It’s a dilemma. One of the few perks of not owning your dwelling is the fact that you’re typically not on a financial hook to maintain the property and make needed repairs. One of the problems with not owning a dwelling in need of maintenance or repair is that you are wholly dependent on someone else to do so.
If a landlord fails to respond to your repair requests, he may be in breach of the lease agreement and you may have a right to sue him or her in a court of law.
Repair problems can range from minor annoyances to those that affect the habitability of the home. The lease agreement you signed when you moved onto the property should clearly outline the procedure for requesting typical types of repairs.
When Can Tenants Request Repairs?
Emergency repairs are those that require immediate attention. Examples of emergency repairs include:
- Gas leaks
- Malfunctioning heating or cooling system
- Broken windows and doors
- Anything that affects the residents’ health or safety
Most landlords have a telephone number to call in the event of emergency.
These types of repairs, although annoying, don’t affect the tenant’s health or safety or the unit’s habitability. They include:
- Water heater malfunction
- Defective garbage disposal
- Dishwasher problem
- Clogged drain
These types of problems are considered a nuisance and don’t require immediate attention. Some of the repairs that fall into this category include:
- Peeling paint
- Pest infestations
- Lighting problems
When something requires repair, follow the landlord’s instructions, printed in the lease. In emergency situations this typically involves calling an emergency number the landlord provides for these situations.
It is important to follow up all verbal requests with a written request, outlining the emergency. Mail the request to the landlord, certified mail, return receipt requested. In the event that the landlord refuses to take action to mitigate the problem, this letter serves as proof that he or she knew of the situation.
Sample Repair Request Letter
The main points of your repair request letter should include:
- The current date
- A brief description of the problem
- A request for repair
Here is a sample repair request letter:
Landlord City, State and Zip Code
Re: Address of property
Dear [Landlord’s Name]:
On [date] the [short description of the problem].
I notified you of the problem, by telephone, on [date]. You informed me that [resolution suggested by the landlord].
Please consider this letter as a follow-up to my initial telephone call informing you of the problem and a confirmation of your promise to remedy the situation by [date].
What Happens After You Send a Repair Request Letter?
If no emergency exists, give the landlord a reasonable amount of time to make the repairs. You may also want to check your state’s statutes to determine if the time limit for repairs is addressed.
If the landlord refuses to make the repairs within a reasonable amount of time, or within the time limits required by state law, you have several remedies, depending upon the state in which you live. The most common remedy is to have the repairs performed by a professional and deduct the cost from your rent.
Choose this option only after carefully reviewing the state statutes. Some states require that the amount for the repairs be held in an escrow account.
If you choose to take this route, and it is a legal remedy in your state, protect your tenant rights by doing the following:
- Obtain at least three repair estimates.
- Mail copies of the estimates to the landlord via certified mail, return receipt requested. Include a note stating that unless the landlord agrees to make the repairs by a certain date, you will pay to have them made and deduct that amount from the following month’s rent.
- Keep all receipts and ensure that the contractor dates them.
- Send copies of the receipts with the reduced amount of rent.
If you decide not to or can’t afford to have the repairs made, you may need to seek help from an attorney or the courts.
If a landlord fails to respond to your repair requests, he may be in breach of the lease agreement and you may have a right to sue him or her in a court of law. Consult with an attorney or the legal aid society in your area for assistance.
If the item that requires repair threatens your health or safety, and the landlord fails to respond to requests for repair, you may have no choice but to terminate your tenancy. You may still need to supply a written notice to the landlord of your plans to vacate the rental. Check your state’s landlord-tenant laws for details and procedures.