What can you do if your rental property needs repair and the landlord is ignoring your requests? Before we go any further understand that in virtually every state, the landlord is not required to repairing damages done by the tenant or their guests. If you broke it you will need to fix it. Small cosmetic repairs are usually not covered. So don’t stop paying rent because you have a chip in your kitchen cabinet or the rugs are dirty.
The first step is to call the landlord and report the repairs needed. You must also send a detailed letter. In the letter be clear and precise regarding the repairs. Stick to the facts and don’t go off on a long rant. If the repairs are not completed, this letter may become evidence in court.
We strongly suggest sending the letter by certified mail and keep a copy of the letter for your records. Many states have deadlines by which the repairs must be completed, the letter will start the clock. A phone call is not enough, because a landlord can simply claim he never received any phone calls.
Not all state or county laws allow the following. There is a link at the end of the article to find your states laws regarding repairs. We cannot stress enough the importance of contacting an attorney prior to initiating any self-help remedies. There are usually free legal services in most areas that can give you guidance. If the repairs are life threatening, you should move out and contact your local code enforcement office or health department.
If escrowing rent is allowed, it is one of the best ways to get your landlords attention. When you escrow the rent it means you will be holding the rent instead of paying it to the landlord. DON’T SPEND THE RENT MONEY!
You must place your monthly rent into a bank account. In some states you can simply keep it in your own bank account, others require a separate account be opened expressly for this purpose and some require you to escrow the funds with an attorney. Send a copy of the bank statement to the landlord showing the rent was placed in escrow. If the landlord makes the repairs you will need to release the funds held in escrow.
Unfortunately many times you are caught in a stalemate. The landlord won’t make the repairs because you aren’t paying the rent, and you won’t pay the rent because the landlord isn’t making the repairs. In most cases the landlord will start an eviction, but this is to your benefit.
You must attend the eviction hearing. At the eviction hearing you will have an opportunity to tell the judge or mediator about the repair issues. Bring photos of the problems and if the repairs are not visible, such as a broken heater, try to bring a witness. It is vitally important that you bring bank statements showing the monthly rent was placed in escrow. If you don’t the judge will find in favor of the landlord and you will be evicted. Also bring a copy of the letter you sent to the landlord.
If the judge finds in your favor, they will usually order the landlord to make the repairs and you must agree to release the escrowed rent upon completion. In some jurisdictions an agreement is drafted that you and the landlord, or their representative, will need to sign. Even if you reach an agreement they will sometimes schedule another hearing. If the issues are still not resolved by the next hearing date, you will need to go back to court.
Sometimes the judge may give you the option of moving out. You may need to release the escrowed rent if you agree to move out. The judge will usually order the landlord to release the security deposit after you pay the rent and move out.
The court may also decide the repairs are not the landlords responsibility. In this case you will also need to release the escrowed rent or face eviction.
Repair and Deduct
In some states you are allowed to make repairs and deduct the costs from your rent. Many states limit the amount you can deduct for repairs. Prior to doing the repairs yourself, you need to inform the landlord in writing of the repairs needed and allow sufficient time for the landlord to make the repairs. If the repairs remain unresolved then send another letter informing the landlord you intend to have the repairs made and deduct them from the rent.
You should get three estimates in writing from licensed professionals, and get a copy of the contractor’s license and any permits, if required. If the landlord takes you to court you will need to bring all of this information.
Once the repairs are completed send a copy of the receipt for the repairs and copies of the estimates to your landlord along with a letter informing them of the amount that will be deducted from the rent. Retain copies of everything you send to the landlord.
Essential services such as heat, hot water and utilities (if the landlords is responsible for them) must be maintained by the landlord under virtually every state law. Contact your local health department or code enforcement department if the landlord fails to maintain essential services. The agencies will usually inspect the property and notify the landlord of the violations. If they still fail to make the repairs or restore services, the remedies stated above may be used if allowed in your jurisdiction.
We are not suggesting breaking your lease. However if you are having repair issues and your lease is about to expire or you are month to month, you should consider moving. Failure to maintain a property is an indication the landlord is having financial difficulties. More problems will arise. You don’t want your quality of life impacted because of your landlords financial problems.
To find the repair remedies allowed in your state, visit http://www.rentsmartadvisors.com/tenant-rights/rental-repair-and-maintenance/. You may have additional rights provide under county or city codes. Again, please consult with and attorney before implementing any self-help remedies.