6. Who should make repairs in my home?
IIf you, your family or a friend cause the damage, you should complete the repair unless instructed not to by your lease or landlord. For example, if your child breaks a window, you must replace the glass. You can ask the owner or manager to make the repair, but be prepared to pay for it. If you did not cause the damage, however, the owner probably is responsible for the repairs.
The best time to ask for repairs or improvements is before you move in—but after the lease is signed. Walk through the apartment or house with the owner or manager and jot down everything that is wrong with the place. You can also request repairs at that point. You may want to take a friend with you. Your friend can be a witness if you and the owner later disagree on any promised repairs.
If the repairs are not made by the agreed-upon date, mail a reminder and keep a copy. It is a good idea to put all requests for repairs in writing. Date, sign and keep a copy of each request.
7. Can the owner come into my home without asking me?
Yes, but only in emergencies. For example, suppose a bathtub overflows in the apartment above yours. The owner could check your apartment for water damage even if you were not home.
The owner can enter your home for certain other reasons as well, but only after giving you a 24-hour written notice and only during normal business hours. For example, if you plan to move, the owner has a right to show the apartment or house to prospective tenants. Or, the owner might want an electrician to check the wiring. The landlord must give you a 48-hour written notice to make a pre-vacancy inspection of your unit.
8. What are the owner’s rights?
The owner has a right to expect you to follow the rules of your rental agreement. You should, for example, pay your rent on time and keep the apartment or house clean. And you should avoid bothering other tenants with noisy parties or a television set turned up full blast.
If you don’t follow the rules, the owner may have a good reason to ask you to move. And if you do not move, the owner can sue to evict you.
Also, although no one can refuse to rent to people with children, the owner can limit the number of people living in the apartment.
The owner also has the right to sell the building. If the building is sold, your lease will not change. The owner must either transfer your deposits to the new owner or refund them. If the deposits are transferred, the owner must tell you in writing and give you the new owner’s name, address and phone number.
9. What are my rights?
You may rent your apartment to someone else unless your agreement states otherwise. This is called subleasing. If the agreement forbids subleasing, check with the owner and seek approval in writing. Be sure that your subtenant is responsible. If a subtenant causes damage or does not pay the rent, you will have to pay.
Some communities have rent-control laws that give you certain protections against rent increases. Such laws usually say when and how much your rent can be raised. Many local governments have rent board agencies that can help you with issues involving local rent laws and ordinances.
You also have the right to a decent place to live. The law says that your rental apartment must be livable. If the apartment is not livable—through no fault of your own—you can move. You may not have to pay rent after you move, even though you have a lease. You may also sue the landlord for any rent that you overpaid while living in untenantable conditions.
By law, for a place to be unlivable or untenantable, the problem must be substantial and may include:
- a lack of waterproofing and weatherproofing (broken windows, for example),
- poor plumbing,
- insufficient hot and cold running water for bathing and cleaning,
- a lack of heat,
- electrical lighting that is not in good working order,
- unclean grounds and building,
- roaches and rodents,
- too few trash cans for your garbage, or
- floors, stairs and railings that are in disrepair.
10. Can I report the owner if the apartment is unlivable?
Yes. Let’s say the furnace has not worked for six weeks in the middle of winter—and the owner won’t fix it, in spite of your phone calls and letters. In this case, you could report the owner to a housing or building inspection department.
What if there are rats or mice in the building? Maybe garbage sits around for a week at a time. Call the county or city health department. A lot of trash in the hallways could be a fire hazard. In such a case, you could report the owner to the fire department.
The government department you call may give the owner a written notice to correct the problem within 60 days. If there is no improvement in that time, you may be able to sue the owner.
If the problems affect tenantability (see #9), you can make repairs yourself or pay to have them made. Then, you may be able to deduct that money from your rent. You cannot, however, deduct more than the cost of one month’s rent for any one repair. And you cannot deduct repair costs more than twice a year.
You could stop paying rent until the repairs are made. However, this can be a risky procedure without legal advice because the owner may sue you. And you probably should put your rent money into an escrow account. This will ensure that you have the money to pay the rent after the repairs have been made, or if you have to move.
In either case, write to the owner first and explain what you plan to do. You also must give the owner a reasonable amount of time to make the repairs. Please note that both of these remedies can result in an eviction if they aren’t done correctly. Seek legal help before withholding rent or paying for repairs.
If you have a major complaint, it is possible that the other tenants do as well. Arrange a meeting to discuss the problem. Perhaps all of the tenants will sign a letter asking the owner to make the repair or improvement. You may all want to select someone to meet with the owner on behalf of the tenants.