Legal Issues & Renting

Ending a lease when repairs are not being made

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Many families prefer to rent, rather than own, because as a renter, they are not financially responsible for maintenance of the property or replacement of appliances as they age. However, a renter is responsible if he or she causes physical damage to the property. But traditional maintenance issues – or repairs needed due to external factors like broken pipes, leaky roofs or even natural disasters – are the responsibility of the landlord.

As a renter, if you have a need for repair work to be done, you first need to inform the landlord. Each state has directions on tenant and landlord responsibilities. A written notice is highly recommended, and if you don’t receive a response within a reasonable timeframe, sending notification via certified mail is the next step.

If you continue to not receive a response, or the landlord denies your request for maintenance or repair, you do have a couple of options for ending your lease.

  1. Contact your local housing authority or building inspectors. This inspection will determine if your property is a health hazard, which could result in the landlord being fined by the city, or the building being closed for code violations. This can terminate the constraints of your lease, allowing you to move out of the property without violating your lease agreement.
  2. Stop paying rent. There’s a good chance a landlord will give you notice of eviction when you stop paying rent. However, your refusal to pay rent, and your eviction, will appear on your rental history report, which can make it harder for you to encourage future landlords to rent to you.
  3. Make the repairs yourself and deduct the cost from rent. Called repair and deduct, there are many stipulations in each state on the legal process for this step. And in some states, it could result again in notice of eviction.
  4. Getting the value of the property appraised, continue paying rent, and then suing the landlord for the difference. This will bring the case of your needed repairs in front of a judge, who may determine your lawsuit is justified. But there is also a chance the judge will side with your landlord. Either way, the case will show up on a background check.

It’s a good idea to thoroughly research your situation, and potentially discuss your plan of action with an attorney before taking any action that could put a black mark on your rental history, your credit history or a background check.

Also, it will be worth your time to make sure your rental history report is accurate, both before and after you try to fix the problem, and especially if you end up in a dispute with your landlord.