Keeping the home or apartment in good repair is the landlord’s first duty to the tenant. If your landlord will not make needed repairs you have several options for how to proceed.
First, give notice to the landlord in writing that a repair needs to be made. Email or a web portal is best but you can also call the management office or call the maintenance hotline. You can take pictures or video and send it to the landlord if that will better describe the problem. If the landlord does not follow up with you quickly send them another notice. The landlord should give you a timeline for when the repair will be made.
Check out the article about what the landlord has to repair to make sure what you are requesting is something the landlord has to fix. In general, things that have to do with the structure of the building, or health and safety have to be fixed no matter what. Things that are ugly but not a threat to health and safety or things that are annoying the landlord may not have to repair.
Second, if the landlord still won’t make the repair send them a final warning. List all of the times you have told the landlord about the problem and tell the landlord this is their final opportunity to repair the problem of you will take action.
You have two main options:
You can file a lawsuit yourself in Magistrate Court (also known as small claims court) against the landlord for failing to make repairs. You do not need a lawyer to do this, visit your local courthouse and go to the clerk of magistrate court’s office for information and forms. Make sure you have proof of the need for the repair and the landlord’s refusal to make the repair when you go see the judge. Even if you file a lawsuit you still have to pay rent on time.
You can also do something called a repair and deduct. The tenant can have a qualified and licensed professional perform the required repair at a reasonable cost and then deduct the cost from future rent. Importantly, you must make the repair and incur the expense for the repair first, then deduct the expense from rent. You may not withhold rent before the repair is made.
Proceed with Caution
If you are going to repair and deduct you should proceed with caution. Make sure you warn the landlord in writing that if they do not make the repair you will repair and deduct, make sure the repair is absolutely the landlord’s responsibility, and keep all bills and receipts for the repair and send them to the landlord when you deduct the expense from rent.
Finally, you may only spend the bare minimum necessary to make the repair. You cannot upgrade or improve the thing that is being repaired. For example, if the lock on your front door was broken you could pay a locksmith a reasonable rate to repair the lock. But you could not have the locksmith upgrade the lock to a prettier one or a better one at the landlord’s expense.
Third and Final Option
A third option that may work is to call your local code enforcement, either the city or the county, or both. If a code enforcement officer determines that the landlord is violating a state or local health, safety, or building code they will issue an order to the landlord to make the repair. The landlord may have to pay a substantial fine to the local government if the landlord does not make the repair promptly.
The most important thing to remember is to make sure you give written notice to the landlord and keep up the pressure for the landlord to make the repair. You can never have too many emails and pictures.