What repairs does a landlord need to make?

Recently on our legal forum we had a user ask, What repairs must my landlord fix?

A landlord's obligations to repair property may vary by state. Generally, however, even if the specific language is not contained in your rental agreement, your landlord is supposed to maintain rental property so it is considered habitable. This basically means they must ensure the rental unit is structurally sound, maintain the plumbing, electrical and heating systems, and provide hot and cold water. The landlord must also ensure the property is not infested.

Steps to getting repairs made

So what do you do if your landlord is not making the appropriate repairs? Let's look at greater detail for steps you can take in the state of Texas. Other states will have similar steps.

First, you need to make sure you have paid your rent. Although you may be tempted not to pay your rent if your landlord is not making repairs, in the state of Texas this can allow the landlord to evict you.

Next, you will need to send written notification of the problem to the landlord. Do not make oral statements because they can be difficult to prove. You can deliver the notice in person, but it is best to send the notice certified mail, return receipt requested so you will have proof the landlord received your request.

Finally, you will need to give the landlord time to repair the problem. The repair statutes presume a reasonable time is seven days (exemptions may exist for major repairs due to fire or weather). You may also want to take pictures of the issue for your records.

If the landlord refuses to make the necessary repairs you will have several legal options to pressure the landlord to act. First, you can use the lease agreement to prove the landlord failed to act. For example, the form lease drafted by the Texas Apartment Association (TAA) may state in part: We'll maintain the dwelling in good order and pay for repair and maintenance.

Next, Texas law also requires a landlord to fix problems which materially affect the physical health or safety of an ordinary tenant and are not caused by the tenant, occupant, or a guest. This can include broken air conditioners, sewage leaks, rodent infestation and unstable ceilings.

Finally, if the first two arguments do not work you can review the municipal ordinances in your city. At the very least the city will probably require that you have hot water and a sound structure.

What do I do about my repairs?

Most likely after you notify your landlord that you understand your legal tenant rights and you have served him written notice of your repair request he will simply make the repairs. If he does not you have the legal right to terminate the lease and move out, notify the city code inspector, fix the problem yourself (make sure you understand your rights first), file a lawsuit against him or live with the problem until the end of the lease period.

The good news is you do have rights as a tenant. The bad news is you will need to understand your rights. If you improperly terminate your lease or deduct repair costs from your rent you could expose yourself to liability or eviction. If you have questions about your legal rights as a tenant you can contact the United States Department of Housing.

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