Legal Issues & Renting

What If There Are Problems with the Apartment or House I’m Renting?

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Life is good when there aren’t any problems, but when a toilet starts leaking, a pipe breaks, mice move into the ceiling or a door won’t properly lock, the problems can be at best annoying, and at worst, dangerous. For homeowners, problems usually are fixed quickly, either as a do-it-yourself project or by calling in an expert. But for renters, a structural problem with the apartment or home requires notifying the landlord, and then waiting.

The lease agreement you signed prior to moving into your apartment or home lays out what responsibilities the landlord has when it comes to repairing or fixing problems with the unit. Make certain you understand what’s stated in your lease contract.

In a good rental scenario, the landlord will be out to investigate the problem immediately, identify a solution and call in the experts to get the problem resolved. But if your landlord doesn’t take action, or ignores your request completely, you have a couple of options:

  1. Report the problem to the local housing authority – If the situation is making the apartment unlivable – i.e. a broken water pipe, lack of heat, large amounts of mold, etc. – make a report with the local housing authority. Be sure to provide documentation of letters/emails you’ve sent to the landlord requesting the problem be fixed, as well as any responses you may have received back.
  2. Fix the problem yourself and deduct the cost of repairs from rent – Some states allow you to take this action, however there are criteria that need to be met first. Be sure to review your state’s legal statues for renters and landlords, and check with an attorney to determine if your situation merits this action.
  3. Withhold rent – Tenants can argue in court that a landlord not repairing problems reported by the tenant means a contract has been breached, allowing a tenant to withhold rent payments. This action is very dramatic, and might not have the best results. The court records will appear on the tenant’s criminal record, and if the landlord decides to ask the tenant to leave because of unpaid rent, the eviction record will show up in the tenant’s rental history report. These records may result in the tenant not being approved for future apartments.

However, if the court decides favorably with the tenant, the tenant can request those records be expunged.

Again, tenants should seek legal counsel and review the state laws, as well as the lease agreement before taking any action.