What are the landlord's repair and maintenance responsibilities?

Under most state and local laws, rental property owners must offer and maintain housing that satisfies basic habitability requirements, such as adequate weatherproofing; available heat, water, and electricity; and clean, sanitary, and structurally safe premises. Local building or housing codes typically set specific standards, such as the minimum amounts of light, ventilation, and electrical wiring. Many cities require the installation of smoke detectors in residential units and specify security measures involving locks and keys.

To find out more about state laws on repair and maintenance responsibilities, check your state's landlord-tenant statutes. Your local building or housing authority and health or fire department can provide information on local housing codes and penalties for violations.

If a landlord doesn't meet his or her legal responsibilities, a tenant usually has several options, depending on the state. These options include:

  • paying less rent;
  • withholding the entire rent until the problem is fixed;
  • making necessary repairs or hiring someone to make them and deducting the cost from the next month's rent;
  • calling the local building inspector, who can usually order the landlord to make repairs; or
  • moving out, even in the middle of a lease.

A tenant who has lived under substandard conditions can also sue the landlord for a partial refund of rent paid during that time. In some circumstances, the tenant can sue for the discomfort, annoyance, and emotional distress caused by the substandard conditions. Tenants should check state and local laws and understand available remedies before taking any action, especially before using "repair and deduct" and withholding rent.

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