It’s been two weeks and your lovely shower that once rained down with the force of a thousand waterfalls has been reduced to a sputtering dribble. Despite numerous phone calls to the landlord and countless voicemails and vague answers, the problem has yet to be fixed.
According to a Rent.com survey, 44% of renters are unhappy with the maintenance service that their landlord provides. What is a renter to do? Here’s where to start:
Know Your Rights
As a renter, you have certain legal protections that are usually referred to as “tenant rights.” These laws are commonly passed at the local level, which means that not only will there be variations from state to state, but even two different cities in the same state may have conflicting ideas about what renters are entitled to.
A good resource is the Tenant’s Rights page of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s website. There you will find a breakdown of tenant’s rights organizations by state and municipality, giving you access to the laws that most affect you.
Your landlord can’t help you out if he doesn’t know what is wrong. The worst thing you can do when you encounter a problem with your unit is to just ignore it.
You may think you can live with a leaky faucet until your lease is up, but that leak may be indicative of larger plumbing problems. Next thing you know, the entire unit is flooded because you didn’t want to be a nuisance.
The majority of landlords would much rather you speak up when you notice a problem, rather than risk the issue getting out of control. Don’t be afraid to contact your landlord. Most would bend over backward to make their residents comfortable.
That being said, there are those landlords out there that seem scary or intimidating. In those cases, know that you are most likely protected by a no-retaliation law. This is one of the few tenant’s rights that is commonly found across state and county lines.
It basically means that you are protected from any retaliation by the landlord should you report him or her to tenant’s rights groups, the police, government officials or any other entity.
This means that they can’t just raise your rent because you asked them to fix the buzzer. With this in mind, know that you can tell your landlord about anything that is broken or malfunctioning in your apartment without fear that he or she will try to get back at you.
If your first request for repairs has gone unanswered, follow-up a second time. Your second request should be made in print and indicate a time period in which you expect the work to be completed. The minimum number of days you can set varies across jurisdictions, so be sure to know the law in your area before submitting your written request.
If the work has still not been completed, you may have the ability to either independently contract someone else and deduct the cost of repairs from your next rent check, or pay less rent to reflect the decreased value of the damaged apartment.
This means that, if your water pressure decreases suddenly, you can either hire a plumber yourself to fix it and then deduct his fees from your rent or pay what you think an apartment with a weak faucet is worth.
You can only begin withholding rent if your written requests for repairs have gone unanswered and you live in a jurisdiction that includes this in their tenant’s rights lawbook.
Cut and Run
If all else fails, and the apartment problems are serious enough, you may be able to legally break your lease. Now, this usually only applies to those apartments where the habitability of the unit has been severely diminished.
Repeated attempts to ignore your requests for major repairs are grounds for getting out of your contract with the landlord. Of course, because leases are legal documents, it is always best to consult a lawyer before trying to simply move out. In most cases you will have to prove that the unit is no longer habitable and that the landlord has made no good-faith attempts to remedy the situation.
Usually, should you break the lease, the landlord is the one responsible for finding a new tenant. However, in some cases, the prior tenant (i.e., you) is responsible for paying out the remainder of the lease upon the contract’s termination. If you do decide to terminate your lease, be sure you know exactly what you are getting yourself into.
Ignored maintenance requests can be extremely frustrating. Hang in there, and be sure to consult the proper resources for information on the tenant’s rights in your area.