upkeep of their rental property, as well. Most of these are outlined in your lease. For example, most leases will require tenants to make a good faith effort to keep the property clean and in good repair.
So, if your toddler flushes a whole roll of paper towels down the toilet and floods your bathroom, then you would be in breach of your lease and it would be reasonable for your landlord to bill you for the repair. The landlord would still have to make the repair in a reasonable amount of time, however.
You’re responsible for repairing everything that you bring into the apartment. Unless you rented a furnished apartment, then it is your responsibility to repair all furniture and electronics.
Your biggest responsibility in making sure that things in your rental get repaired is to notify your landlord as soon as possible. The most common way to do this is to call your landlord when you notice the problem. Most of the time this is enough to get the repair process moving.
If you have a landlord who’s not a big fan of answering the phone or who has been slow in the past about making repairs, then you should take an additional step in the notification process: notify your landlord in writing. You can drop a letter off at their office, email them, send a fax, or you can send them a letter via certified mail.
Regardless, your landlord cannot reasonably be required to make a repair unless they have had some kind of notice of the problem first.
How Long Does a Landlord Have to Repair Issues?
Many leases set a specific amount of time in which a landlord promises to make repairs. For example, your lease may say that they will respond to ordinary repair requests within 48 hours. That doesn’t necessarily mean the repair will be made within that time period, but the repair should be in process.
Emergencies are different, however. Emergencies require immediate action from your landlord. If it’s the middle of winter and your heat goes out, then your landlord must fix your heat immediately. The same is true if there’s a gas leak or you have one toilet in your home and it’s inoperable.
Be sure to document when you notified your landlord of the issue and the amount of time it took for them to make the repair if you feel that the repair was not made in a reasonable amount of time.
Who Do You Call When Your Landlord Will Not Fix Things?
You have many options when your landlord fails to make repairs.
On the federal level, if you feel like the failed repair is due to your membership in a protected class, then you can reach out to your local Housing and Urban Development Office to file a Fair Housing discrimination claim.
You can also reach out to the appropriate state and local agencies for your jurisdiction if your landlord fails to make repairs. They can work as a mediator between you and your landlord and facilitate the repairs.
Your strongest resource will likely be a local attorney. Attorneys are well-versed in local landlord-tenant laws and will be able to tell you whether you have a case and what your options are. Many attorneys are willing to take cases on contingency, meaning they don’t get paid unless you get paid.
If you can’t afford a private attorney, many local legal aid groups have parts of their practice dedicated to landlord-tenant law.
What Are Your Options?
If your landlord fails to make repairs, you do have some financial options. First, you can make the repair yourself and deduct the amount of money you spent on the repair from your next month’s rent.
Another option is to withhold rent altogether until the repair is made. This can be riskier because your landlord is going to expect to get their rent and may even file for eviction. One good way to protect yourself when pursuing this option is to take the money you would have put toward rent and put it in a savings account. This shows that you’re not just looking to dodge paying your rent.
You also have the option of moving if your landlord doesn’t make the repair, even if you’re in the middle of your lease. The implied warranty of habitability generally permits a tenant to get out of their lease when their landlord breaches their end of the bargain.
Be sure to reach out to an attorney to help you determine what the best option will be for you.
Need More Helpful Information?
Who do you call when your landlord will not fix things? As you can see, there are plenty of options available to help protect yourself in the event your landlord reneges on their end of the contract.
Always give your landlord a reasonable opportunity to make the necessary repairs. If you decide to withhold rent, be sure to put that money aside and don’t touch it until the repairs have been made or you’re released from your lease. Do not hesitate to contact a local attorney if you make sure you’re fully protected in any dealings with your landlord.
Thankfully, lackluster landlords are not common, and the benefits of renting still far outweigh the downsides. Want to learn more? Check out the rest of our blog for more helpful information about renting and tenants’ rights!