Guide to Tenants' Rights: Repairs and Maintenance

Learn about the tenant's rights and responsibilities and landlord obligations regarding repairs and maintenance in rental properties.

By
Nichole Stohler
|
Last Updated
November 17, 2023
Guide to Tenants' Rights: Repairs and Maintenance

Picture this: you've just moved into your dream apartment, only to discover a few hidden quirks that turn into full-blown inconveniences. From leaky faucets to a stubbornly malfunctioning heating system, navigating the maze of maintenance rights and responsibilities in the tenant-landlord relationship can be as puzzling as figuring out IKEA furniture instructions.

Welcome to the renter's guide on the tug-of-war between what's your responsibility to fix, what's theirs, and what keeps your living space a serene sanctuary. Get ready to for the playbook of tenants' rights and duties, because understanding these rules is the key to a harmonious rental journey.

What are tenants' rights and responsibilities?

As a renter, it can be difficult figuring out what you're entitled to and what you're responsible for when it comes to repairs. Understanding your rights and responsibilities will help you keep your rental unit functional and comfortable and allow you to make needed repairs quickly.

The right to a safe and habitable home

Landlords have a responsibility to maintain a livable rental property on behalf of their tenants. The ways in which a rental unit maintains habitability are many -- we'll cover them below.

  • Warranty of habitability: With every lease comes this implied warranty, which guarantees tenants the right to stay secure and comfortable. This includes working utilities, proper sanitation, and structural integrity.
  • Requesting repairs: If issues with your rental affect your health or safety, you can request repairs from your landlord. Document your requests and make sure your landlord's addressing the issues within a reasonable timeframe.
  • Right to notice: In many cases, landlords must give tenants advance notice before entering the rental property to make repairs. This notice period can vary depending on local laws and the nature of the repairs.
  • Withholding rent: In certain conditions and depending on local regulations, you may be able to withhold rent payments if your landlord fails to complete or delays necessary repairs. Since your apartment ceases to be habitable, it makes sense to not have to pay rent while delayed repairs are made.
  • Repair and deduct: In some jurisdictions, if the landlord refuses or delays making the necessary fixes, tenants can make minor repairs and deduct the cost of those repairs from their rent. Follow specific legal requirements, notify the landlord, and be aware of local regulations regarding this process.
  • Right to terminate the lease: If the rental property becomes uninhabitable due to the landlord's failure to make essential repairs, tenants may have the right to terminate the lease agreement without penalty.

The responsibility to maintain the property

Having a fully functional and comfortable rental unit is vital to a tenants' happiness, but achieving and maintaining such a unit does not fall entirely on the landlord -- tenants have responsibilities to uphold, too.

  • Reporting issues: Promptly report any damages or issues to your landlord according to your rental agreement. Timely reporting helps prevent further damage.
  • Maintaining cleanliness: Keep the rental property clean, as this will help in avoiding causing unnecessary damage.
  • Minor repairs: The tenant is responsible for minor repairs that result from normal wear and tear. These types of issues can include changing light bulbs, unclogging drains, and replacing furnace filters.
  • Complying with lease terms: Abide by the lease agreement terms, which may include specific repair and maintenance obligations.
  • Research and awareness: Research local laws and regulations to fully understand your rights as a tenant. Knowledge is key to addressing any issues effectively.

Landlord's responsibility to provide a safe living environment

Tenants can help keep a rental unit clean and functional, but their ability to contribute to maintaining a property only reaches so far. Some issues and repairs are the landlord's duty entirely, and all issues require the landlord's cooperation. A landlord is expected to fulfill the following responsibilities:

  1. Maintain a habitable living environment: Landlords must verify that the rental property is safe and suitable for people. They must guarantee the unit has working utilities, proper sanitation, and is structurally sound. Fulfilling these obligations keeps tenants safe and happy.
  2. Timely response to repair requests: The landlord must respond promptly when the tenants report issues or request repairs.
  3. Compliance with local housing codes and regulations: Landlords must follow the local housing codes and regulations. These rules set safety, health, and livability standards and help prevent a housing code violation.  

Landlords should understand and fulfill their legal obligations. Seek advice from local landlord associations if there are questions or concerns about your responsibilities.

Landlord's responsibility to make repairs

Landlords have a fundamental duty to provide tenants with safe rental units. They must quickly fix things and maintain regular upkeep to keep the property safe and working well. Here are the main things landlords must do when it comes to repairs:

Structural repairs

Landlords are responsible for addressing structural issues affecting the property's safety and stability. This includes repairs to the building's main structure, such as the roof, walls, and foundation. Some common repairs are fixing cracks in walls and repairing roof leaks.

Utility systems maintenance

Landlords must maintain the proper functioning of key utility systems, such as:

  • Heating systems: Verifying that the property is adequately warm in the winter.
  • Plumbing: Addressing leaks and plumbing issues promptly.
  • Electrical systems: Resolving electrical issues that could pose dangers.

Appliance repairs

If the rental unit includes appliances like a refrigerator, stove, dishwasher, or washing machine, landlords are typically responsible for repairing them if they break. Check the lease agreement to confirm your situation.

Health and safety concerns

Landlords must address any issues that could harm tenants' health or safety, such as:

  • Mold remediation.
  • Pest infestations.
  • Water leaks.
  • Confirming the property has working smoke detectors to enhance tenant safety in case of a fire.

Effective communication and documentation

Communication between tenants and landlords is required for successful repairs and maintenance. Clear and timely communication can help both parties understand each other's concerns and work toward a solution.

Tenants: Requesting repairs and maintenance

Report a problem in writing through a maintenance request portal or via certified mail. When reporting an issue:

  • Be specific: Clearly describe the issue, including relevant details or observations.
  • Use polite language: Maintain a respectful tone when communicating with the landlord.
  • Request a timely response: Ask the landlord for a response within a reasonable timeframe.

Landlords: Responding to maintenance requests

Landlords have a responsibility to respond to tenant requests for repairs and maintenance. You should acknowledge the request as soon as you can and take appropriate action to resolve the issue promptly. Consider using tools like Azibo's maintenance and messaging to keep track of requests.

Tenant and landlord documentation

When reporting and responding to maintenance request issues, it's important to document all communications related to repairs and maintenance. Here's why:

  • Evidence: Documentation serves as proof of your communication with the tenant or landlord so that there is a record of your requests.
  • Clarity: Having written records can help eliminate confusion or miscommunication between both parties.
  • Legal protection: Documentation can provide legal protection in disputes or disagreements.

Resolving tenant-landlord disputes

Sometimes, despite having a solid communication system, tensions can rise and cause problems between tenants and landlords when dealing with maintenance problems. Knowing how to navigate these disputes can be challenging. Here are some tips to help tenants resolve issues peacefully:

Tenant strategies for resolving maintenance disputes

  • Open communication: Communicate openly and calmly about the issue with your landlord. Clearly explain your concerns and try to find a mutually agreeable solution.
  • Know your rights: Familiarize yourself with your rights as a tenant. Understand your legal protections to navigate the dispute resolution process more effectively.
  • Mediation: Mediation involves bringing in a neutral party who can guide a discussion between you and your landlord. This process aims to find a mutually acceptable resolution without going to court.
  • Legal recourse: If all other options fail, you may seek legal recourse. Consult a lawyer specializing in tenant-landlord disputes to understand your options and rights. Keep in mind that legal action might involve court costs and legal fees.

Tenant rights during major repairs

For a safe and comfortable rental experience, tenants and landlords need to cooperate, especially when maintenance issues arise. To cooperate to their fullest ability, tenants must understand their rights to repairs and maintenance, and landlords need to know their obligations. Open communication and documentation of issues empowers both parties.

Tenants' rights: repairs and maintenance FAQs

How long does a landlord have to fix something?

Typically, landlords may vary the timeframe for addressing an issue. They should handle urgent repairs that affect the safety or habitability of the property within 24 hours to 7 days.

For non-urgent repairs, landlords have around 30 days. 

Can a landlord refuse to make repairs?

No, landlords can't refuse to make repairs that affect the tenant's well-being. If this happens, tenants can take legal action to protect their rights.

When is a tenant responsible for repairs?

Tenants are responsible for minor wear and tear repairs, as well as damage due to negligence or misconduct.

It's important to note that landlords may deduct repair costs from the security deposit as the lease agreement and local regulations allow. Review the lease agreement and understand local regulations to determine tenant repair responsibilities.

Nichole Stohler

Nichole co-founded Gateway Private Equity Group, with a history of investments in single-family and multi-family properties, and now a specialization in hotel real estate investments. She is also the creator of NicsGuide.com, a blog dedicated to real estate investing.

A hand illustration holding a house with flowers coming out of the roofA logo spelling dont miss out, the rental rundown
Whether you're a property owner, renter, property manager, or real estate agent, gain valuable insights, advice, and updates by joining our blog newsletter.
Subscriber Identity
Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
A green hill illustration with houses