Repair of Premises

Good Repair

In order to keep the premises fit for human habitation (and meet the implied warranty of habitability and the various local housing codes), landlords are responsible for making repairs to keep the property in good, safe and clean condition or upkeep. State laws and housing codes require landlords to repair specific dangerous conditions and to keep the premises up to code. Your lease may also set out items the landlord has a duty to repair, such as appliances.

Sidebar: Repairs to bring the premises back up to living standards are only required if the landlord knows about the defects or has been notified. Either a tenant, a community member or city employee can notify the landlord.

Structural Repairs

Landlords must make structural repairs because the tenants' safety depends on the integrity of the building. The structural repair can be minor, such as a broken step. However, minor problems may lead to serious injuries. For example, the broken step may cause an older visitor of the tenant's to lose his footing, fall and break a hip.

If the tenant is responsible for the breaking the step, she is also responsible for fixing it. The situation becomes complicated if the person who fell sues the landlord. Although he may not have had a duty to repair the step because the tenant was at fault, he does have a duty to keep the premises safe. If the step was in the front of the building and the landlord knew it was broken, he may be liable for the person's fall.

Heating and Cooling

Rental property must have working heat and cooling systems in order for the premises to be fit to live in. Any breakdown in the systems should be immediately repaired. The situation can turn into an emergency during very cold and very hot months. Children and the elderly are particularly susceptible to extreme weather. If you do not have working heat or air conditioning and you or your family's health and safety is at risk, call the city building inspector. City codes require adequate heating and cooling.

Is lack of heat a housing code violation?

Yes. In very cold weather, the heat source in a rental dwelling must be capable of keeping the apartment at certain temperature. Depending on the outside temperature and local codes, an apartment must generally be between 65 to 70 degrees.

My landlord has not turned the heat on. Can I force him to?

Yes. Housing codes typically have strict guidelines, depending on the time of year and outside temperature, for heating and cooling of rental properties. Call your local housing authority and find out the requirements. If your landlord still refuses to turn the heat on although required to, you should file a complaint with the housing authority or city building inspector.

Mold

Mold in residences is big issue for homeowners, insurance companies, landlords and tenants. Some mold is harmful and can cause serious illness to the occupants of a home where mold is present. As a tenant, you can probably force your landlord to remove mold that is found on the premises because it is a health hazard. If it cannot be removed and your health is at issue, you may have to option of terminating the lease early. As with all repairs, the landlord is not required to resolve the mold problem unless he is aware that it exists.

Sidebar: The bigger issue is whether the landlord is liable for the tenant's physical injuries and medical expenses. If he created the condition that caused the mold, the landlord may be liable. For example, if the pipes burst during an ice storm, the apartment was flooded and the landlord never had it properly dried out and replaced the carpet, he may have been negligent, which in turn caused the tenant's mold-induced injuries.

I want my apartment inspected for mold but the landlord refuses to pay for the testing. What can I do?

Landlords are not required to pay for mold testing, but they are required to provide tenants with a safe and healthy environment. Document the mold problem with photographs (if the mold is visible) or using a mold air test kit. Once you can show that mold is present in the apartment, make a written complaint to both the building code enforcement and health department in your city. The landlord may be forced to hire an inspector.

TIP: Certified industrial hygienists can be hired to test environmental air quality. However, there are many self-proclaimed mold experts willing to test your home. Always check the person's credentials; those with Internet-only training and certifications should be avoided.

What are some signs that my apartment may be infested with mold?

You should look for mold that is:

  • blackish-green in color ("black mold") or
  • yellow, green and white colored ("trichoderma").

Other signs include:

  • ceilings and walls with peeling paint
  • condensation on walls, ceilings and floors

Physical symptoms include:

  • stomach aches and diarrhea
  • extreme fatigue
  • eye and nose irritation
  • respiratory tract infections
  • skin rashes and hair loss

Where do I look for mold?

If you believe there is mold in your apartment but have not been able to find it, pull out and look behind the washer, dryer and refrigerator. Mold often grows under carpeting-pull up carpets and inspect the padding and floor underneath if you can.

My family has become ill because of mold in our apartment. Can we move out?

Yes; however, to avoid owing rent on the remainder of your lease term you need to notify the landlord in writing that the premises are unsafe, unsanitary and have become inhabitable. Include a statement that because of the mold, you and your family have been constructively evicted. Copy the city health department and building code enforcement office with the letter.

Ordinary Repairs

The landlord is not required to make more than ordinary repairs. For example, if your refrigerator ice maker goes out and it would cost several hundred dollars to fix, the landlord is not required to have it repaired. The problem does not make the property unfit to live in, and the repair is not ordinary because of the cost. Further, the landlord is not required to make improvements or repair things that you, your family or visitors broke, such as a window that breaks when you son throws a ball through it.

My apartment needs new bathroom light fixtures, a hole in the wall repaired, new tile and caulking around the tub, and stove and kitchen sink repairs. Is all this more than ordinary repairs?

No. In combination, there are a lot of repairs to be done, but each one is an ordinary maintenance matter. Your landlord is required to keep the basic functions of the premises in good working order.

It is not a life-or-death situation, but our dishwasher has quit working and the landlord is not responding to my requests for repair. Do I have to live without a dishwasher?

Although the landlord does not have to provide appliances, if he does, they must be maintained in working order. He is violating the lease as well as the law by refusing the make the repair.

In situations where the repairs are small and the landlord is not responsive, the best option may be to "repair and deduct." You must give the landlord notice that you are exercising your option to repair and deduct and provide him with copies of your receipts at the time you pay the decreased rent.

My water heater is leaking but it still works. The landlord has tried to repair it several times and now I want I new one. Do I have a right to a new water heater?

Yes. A leaking water heater is an unsafe condition and your landlord must replace it as the repairs are not working. Remind him that the apartment could be flooded and he will be responsible for damage to your furniture and other possessions. Additionally, if the water heater is a gas heater, the leak could extinguish the pilot light, creating the possibility of exposure to natural gas.

A leaky faucet or shower is typically not considered to be a health hazard and the landlord is not violating any law or breaching the lease by refusing to repair that kind of leak.

Severe hailstorms cracked the windows in the apartment units in my complex, including mine, more than a month ago. Is my landlord required to replace my windows now that I notified him in writing of the problem?

Not in this situation. Where damage occurs as a result of an insured casualty loss, the landlord can wait to make repairs until he receives the insurance proceeds.

If the loss is severe, such as a large fire, and the apartment is uninhabitable, the tenant can notify the landlord and terminate the lease before the repairs are made.

Limited Repairs

Sometimes a landlord agrees to make certain limited repairs, for example, replacing boards in a backyard deck that have rotted. By replacing the boards, the landlord is not agreeing to replace the entire deck.

Tenant's Duty to Repair

A tenant must repair or pay for the costs of repair for damages to the rental property that she caused. For example, if the tenant runs her car through the garage wall, she is responsible for the costs of those repairs. If she does not pay them, the landlord can sue her to recover his repair expenses. He cannot recover the amount that the value of property decreased because of the damage to the garage wall. If the repairs cost $500 but the value of the house, since its garage was unusable, decreased $5,000, the landlord only recovers $500.

My ex-boyfriend punched a hole in the wall of my apartment. Am I responsible for the repairs?

Yes. The actions of anyone you invite into your apartment are your responsibility. If your ex-boyfriend illegally broke into the apartment, you can argue the landlord should repair the wall since security is obviously lax. On the other hand, if your ex-boyfriend gained entrance into the apartment because you let him in, or he still had a key, he is an "invited" guest and you are responsible for the damages.

Do I have to pay for a friend's damage to the complex's fence when she drove away from my apartment?

Probably not. Although she was visiting you, once she left your apartment, you no longer had any control over her. Unless you knew or believed she would get into an accident with the fence, you are not liable. However, if she left your apartment intoxicated, the landlord can argue you should have known your friend might drive into the fence and you had a duty to prevent her from driving. Because you let her drive, under the landlord's theory, you would be liable for the damage.

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