One of the great things about renting is that when your faucet leaks or the buzzer breaks, you're not responsible for the repairs. Your landlord is -- at least, in theory. While most landlords want to keep their tenants happy, there are plenty who neglect their properties due to the expense of maintenance or sheer laziness.
"The law obligates landlords to keep their rentals in habitable conditions and to provide essential services," says Shaolaine Loving, a landlord-tenant attorney in Las Vegas. "Things like heat, running water, gas, and functional door locks are examples of essential services. Issues that affect habitability can include insects, faulty plumbing, and mold."
Never fear -- there are ways to push a landlord to fulfill his obligation to keep your place in top shape. Check them out.
Review the terms of your rental agreement
Your first impulse may be to pick up the phone to relay the problem, but read your lease before initiating contact with your landlord, so you know what to expect.
According to Loving, many leases outline the responsibilities of landlord and tenant, and the specific protocol for repairs. Tenants may have a certain time frame to make complaints (or are responsible if the problem worsens due to lack of notification), and landlords must respond within a certain time frame.
"For instance, in Nevada, the response time for essential problems is 48 hours," says Loving. What's more, some landlords will accept only requests sent through email, others by postal mail.
Craft the right complaint
In your complaint, describe the issue in as much detail as possible: the nature of the problem, the date it occurred, and why it happened. Then, ask your landlord to reply in accordance to the legal timeline.
It also doesn't hurt to include photos of the damage and perhaps even a list of witnesses who can attest to the damage -- just make sure they're unbiased third parties (i.e., no relatives), advises Chantay Bridges, a real estate agent at TruLine Realty in Beverly Hills, CA.
Keeping a paper trail is also key, so enable your email server's "read receipt" or "delivery receipt" functions to track whether the message was opened or received. Or send a certified letter, which requires the recipient to sign upon delivery. (Make sure to keep a copy of whatever you send.) If you visit your landlord in person, ask him to sign a receipt acknowledging the request.
Ask for outside help
Let's say you don't hear back from your landlord. You could continue sending letters in order to build your case, but if those don't work, eventually you'll need to take matters into your own hands.
Contact your local government to request that a health or building inspector come and assess your home and if any codes have been violated. If so, the inspector can then send your landlord a "Notice and Order" with a time frame for the flaw(s) to be fixed. Some landlords do ignore code violations, but having your complaint on file helps if you ultimately take the matter to small-claims court.
Fix the problem yourself
Landlords often have contracts with repair services, or warranties to fall back on, but offering to pay for the repair yourself and deduct the cost from next month's rent is an option if you just want to get things moving, says Dan Laufer, co-founder of RentLingo.com, an apartment search service. If your landlord is just not the efficient type, he will appreciate your handling the matter.
"You could even suggest a mutually agreed-upon cost, or to use a specific vendor," says Laufer.
Don't use it as an excuse to withhold rent
No matter how tense the situation gets, flat-out withholding rent is rarely the right solution, since you could ruin your rental payment history and potentially provide your landlord with a reason to evict you. However, says Loving, withholding rent is a viable option in some states.
"You do risk facing eviction, but the same could be true of making repairs yourself and deducting from the rent," she points out. "In both scenarios, you're not paying the full rent."
Breaking your lease is also dicey, as your landlord could bill you for early termination penalties or pocket your security deposit.
"As long as you keep your written evidence of communications and noncompliance from the landlord, you have a chance to prove your case," says Loving. Just be sure to save the money you withhold. If you lose, you'll probably have to pay it back.
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