Landlord/Tenant Law

Who's Going to Fix That?

One of the greatest advantages to being a renter is that the landlord is responsible for making sure that the living space is habitable. In most states this means that the landlord is responsible for all maintenance and repairs that are necessary to make sure that the housing unit meets all applicable building codes and is safe for residents.

The Landlord's Responsibility

Building codes vary from city to city and from state to state. So, it is always important to check with your town or city and with your state building department if you have a question about the building code in your area. That said, landlords have an "implied warranty of habitability" which means that the unit must be fit for use by human beings. Often this means that the landlord must provide adequate heating equipment during cold weather, safe electricity, indoor plumbing including a working toilet, a roof that is free of leaks and windows that are not broken.

The Tenant's Responsibility

The Tenant has three primary responsibilities when it comes to repairs on the living space. The first is to keep the dwelling clean and in good order. The second is to promptly report any repair or maintenance concerns to the landlord. If a tenant knows about a problem and fails to report it and that problem gets worse as a result then the tenant may have some responsibility for the repair. Finally, the tenant is responsible for fixing any damage which the tenant causes that is not a result of normal wear and tear from daily living. For example, if the tenant has a party and someone puts his hand through a wall or breaks a window then the tenant is responsible for fixing the damage.

It is important to note that the rental agreement which the landlord and tenant sign prior to the tenant inhabiting the rental property might provide some specific details about which party has responsibilities for which repairs. For example, the rental agreement could provide that the renter has the responsibility to fix appliances such as refrigerators and stoves. If both parties agree to it then it is likely enforceable in court.

What Happens If Either Party Fails to Take Responsibility

If a tenant fails to take responsibility then the landlord can start eviction proceedings against the tenant.

If the landlord fails to take responsibility after the tenant has notified the landlord of a problem which is within the landlord's responsibility to fix, then the tenant may be able to make the repair and deduct the cost from his or her rent payment. It is important to be aware that this remedy is not available in every state and when it is available, its use might be limited to certain situations or to a certain number of times a year. Alternatively, a tenant might be able to get out of a lease early or withhold rent until the repair is made. It is advisable for a tenant to speak with a local attorney before taking any of these remedies, however. That way, the renter can be sure that the repair is, in fact, the landlord's responsibility and that his or her actions are consistent with state law.