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A Tenant's Rights to Landlord Repairs

A tenant has a right to live a habitable rental property, but what about cosmetic or minor problems that an apartment or rental house has. What repairs are landlords forced to repair, and what kinds of repairs may a landlord ignore?

Landlord repairs: What must a landlord fix?

Even if it is not in your rental agreement or lease, your landlord is required to keep your building and unit in a habitable condition. This means that your landlord must ensure that the building is structurally sound, provide hot and cold water, ensure that the roof is not leaking, and keep the plumbing, electrical and heating systems all in safe operating condition. Also, if a rental property has become infested with pests, landlords must often pay for an exterminator, unless the infestation was caused by your wrongdoing or poor housekeeping.

Landlord repairs: What does a landlord not have to fix?

There are minor problems that a landlord is not required by law to fix. These minor problems may include things like dripping faucets, running toilets, small holes in carpet, grimy grout or torn window screens. Even though these problems may be annoying for you, the tenant, to live with, your landlord may not be under any obligation to repair these issues.

There are only a few occasions when minor repairs may be required to be fixed. If the terms of your lease agreement state that the landlord will fix any of the problems you are having, then the landlord is under a legal duty to do so. In addition, if your landlord ever promised you a repair, either in writing or by talking with you, you may be able to hold your landlord to that promise. Lastly, state and local building codes, as well as state landlord-tenant laws may require your landlord to make repairs that would otherwise be a repair left to the landlord's discretion.

Tips to get your Landlord to make Minor Repairs

There are a number of strategies that tenants can employ to get their landlords to make minor repairs. While tenants that are faced with uninhabitable conditions may elect to withhold rent or repair the problem themselves while deducting from the rent, tenants faced with only minor problems may get into trouble by doing the same thing. Indeed, if you decided to withhold rent until your landlord re-carpeted the living room because of a small stain in the corner, you may end up getting an eviction letter instead of new carpet.

Here are some tips to get your landlord to make minor repairs.

Put it in writing. Landlord repairs of minor problems are taken care of more often when the request for the repair is made in writing. This is true for a number of reasons. First, by putting your request in writing, you give your landlord time to consider the request and how the repair might benefit him in the future. Requests given straight to the landlord may end up getting a "no" before the landlord really can think about the repair.

Second, requests in writing give you the opportunity to lay out a convincing argument, point by point. By writing down your request, you are able to show the landlord why it would be beneficial to paint the bathroom another color besides orange-streaked-with-blue. Making a persuasive argument can lead you to your desired result. Also, you can show how a fix would benefit the landlord. For example, a running toilet can double or triple a water bill for a month, and making a $15 repair is much better than seeing a $200 increase on the monthly water bill.

Lastly, by putting your request in writing, you are can show the landlord the potential for injury caused by a minor problem. If you tell your landlord face-to-face that you are afraid that someone may trip and fall in the bathroom because of a loose tile, your landlord may become defensive and standoffish. However, by putting your concerns in writing, you can show the landlord that you are, in fact, on their side and that the repair will be in the best interests of the landlord.

Mediation. There are often a number of free or low-cost mediation services that specialize in landlord-tenant relations. If your written request fails to get the repair done, you may want to seek out one of these mediation services. The service will get in touch with your landlord and invite him to come sit down with a neutral mediator to come to a resolution.

Report your landlord. There are often situations where a minor problem is actually a violation of some building or housing code. In these situations, if you have not had luck with the prior two tips, you may want to contact your local authority. These agencies can come out and inspect the problem and contact or fine the landlord regarding the issue.

However, once you involve a governmental authority, you may sour the entire landlord-tenant relationship. This probably won't matter if you are only planning to stay in the rental unit for a few more months, but it will be hard if you plan on renting for a number of years. Having a good landlord-tenant relationship can go a long ways towards having a hassle-free lease agreement.

Bring a lawsuit against your landlord. If nothing has worked, your last resort may likely be to bring a lawsuit against your landlord. In order to win your suit, you will need to prove that the problem resulted in a rental property that was not up to the value of the paid rent. If you can do so and win your suit, the judge will award you the difference between the rent you paid and the rent that should have been charged based on the condition of the rental property. However, a lawsuit will most likely end any good relationship you may have with your landlord, which is why it should always be a last resort.

Next Steps
Contact a qualified real estate attorney to help you
navigate any landlord-tenant issues.
(e.g., Chicago, IL or 60611)

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