The tenant rights for repairs is the implied right that allows a tenant to make necessary repairs and deduct the cost of the repairs from the rent under certain circumstances.
Not only is it crucial for tenants to know their rights, but landlords must know their duties regarding their rental property. As a real estate professional, you should understand landlord-tenant laws and how they affect rental real estate. With years of hands-on experience, I’m here to tell you everything you should know about a tenant’s rights for repairs.
In this post, we’ll explain tenant rights, discuss which repairs landlords are responsible for, and advise what to do if they neglect their duties. Keep reading to learn more!
What Is the Tenant’s Right to Repair?
The tenant’s right to repair is the legal right a tenant has to make repairs to their rental property and deduct the costs from the rent payments under certain conditions.
Landlords are responsible for maintaining a rental property that is safe and inhabitable for tenants. However, when they fail to uphold this responsibility, tenants must know their legal rights and which steps they can take next.
For example, a tenant has the right to do the following:
- Repair and deduct the maintenance costs
- Withhold rent until the issue is resolved
Now let’s discuss exactly how each option works!
Repair and Deduct
When landlords fail to make major repairs to a rental property, the tenant may pay for their own repairs but deduct the cost from their rent. For example, if your monthly rent payment is $1,800, but the repairs cost $600, you would only pay $1,200.
Only some states allow tenants to use the repair-and-deduct option, so you should check local laws before trying this course of action. For example, some states allow renters to repair and deduct, but only if they give their landlords a certain time frame or put the deducted rent into an escrow account.
Some tenants stop paying rent until the landlord makes repairs; this practice is called “rent withholding.”
However, tenants must check their state-landlord tenant laws before withholding rent. Some local laws have specific requirements for rent withholding, such as giving landlords a heads-up to resolve the matter first.
What Repairs Are Landlords Required to Make?
Before exercising your right as a tenant, you should know which repairs landlords are generally required to make. Examples of problems that landlords have the duty of fixing include major repairs such as:
- Structural issues
- Roof leaks
- Hot and cold water problems
- Water damage
- Major plumbing issues
- Septic system problems
- Electrical issues
- Pest control
- Toxin management
- Air conditioning and heating
The landlord must fix these problems even if the rental agreement does not implicitly state that it’s their responsibility. This is because the tenant has an inherent right to live in a safe environment.
However, we should note the landlord is also responsible for any minor repairs that they have agreed to cover in their rental agreement.
How to Use the Repair and Deduct Option
To use repair and deduct, a tenant should document the maintenance issue, write a repair request, and give the landlord a date to fix it until the tenant exercises their right to repair.
Document the Issue
First, tenants should document the circumstances making the unit uninhabitable. The best way to document is by taking photos and videos that clearly show the problem. For example, if the roof is damaged, the tenant should record a video showing it leaking.
However, if the problem is invisible (like a broken heating system), you may want to buy a thermometer and take pictures showing the rental property’s temperature.
Create a Written Request
Next, tenants should file a written request with the landlord detailing the issue and asking them to fix it. Ideally, the repair request should be polite and professional.
In the request, the tenant should give the landlord a date by which they must solve the issue. The tenant must explain that if the issue is not fixed by that date, they will fix it themselves and deduct the cost from the rent.
Depending on the tenant’s relationship with their landlord, they may want to call them up instead. However, we recommend sending or following up with a written document, as it could be used as evidence later in a court case.
Ask for a Return Receipt
If a tenant sends a repair request and doesn’t hear back from their landlord, they should send a follow-up and ask for a return receipt. A receipt will prove that the landlord received the request and is ignoring it.
Repair and Deduct
If the landlord has not made the necessary repairs by the date specified in the request, the tenant may fix or hire someone to fix the problem. Then, they can make a lower rent payment to compensate for the maintenance costs.
What Repairs Are Landlords Not Required to Make?
Before tenants threaten to withhold rent or repair and deduct, they should know which repairs landlords are not responsible for. Examples of minor repairs that the tenant must cover include:
- Dripping sink faucets
- Torn window screens
- Small holes in carpets
- Changing air filters
Unless the lease agreement specifies the landlord is responsible, the tenant must fix these issues themselves. However, there are cases where a landlord will still make minor repairs at the tenant’s request, even if it isn’t in the contract.
Why would they bother? Landlords want to maintain a positive landlord-tenant relationship to reduce tenant turnover and ensure that renters renew their leases.
What Else to Do If a Landlord Fails to Make Repairs
Withholding rent or repairing and deducting maintenance costs may not work for everyone. That’s why it’s crucial for tenants to know all their rights and options when it comes to irresponsible landlords.
Let’s go over some more steps renters can take to protect their rights and resolve maintenance problems.
Report the Housing Code Violation
When a landlord ignores major maintenance requests, they violate housing laws. In this case, the tenant should report them to a local housing inspector. The inspector will investigate the issue to see whether or not the unit is in a livable condition.
If the living environment compromises the health or safety of its tenants, the housing inspector will issue a notice of breach and warn the landlord to make the repairs.
Sue the Landlord
Most states allow tenants to file a lawsuit against their landlord if the rental unit is uninhabitable. In this case, the tenant must document the landlord’s neglect and prove that the property is not worth the rent price. If the court sides with the tenant, the landlord will likely have to pay for court costs and make the necessary repairs.
If the property is uninhabitable to the point it affects a tenant’s physical health, they may be able to move out before their lease is up. Of course, this only works if the maintenance problems are significant; if it isn’t, the tenant must continue paying rent.
When Can My Landlord Refuse to Make Repairs?
Before withholding rent or repairing and deducting, you should ensure you’re holding up your own end of the bargain. Let’s discuss a few cases where landlords can refuse to make repairs to tenants.
First, a landlord may refuse repair requests if the tenant is late on rent payments or breaking lease terms. A lease agreement means that both parties are responsible for specific duties, so a tenant has to fulfill their responsibilities before expecting their landlord’s help.
Another reason a landlord may refuse to make repairs is if the tenant has caused the problem themself. For example, if a tenant has not been correctly disposing of garbage and causes a bug infestation, they will be responsible for pest control.
Another reason a landlord may say, “You’re on your own,” is if family members or guests cause damage to the property. For example, if you’re playing baseball with your friends and the ball shatters the window, you may be responsible for this cost.
Frequently Asked Questions
Let’s jump into some frequently asked questions real estate students have about tenant’s rights.
How Long Does a Landlord Have to Fix Something?
Should I Make My Own Repairs?
If your landlord isn’t responding to your repair request, you may be tempted to fix the problem yourself. However, it’s important to know the risks of making your own repairs.
For example, if you hire your own maintenance man to fix the problem, the landlord may refuse to reimburse the maintenance cost. If you try to fix it yourself and make the situation worse, you may have to pay for property damages.
Can I Get Evicted for Requesting Repairs?
No, a landlord can never evict a tenant for asking for repairs. As long as tenants pay rent on time and follow the lease terms, the landlord has no reason to file an eviction lawsuit.
However, when using the repair and deduct method, tenants should ensure they are following all state laws. For example, if they are required to put the deducted repair costs in an escrow account, they must do so to avoid legal consequences.
What to Know Before the Real Estate Exam
The tenants right for repairs implies that tenants have the right to make necessary repairs to a rental property and deduct the maintenance costs from the rent.
To pass the real estate exam, you must understand tenants’ rights regarding rental property repairs. Now that you’ve read our post, you should be prepared for this section of the test!
But the quest for knowledge can’t end here; study other vital concepts using our online Real Estate Flashcards and become a pro in no time!