What to Do If the Landlord Refuses Repairs: A Guide

Are you dealing with a landlord who won't make necessary repairs? This guide walks you through your rights as a tenant, the responsibilities of your landlord, and the practical steps you can take to resolve repair disputes.

By
Nichole Stohler
|
Last Updated
April 1, 2024
What to Do If the Landlord Refuses Repairs: A Guide

Renting a property requires both landlords and tenants to uphold their ends of the lease agreement responsibilities. Tenants must maintain the property and pay rent on time, while landlords must make sure that the rental units are livable and well-maintained.

Sometimes, a landlord refuses to make repairs, leaving tenants in an unsafe situation. This can be very frustrating and stressful for tenants, who may need to learn their rights or what to do. For landlords, ignoring repair requests can lead to costly consequences since neglecting maintenance responsibilities can put tenants at risk.

This article explains the rights and responsibilities of both parties when properties need repairs. It provides practical steps that tenants can take to get repairs completed and maintain a safe living space and guides landlords on the potential consequences of neglecting repairs.

Does my landlord have to make repairs?

Landlords are legally required to confirm their rental properties are safe, livable, and meet minimum standards. This binding obligation, known as the warranty of habitability, makes sure tenants have access to properties that are structurally sound, equipped with critical utilities, and free from hazards. However, not all repairs and maintenance issues fall under this duty — it's important to understand the difference between major and minor repairs.

Major vs. minor repairs

The warranty of habitability primarily covers major repairs that significantly impact the safety and livability of the rental unit. Landlords must prioritize and address these issues to maintain the property's living conditions. Minor repairs are different — these are often cosmetic or related to routine upkeep and are not always the landlord's responsibility.

Here's a closer look at the distinction between major and minor repairs:

Major repairs

Major repairs involve significant issues that threaten the safety or livability of the rental unit. Examples include:

  • Roof leaks: When water breaches the roof, it can lead to water damage, mold growth, and structural harm if not promptly fixed.
  • Faulty wiring or electrical issues: These issues pose fire hazards and risks of electrical shocks, requiring correction to prevent accidents.
  • Heating system failures: In cold weather, maintaining a functioning heating system is key for a livable environment.
  • Structural damage: Damage to the foundation, walls, or other structural elements threatens the building's integrity and safety.
  • Major plumbing problems: Burst pipes or broken sewer lines cause flooding, water damage, and unsanitary conditions, requiring immediate repair.

Minor repairs

These are small, routine maintenance tasks that tenants can reasonably handle. Examples are simple jobs that don't require special skills or tools, like changing light bulbs, unclogging sinks or toilets, or replacing air filters.

The rental agreement will usually outline which minor repairs the tenant is responsible for. Some landlords may take on more maintenance tasks, while others expect tenants to handle a wider range of minor issues.

Requesting repairs

If you have issues that require repairs in your rental unit, the first step is to communicate effectively with your landlord. Tenants should document their interactions with the landlord and collect evidence, such as photographs or videos, to strengthen their case. Here's a guide to help you initiate this conversation and provide your landlord with the information they need to address the situation:

  • Send a written notice: Submit a written request to the landlord detailing the specific problems and what repairs are needed. Your notice should include details like the nature of the repair, the location of the rental, and any potential health or safety consequences if not fixed promptly.
  • Provide a reasonable time frame: After the initial request, give the landlord a reasonable amount of time to respond and make the repairs. Immediate concerns, such as heating or plumbing failures, require urgent action to confirm that the property remains livable. Meanwhile, issues like a leaky faucet aren't as pressing. For complex repairs, such as addressing a leaky roof, your landlord might need additional time to assess the situation and organize the contractor work.
  • Send a second notice: If the landlord doesn't respond or take action within that reasonable timeframe, send a second written notice reiterating the repair request and the potential consequences of not complying. Reference the initial request date to reinforce the urgency.

Tenants’ options when a landlord refuses repairs

If a landlord fails to address the repairs after being made aware of them, tenants have several options to pursue action:

Reporting to authorities

You should use this step when all attempts to resolve the issue directly with the landlord have failed, and the living conditions have become unsafe or unlivable.

Local housing or building code enforcement

Many municipalities have agencies tasked with enforcing local building codes and standards. Tenants can report violations by filing a complaint with these departments. After reviewing your complaint, the agency may inspect the property, issue citations or fines for non-compliance, and order the landlord to rectify violations within a set timeframe.

Health department

If tenants encounter problems like pest infestations, lack of essential utilities, unsanitary conditions, or hazards like mold and hazardous materials, they can file a complaint with the local health department.

Inspectors from the department can then evaluate the property to ensure it adheres to health and safety standards, issue violations for any breaches, and mandate corrective actions within a set timeframe.

Legal remedies

When all attempts to get the landlord to make repairs have failed, tenants can turn to legal remedies based on state landlord-tenant laws. The specifics vary based on local laws, which can be complicated. It's best to seek advice from a tenants' rights group or a lawyer specializing in landlord-tenant issues.

  • Low-cost mediation services: Mediation provides a neutral platform for landlords and tenants to discuss and resolve disputes with the help of a third-party mediator. Many communities offer these services through local legal aid organizations, housing advocacy groups, or community mediation centers.
  • Repair and deduct from rent: In some jurisdictions, tenants are allowed to hire a repair person to fix issues and subtract the cost from their rent payment. When pursuing this route, be sure to follow the rules laid out in local laws and your lease agreement so that you're reimbursed fairly. Tenants should document everything, obtain multiple repair quotes, and provide appropriate notice to the landlord.
  • Rent withholding: Under certain conditions, tenants may withhold part or even an entire month's rent until contractors complete the repairs. This can be a negotiating tool when used carefully to avoid eviction. Tenants should give written notice and place the withheld rent in an escrow account. This action demonstrates your commitment to paying rent and clarifies that you don’t actually owe rent but are withholding payment due to unresolved repair issues.
  • Terminating the lease: If the issues are severe and make the rental property unlivable, tenants may have the right to break the lease early without penalty.
  • Filing a lawsuit: Tenants may file a lawsuit in small claims court against their landlord. This action can be for a breach of the warranty of habitability, compensation for damages, or to force the landlord to make repairs. This should be a last resort, because it is time-consuming, costly, and requires the assistance of a lawyer.

Know what to do if your landlord doesn't fix things in your home

When a landlord refuses to make repairs, tenants have several options to protect their rights and restore safety to their home. Understanding the difference between major and minor repairs, documenting issues, and communicating effectively with the landlord can help tenants work towards resolving problems.

If the landlord remains unresponsive, tenants can seek help from local authorities, explore legal remedies, or even terminate the lease in severe cases. Landlords who don't address repair issues can face penalties, legal action, potential liability for damages or injuries, and disputes over the security deposit.

Both parties should be aware of their responsibilities and the potential consequences of neglecting them. Open communication and a proactive approach are key to preventing and resolving repair disputes. Working together and following the proper channels can help maintain a positive rental relationship and verify that the rental property remains safe and habitable.

Landlord refuses to make repairs FAQs

What happens if your landlord doesn't fix things in Illinois?

Tenants have several options if a landlord fails to repair or maintain the rental property as required by law in Illinois. They can file a complaint with the local housing authority, hire someone to make the repairs and deduct the cost from the rent, or terminate the lease and move out if the issue is serious enough.

How long does a landlord have to fix something in California?

In California, landlords have a reasonable time to address repair requests, which is usually 30 days. For more urgent issues like a lack of hot water or a broken heater, the landlord must make the repairs promptly, usually within a few days. 

If the landlord does not make repairs within a reasonable timeframe, tenants can hire someone to fix the issue and deduct the cost from their rent.

Can you withhold rent for repairs in NY?

Tenants in New York cannot withhold rent payments for repairs unless they follow specific legal procedures. First, tenants must notify the landlord in writing about the needed repairs and give them a reasonable amount of time to address the issue. 

If the landlord fails to make the repairs, tenants can pay their rent into an escrow account maintained by the court. This process is known as a rent strike and requires strict adherence to legal guidelines to avoid possible eviction.

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.

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