Do Landlords Have to Provide Alternative Accommodation During Repairs?
Sometimes, accidents happen and a rental unit needs repairs or maintenance that will take some time. As a tenant, it can be frustrating when you can't live comfortably in your own home during repairs. And as a landlord, unexpected repairs can put a pinch on your budget.
So, in cases like this, is the landlord responsible for paying the tenant to stay in a hotel during repairs? First, know that laws vary by location, so make sure to supplement your reading here with a refresher on your local tenant-landlord regulations. In general, though, you'll always need to consider certain factors, such as the extent of repairs and how long they'll take.
The best thing is to have clear expectations up front in the lease agreement. If something is left unclear in the lease, it may fall to local laws or require negotiation between the tenant and landlord.
Here, we'll walk you through the questions and considerations for both parties when facing repair-related displacement. Let's look at the different scenarios and what each side is responsible for so that both landlords and tenants understand their rights and responsibilities when rental units need repairs.
The landlord's responsibility to provide habitable housing
Most states recognize the implied warranty of habitability, which legally requires landlords to provide tenants with a habitable living space. This means the rental unit must meet basic standards that make it fit for human occupancy.
If a unit does not meet these standards due to disrepair, the landlord is responsible for quickly making the repairs. The landlord must confirm that the rental unit is habitable at the beginning of the lease and remains habitable throughout the tenancy.
These standards include:
- Functioning plumbing, heating, electricity, ventilation, and appliances.
- Well-maintained roofs, windows, doors, walls, ceilings, and floors.
- No infestations of pests, rodents, or mold.
- Compliance with building, housing, and health codes.
States' variations in tenant and landlord responsibilities
State laws regarding payment for a hotel stay during repairs on a rental property can vary quite a bit. As a renter, you should know your rights and protections under your specific state's landlord-tenant laws. Most states have the full text of these laws available on the state legislature or state attorney general's office's websites.
As a landlord, you should familiarize yourself with the legal obligations for rental properties in your city and state. Check with your local housing authority or state agency that deals with landlord-tenant issues to find the relevant laws. These will outline things like your responsibility to provide alternative accommodations for tenants if a rental becomes uninhabitable due to repairs.
Defining uninhabitable conditions
Conditions that make a rental property hazardous or unsuitable for occupants can legally deem it uninhabitable. The specific criteria for an uninhabitable dwelling may vary under local housing laws. Examples include:
- Lack of essential services: Not having access to running water means an inability to bathe, wash hands, flush toilets, do laundry, wash dishes, or cook. Losing electricity affects lighting, refrigeration, heating or air conditioning. Finally, a lack of heat poses health risks for children and seniors if indoor temperatures drop too low during cold weather.
- Major structural or appliance defects: A collapsed roof or ceiling could make parts of a rental property unusable due to the risk of injury. Non-working major appliances like refrigerators or stoves make food storage and cooking impossible.
- Significant pest infestations: Cockroaches, rats, bedbugs, and other pests spread diseases through contamination and can persist even after treatment efforts, making the rental property unsafe.
- Excessive dampness or mold growth: Excessive moisture and mold growth raise health concerns for those with allergies or asthma. Potential toxins from poor air quality can require vacating the rental property.
- Unsafe conditions: Faulty wiring risks sparking fires, broken stairs or railings pose fall hazards, and damaged balconies could collapse under excessive weight.
Scenarios where the landlord must pay for the tenant's hotel room expenses
There are certain situations where a landlord is typically required to pay for a hotel or other temporary lodging for a tenant when the rental property becomes uninhabitable and unfit to live in. Some common examples include:
If the landlord fails to properly maintain rental properties and their negligence causes uninhabitable conditions, they'll most likely be responsible for providing temporary housing until repairs are made. Some examples of negligence include:
- Failing to address known maintenance issues: If the landlord neglects a problem like mold or faulty wiring and the rental property becomes unlivable, they would be obligated to pay for a hotel or other housing, as their inaction directly caused the problem.
- Using cut-rate contractors for repairs: If major systems like plumbing fail shortly after a landlord has shoddy or inadequate repairs done, they may be liable for lodging costs during additional repairs. Hiring unqualified or uncertified repairmen shows negligence.
- Failing to perform yearly safety checks: In some states, landlords must inspect the smoke and carbon monoxide detectors annually or have a licensed electrician assess the wiring. If they skip these required safety checks and hazards arise, it's the landlord's responsibility to pay for the tenant's hotel room during repairs.
- Allowing unsanitary conditions: In situations where a landlord does not promptly address unsanitary conditions like infestations, leaks, or sewage backups reported by tenants, it can eventually force tenants to vacate the rental unit. When this occurs, the landlord has to pay for alternative accommodation due to their negligence in remediating the unhealthy living conditions.
Extensive repairs needed
Suppose the rental experiences major damage, dangerous conditions, or multiple deficiencies that require extensive repairs that will take days or weeks to complete. The landlord usually has to cover the cost of a hotel room or other short-term accommodation for the displaced tenant. This applies when the tenant did not cause the damage that requires repairs.
As an example, if a burst pipe floods an apartment and requires extensive repairs to flooring and drywall lasting over a week, the tenant shouldn't shoulder the responsibility and cost for finding temporary accommodations during that displacement. Rather, the landlord should pay for the tenant's lodging for the duration of the repairs.
After a natural disaster
If a flood, fire, earthquake, or other natural disaster renders the rental property unlivable, state laws typically require the landlord to pay for alternate temporary housing like a hotel room or furnished apartment. A landlord cannot leave a tenant homeless in these situations.
If an inspector detects mold and deems the property hazardous until professional remediation, the landlord typically must pay for the tenant to have temporary housing. Mold can take weeks to treat appropriately, especially if walls or ceilings need rebuilding.
Gas or electrical failure
Faulty wiring or appliances could mean the unit has no power at all. In circumstances like these where utilities are completely disrupted, the landlord bears responsibility. They must arrange and fully fund temporary housing for displaced tenants. Living without hot water, heat, or power may violate the warranty of habitability.
Tenant rights and recourse
If you need to temporarily relocate while your rental unit undergoes repairs, you have certain rights and legal remedies available:
1. Written notice to the landlord
Your first step should always be to inform the landlord in writing that your unit is unliveable and you plan to seek reimbursement for temporary housing.
Send a letter or email detailing the problems and include as much supporting documentation as possible, including photos, inspection reports, and contractor estimates. This establishes a paper trail in case you need to take further action in the future. Make sure to retain copies and records of all correspondence.
2. Withhold rent
In some states, tenants may have the right to withhold rent, meaning that while the unit remains uninhabitable, they don't have to pay rent.
Be cautious here, because regulations vary by state and the landlord could start eviction proceedings if you don't follow proper procedures. Consult a tenants' rights group for guidance before taking this step.
3. Repair and deduct
If permitted in your state, you may be able to hire an independent contractor to make the urgent repairs yourself and then deduct the repair costs from your rent.
Be sure to follow proper legal procedures, and know that costs are usually limited to repairs necessary for habitability.
4. Take the landlord to small claims court
If your landlord refuses to reimburse you for reasonable alternative housing costs despite proper notice, you may be able to recover the expenses through small claims court.
However, you'll need solid documentation like inspection reports, proof of correspondence with the landlord, and receipts. Consult a lawyer to understand your rights.
Limitations on landlord's responsibilities
While landlords are usually responsible for providing temporary housing when major repairs are needed, there are some situations where they're not. In these circumstances, it's the tenant's responsibility to pay for temporary accommodation:
If the damage was the tenant's fault due to misuse, negligence, or unauthorized alterations, the landlord does not have to pay for a hotel or other temporary housing.
For example, if the tenant punched a hole in the wall during an argument or let their untrained puppy chew through electrical cords, the landlord would not be liable for putting them up elsewhere during repairs — the tenant would have to cover their own temporary accommodation.
Normal wear and tear
The landlord does not need to compensate for alternate lodging for minor repairs or replacements due to regular aging and normal use of the building and appliances.
If the air conditioner stops working after 15 years or the refrigerator needs a new water filter, that's considered standard maintenance and wear.
If a repair or improvement project is small enough to be completed in a single day without displacing the tenant, the landlord is not obligated to pay for temporary accommodations.
For example, if new flooring can be installed in the bedroom in just a few hours while the tenant hangs out in another room, the landlord wouldn't have to put them up in a hotel for the night.
The lease agreement
The lease between tenant and landlord is a major factor in determining if the landlord must provide and pay for alternate accommodations during repairs.
Tenants should read their lease agreement carefully to understand its impact on the landlord's responsibilities for temporary accommodations during repairs. The lease terms may determine or restrict what the landlord must provide and pay for.
Lease terms on temporary lodging
Many standard leases contain specific clauses outlining the landlord's duties to provide temporary lodging and the costs they will cover.
For example, the lease may state the landlord will reimburse up to $100 per night for a hotel room if the unit is uninhabitable. Provisions like these in the lease establish, and sometimes limit, what the tenant can claim from the landlord.
Leases often lay out procedures the tenant must follow to notify the landlord of an unlivable unit and request reimbursement for temporary housing. This may include written notice within a certain timeframe or using specific request forms.
Tenants need to follow these notice requirements outlined in the lease to have a valid claim. If they don't follow the proper steps, the landlord may be able to refuse payment, even if local law requires it.
Having the landlord pay for hotel during repairs
Handling rental repairs and temporary housing costs can get messy, but figuring out who foots the bill doesn't have to be complicated. Fairly determining who should pay for alternate housing during repairs hinges on a variety of factors, including the nature of the repairs, the habitability of the property, and the specifics of the lease agreement.
For tenants, knowing your rights, the specifics of your state’s landlord-tenant laws, and an understanding of your lease agreement can help you to take the right actions when repairs disrupt your living situation.
If you have a dispute, seeking legal advice is often the best course of action. Both parties should strive for cooperation and understanding, as these situations can be stressful.
Ultimately, whether it's through renters insurance, understanding lease terms, or being aware of legal rights and responsibilities, both landlords and tenants have tools at their disposal to manage the challenges of repairs and temporary relocations. Knowing the options helps both parties navigate these situations with minimal stress and disruption.
Does landlord have to pay for hotel during repairs? FAQs
Can the tenant break the lease if repairs take too long?
Check local laws and lease agreement terms to see if tenants can terminate the lease if repairs significantly exceed a reasonable timeframe. It's best to seek legal advice in this situation.
Can a tenant choose any hotel for temporary accommodation, or does the landlord have a say in the choice?
Lease agreements may specify limitations on the cost and type of temporary lodging the landlord must cover. Tenants should review their lease to understand any restrictions on the choice of accommodation.
Can a tenant request compensation for inconvenience and stress during the repair period?
Landlord-tenant laws do not always guarantee compensation for inconvenience and stress. However, tenants may negotiate such matters with their landlords or seek legal advice to explore possible remedies.
Does insurance cover hotel bills?
This is a great question for any renter who has experienced an issue in their rental unit that required staying in a hotel during repairs.
Renters insurance may cover hotel bills under coverages like "loss of use" or "additional living expenses". This part of the policy kicks in if your rental unit becomes uninhabitable due to a covered peril, like fire, storm damage, or other specified risks.
The insurance can help pay for temporary accommodations, such as a hotel, and possibly other living expenses above your usual costs. However, coverage limits and conditions vary by policy, so be sure to check your specific renters insurance policy for details.