For fifteen days I have had sewage in tub and toilet. Landlord refusing to fix. What are my rights?

Recently on our legal forum a renter asked, “For fifteen days I have had sewage in my tub and toilet, but my landlord is refusing to fix the issue. What are my rights?” While a renter may not be entitled to a wide array of amenities, they do have rights which are protected under their written or oral lease agreements, their state’s regulations and statutes, or their city’s ordinances.

Tenant Rights under the lease agreement

If you have questions about your rights the first step is to review your lease agreement. Your lease may outline specific steps which are required to repair any damage to the rental unit. For example, some landlords require the tenants to make repairs if the repair cost is below a specific dollar amount. Other landlords have purchased home warranties which cover some repairs but may require you to pay the initial fee for service.

If your lease agreement does not contain information about your issue, it is time to review your state’s statutes and regulations. In the state of Texas, for example, this information is provided under the Tenant Rights section on the Attorney General’s website.

Tenant Rights in the State of Texas

In the state of Texas, the first right given to a renter is the right to “quiet enjoyment.” Under this right a tenant is protected not only from eviction without cause, but also from the annoying or abusive actions of other tenants. Tenants are also generally protected from any actions which could disturb utilities, unless the interruption results from repairs or another type of emergency.

Security and Tenant’s Rights

Tenants not only have the right to quiet enjoyment, they also have the right to security. In the state of Texas, each rental unit must be equipped with the appropriate security features, including window latches, keyed dead bolts for all exterior door, sliding door pin locks, sliding door security bars, and door viewers.

If the property does not have all the necessary safety features Texas renters have the legal right to request they be installed at the landlord’s expense.

What about sewage in the tub?

Now, what about sewage in the tub? Under Texas state law, landlords have the legal obligation to repair any condition which “materially affects the renter’s health and safety.”

In 2010, additional protections were instituted when legislation was passed which gave the justice of the peace the authority to order landlords to repair these types of conditions, assuming the cost is not more than $10,000. This law now allows renters to get immediate help for issues through a repair order.

For example, if you live in the state of Texas, you have sewage in your tub, and it has been there for weeks without the landlord doing anything about it, you may have the legal right to go to the justice court and obtain a repair order.

There are other considerations; however, the above specifically applies to issues which arise from “normal wear and tear.” The landlord may not have the responsibility to pay for repairs which are the result of your negligence, carelessness, or abuse. For example, if you stuffed paper towels down your toilet for weeks and it finally backed up and exploded into your tub, you may be responsible for paying for the repairs.

What if my landlord will not pay for the repairs?

Assuming you are able to prove that the repair is needed to protect your health, safety, or security, and you have not been able to get a court order for repair, you may have the legal right to take other steps. For example, you may be able to terminate the lease agreement, deduct the cost of repairs from your rent, or file suit to force the landlord to make repairs.

Do not take any of these steps, however, before you send a letter by certified mail with return receipt requested, or by registered mail, outlining the needed repairs. Next, give your landlord a reasonable amount of time to make the repair. Reasonable time may vary by state but could be seven days or longer.

It’s also VERY important to follow the letter of the law or statute, especially if you choose to deduct the costs from the rent or terminate the lease agreement. For example, some renters have chosen to terminate the lease only to have the landlord take issue, decide to keep the security deposit, claim they are still owed rent, and then have information placed on their credit report.

Talking to a lawyer may also help ensure you take the right steps.

The above information is specific to the state of Texas, but all states have laws and regulations protecting renters. Review your state’s information for the steps you need to take in your state.

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