Let’s say you’ve moved into a new apartment. You enjoy the new appliances; you like the open floor plan. But then the weather changes. Rain begins to roll in and you notice a dark patch on your ceiling and a puddle on your living room floor. You call your landlord, who promises to get to the leak right away. Time passes; the dark patch grows darker and the floorboards beneath the patch start to warp. You call your landlord again, but, again, there is no response. What recourse, if any, do you have?
First and foremost, be sure to check your lease to see if your landlord is exempt from making any repairs. Usually, landlords are responsible for making repairs, whether the need arises from normal wear and tear or if a major renovation is required. As long as your lease does not state that you are responsible for the repair, you may wish to proceed in a few different ways. Before taking additional action, you should repeat your request for repairs in writing, noting when you have tried to contact your landlord and mentioning any conversations you have had. This measure ensures that your landlord knows exactly what you want and creates a written record.
Once you have checked your lease and taken the necessary steps to communicate with your landlord, determine what rights you have under your state’s landlord-tenant laws. Those laws can vary widely, with some states protecting tenants while others favor landlords. Depending on your state’s laws, you may be able to withhold your rent until the landlord makes the necessary repair. Alternatively, you may be able to pay someone to make the necessary repairs and then deduct the cost of those repairs from your rent. Be aware that your state’s laws may give your landlord a reasonable time to respond to any requests, so you should not assume that you can withhold your rent if your landlord does not respond within a day or two.
You may also want to consider buying renter’s insurance before you enter into a new rental agreement. While renter’s insurance cannot force your landlord to make any necessary repairs, it can help you to recover if any of your belongings are lost or damaged by problems with your apartment.
If something goes wrong with your apartment and your landlord fails to make repairs, you are not helpless. Understand, though, that your rights and responsibilities depend on your lease and your state’s laws.
Kathleen Davies is a Staff Writer for GetLegal.com. She is a graduate of the University of Michigan Law School and has practiced law and taught legal writing and advocacy.