When looking for a rental property, you need to consider its condition, location, amenities, proximity to public transport, workplace, educational and medical facilities, parks, etc. When people rent a property, they frequently have difficulties getting things fixed by the landlord. Although many landlords care for the tenant’s comfort, some don’t consider their legal duties toward the tenants. Landlords must abide by the law when repairing property damage, regardless of their relationship with tenants.
Since it’s difficult to switch to a new place due to legal bindings, there are certain steps you can take to ensure your landlord arranges for all the repairs and the house is in good condition to live in. This article provides comprehensive information to tenants on how to get the repairs done and things to consider for a legal case.
Things to Check before Renting Accommodation
You should double-check a few details when looking for new housing to avoid a conflict with your landlord later. Before renting a house, check if the following:
- The accommodation is clean and safe for moving in.
- The accommodation has all the basic facilities including electricity, water, heating system, etc.
- The accommodation is in good condition to live in, and no outstanding repairs are needed.
- The accommodation is insulated and safe from fire and electrical hazards.
What Must and Mustn’t a Landlord Fix?
Before renting a property, you must ensure the property adheres to the legal requirements for a lease. Each state has rules and regulations, and landlords must fulfill them. The most important thing to fulfill is getting your rental up to code. For a house to be up to code, the landlord must adhere to security and maintenance standards.
- The house should be structurally sound and weather-resistant.
- The staircases have railings and show no signs of deterioration.
- The house’s heating system is functional.
- Exterior walls should be free from imperfections, tilts, cracks, and holes.
- The drainage is clear, and there are no clogged drains, leaking pipes, and other plumbing issues.
- There is adequate ventilation in the kitchen, bathrooms, laundry rooms, and chimneys.
- Smoke alarms are operational.
- Electrical wiring is safely installed and protected.
- There is no obstruction in exit paths.
- Before leasing and handing over a house to tenants, the landlord must fulfill these codes and ensure tenants’ safety and comfort.
A landlord is legally bound to fix the above issues, peeled paint, broken doors and windows, and pest infestations. However, the landlord is not legally-bound to fix minor problems such as dripping faucets, holes in the carpet, torn window screens, running toilets, fused lights, etc. The house’s condition when you occupy it must be the same by the end of the lease contract. For this reason, the tenant is responsible for minor repairs caused by everyday living or any damage by you, your family, or your guests.
Early Steps to Take If a Landlord Doesn’t Make Property Repairs
The first thing to do when you notice an outstanding repair is to contact your landlord and request repair. However, if your landlord has not responded to your request, you can take the following steps before issuing a notice:
Consult Your Lease
Your lease document has everything you need in case of damage or difficulty living in rental property. Analyze the lease for any necessary processes you must follow for submitting a documented repair request. Find a complete list of repairs covered in terms of your lease. Many jurisdictions do not permit landlords to enter a property without a written request for services or a 24-hour prior notice to the renter. To submit a request, it is always best to write it on paper and submit it along with the requested date.
Know the Laws
Each state has its own rules and regulations for both landlords and tenants. Before taking legal action or sending a letter, you must have in-depth knowledge of the legalities and repairs your landlord is bound to cover.
Send an Official Letter
After learning the local laws and ensuring the repair work is under the jurisdiction of the lease, you can send an official written letter for house repair. If your landlord has yet to respond to your first letter, attach a copy of your first letter with it. This official letter will be legal if you file a case later.
Making Serious Moves
Most landlords will acknowledge your request after sending an official letter. However, if your landlord refuses to carry out the repairs, you have several legal options to consider. But before you consider a legal option, you must make sure that:
- The requested repair work poses an obstruction to habitability in the house.
- The problem to fix is threatening the health and safety of tenants.
- You, your family, or your guests are not responsible for the damage.
- The type of repair work is mentioned in the legally-binding lease contract.
- You have followed the required procedures to request repairs and given ample time to landlords to fix the issue.
- You are not behind payments, even if you decide to withhold rent or deduct the cost of repair from the rent.
- There’s a risk that your landlord will terminate your tenancy after a legal notice. Bear that in mind before you take up the legal course.
- You’re prepared to move to a new place if the building is sealed for lease after you launch a complaint against the landlord’s code violations.
Here are some legal and strict actions you can take when the landlord refuses to fix problems in rental property:
Call Health or Housing Inspector
If the repair problem involves health and safety risks of urgent nature and they’re also mentioned in the National healthy housing standards, the tenant can call a health or housing inspector to visit the property.
Take pictures or record videos of the repair issue from time to time to gather evidence and show the inspector the copy of the letters you sent to your landlord. If the repair problem poses a greater risk to safety and health, the inspector will inspect the damage soon after the request. They will determine the nature of the problem and force the landlord to address the issue urgently.
Apply for Rent Abatement
If the absence of repairs deprived the tenant of a benefit they were bound to receive in the lease contract, they could file a petition to the provincial court for a rent abatement. If violations affect all the apartments inside the building, the court can provide rent abatement to all the tenants equally.
Not all states allow withholding rent, but if yours does, you’ll be required to place your rental payments into an escrow account. An escrow account is one where the rental funds are held in trust while two parties engage in a transaction. When there is a denied repair work your landlord is supposed to undertake, you can withhold rent until the repair work is complete.
Deduct Repair Costs from Rent
Deducting repair is also something not all states allow. If your state permits you to use the repair-and-deduct option, make sure the repair is serious and poses a habitability problem that can only be addressed through timely repairs. You can hire a professional or fix the problem yourself and deduct the cost of repairs from the next month’s rent.
However, we recommend you not to choose this option if the repairs are severe, like chimney replacement, roof repair, heating system replacement, etc. As per law, you can deduct four months’ rent in one year. In case there is a major repair, choosing the deduct-and-repair option would rather be costly for you.
Take your landlord to court.
If your rental property is beyond habitability and doesn’t meet the standards specified by the government, you can sue your landlord and claim several thousand dollars. Choose this option only if you wish to continue living in the same rental property without repairs.
Move Out Prematurely
If your landlord isn’t willing to repair it despite requests, you can choose to move out of the rental property anytime. You can also choose to move out if your landlord has tried to fix the problem but failed to resolve it. You can only receive the security amount back if the problems are grave and the house is inhabitable. Before moving out, ensure you had the house inspected by a health or building inspector and that you’ve given ample time to the landlord to fix the problem.
It’s terrible to live in a house with safety and health hazards. If your rental home is uninhabitable and the repairs required are specified in the lease contract, you can seek urgent repairs from your landlord. A non-accommodating landlord may make renters’ lives unpleasant if they are determined to avoid repairs. However, state legislation and regulations fully support renters, and they can exercise the rights mentioned above and alternatives to get repairs completed and live peacefully in the rental home.