Landlords' Duties: Repairs, Maintenance, and Notice to Tenants for Entry
If you rent out a residential property to tenants, it’s your legal responsibility to ensure that the facilities are "habitable" by maintaining the common areas and the plumbing, making sure the heat works in the winter, fixing appliances, and keeping the rental property structurally sound. While heating and plumbing problems should be addressed within 24 hours, less-immediate repairs should be handled within 48 hours.
Below is an outline of these particular landlord duties, including:
- The legal duty to perform necessary repairs and maintenance
- What can happen if a landlord fails to carry out these duties
- Constructive eviction
- The requirement to provide notice to tenants prior to entry
- How an attorney can help
In most states, a landlord is required to make sure a rental property is in a habitable condition when the tenant first moves in. Also, once the tenant moves in, a landlord is required to make repairs and conduct maintenance to keep the rental property in a habitable condition. A habitable property is one that is free from infestation, has adequate heating, water, and electricity, and is structurally sound. Laws vary from state to state, and even from city to city.
Because of the varying nature of landlord duties, you should be sure to carefully consult state laws regarding rental properties in your state and city. Normally, you can find this information at your local building or housing authority, as well as local health and fire departments.
When a landlord fails to make the necessary repairs or maintenance after receiving advance notice from a renter, there could be a number of consequences.
First, depending upon your state's laws, your tenant could elect to withhold rent payment until the repair is made adequately. Some states realize that this is pretty harsh and often require the tenant to put the rent money aside in an escrow account that will be released to the landlord once the repairs are made. In addition, your tenant may elect to simply pay less rent until the problem is fixed.
Next, if the landlord fails to make the needed repair in a timely manner after receiving proper notice, the tenant has the option of hiring an outside party to make the necessary repairs. The tenant should do that in good faith and should be reasonable in choosing who to make the repairs. This cost will probably be deducted from their next rent check.
Also, if the problem violates state or local building or health codes, a tenant may decide to contact the local authorities regarding the issue. If inspectors come out and find the problem, the landlord may face an order to fix the problem, plus possible fines and/or penalties.
Lastly, if the problem is pervasive and disturbs the tenant's right to live in a habitable structure, the tenant may choose to simply move out of the rental unit and end the lease agreement. This could lead to a lawsuit against the landlord, called a constructive eviction lawsuit.
In order to prevail in this suit, the tenant must be able to show three things:
- The tenant must prove that the uninhabitable conditions were a result of the landlord's lack of action to fix the problems.
- The tenant should give the property owner written notice of reasons for the constructive eviction and provide them with a reasonable time to repair problems.
- The tenant must also show that they left the rental property in a reasonable time.
If the landlord cannot put up a strong defense, they may be facing money damages for breaking the lease, emotional and physical stress, and discomfort from the bad conditions.
Most states require that a landlord give notice to tenants 24 or 48 hours before the entry is to take place. However, a landlord can enter a rental property at any time without notice in order to make an emergency repair. In some jurisdictions, landlords can exercise their right of entry without notice if the tenant is away for an extended period of time, in order to check up on the property to make sure everything is in working order and make any necessary repairs.
If a landlord breaks this law, they can be subject to a lawsuit by the tenant. Some states, like California, provide tenants the option to claim harassment if their landlord enters the rental property without proper notice, and also provide for a monetary fine against the landlord.
Landlord-tenant issues can cause a significant amount of disruption and dispute, and since this is your property, the stakes are pretty high. When conflicts arise, it's important to understand your rights. A local landlord-tenant law attorney can give you proper legal advice to help you to fully understand and protect your rights.