Are You a Legal Professional?

Repairs and Maintenance

Making sure everything is in working order and answering requests for repairs can be one of the more contentious aspects of renting property. Landlords may view repairs as an annoying expense that takes an unnecessary bite out of their profits. But for tenants, clogged pipes, a malfunctioning toilet, or a broken heater can be a constant source of frustration in the home. Landlords generally have a legal obligation to make repairs and maintain rental property, and must follow the law when it comes to entering rented property to make repairs. In certain cases, a landlord may also be liable for injuries to tenants. This section covers the responsibilities and rights of both tenants and landlords when it comes to repairs and maintenance.

Landlord Repairs: Tenants' Rights

Tenants have the right to live in a habitable rental property. This generally means it must be free of any serious health or safety threats (such as black mold or frayed wiring); vermin infestations (such as rats or cockroaches); and functioning plumbing and electricity. But what about drippy faucets, worn carpeting, or other issues that aren't so dire? Landlords typically are not required to do these types of repairs unless they are required by state or local building codes, although they may oblige if asked because a well-maintained rental unit will better hold its market value.

However, anything agreed to in the lease is legally binding. So if your rental agreement specifically states that the landlord will fix all leaky faucets and running toilets, for example, they are legally obligated to do so. In addition, landlords who promise to do certain repairs -- either in writing or just verbally -- have a legal duty to fulfill those promises.

How to Get Your Landlord to do Minor Repairs

If you are faced with a serious problem, such as an infestation of mice, your landlord is required to to take care of it; and if he or she fails to do so, you may withhold a portion of your rent to pay for it. But if it's a minor repair and your landlord is under no legal obligation to fix it, you will want to be more tactful.

Probably the best way to encourage your landlord to take action is to put it in writing, which gives the landlord the opportunity to mull it over before deciding. For instance, a verbal request may easily be denied, but a well-written request often is much more persuasive. You can elaborate on how the repair will benefit the landlord, for instance, while making other salient points. If it's a running toilet, for example, you could discuss the additional cost of your water bill as a result (and if the landlord pays the water bill, he or she may be even more motivated to fix the leak).

Depending on the type of repair being requested, you may be able to explain the potential for injury if it is not fixed. A rotting staircase leading up to your apartment could result in an injury that ultimately will cost the landlord much more than simply fixing it.

Landlords and Repairs: When Requests are Ignored or Dismissed

Tenants have very little leverage when it comes to certain types of repair requests, such as small holes in the carpet or a tarnished bathroom mirror. But for more serious problems (and some minor ones), you may want to seek out a mediation service specializing in landlord tenant disputes. It's neither binding nor adversarial, so it won't necessarily erode your relationship. If it's a building or housing code violation, you may consider contacting your local authority. But you want to make sure it's worth it to you, since it typically damages the landlord-tenant relationship.

To learn more about repairs and maintenance in rental units, including the rights and responsibilities of both parties, click on one of the links below.

Learn About Repairs and Maintenance