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List of Landlord Responsibilities
Landlords have certain responsibilities to their tenants to which they must oblige, even if these responsibilities are not explicitly defined with the lease agreement. If your landlord fails to perform his obligations, you may be able to withhold rent, break the lease early or even file a claim against him.
Keep in mind that specific landlord/tenancy laws may vary significantly from state to state, so your landlord may have additional obligations not mentioned here. You should review your state’s specific landlord/tenancy laws for more information.
Perform All Necessary Repairs
One of your landlord’s more pressing obligations is the responsibility to perform any and all repairs to your unit in a timely fashion. What constitutes timely directly depends on the nature of the problem and applicable circumstances. For example, if the heater in your unit breaks in the middle of a very cold winter, “timely” would require your landlord to repair to heater within 24 hours. However, if your heater stops working in the middle of July, it would not be unreasonable for your landlord to wait until the fall to repair the problem. Additionally, your landlord must repair certain problems quickly regardless of the season, including:
- electric issues* (i.e. defective outlets, exposed wires)
- plumbing problems (i.e. non-working or clogged toilet, broken shower/bathtub)
- water problems (i.e. lack of hot water, running water, clean water)
- faulty or broken major appliances (i.e. stove, refrigerator)
- defective or missing security devices (i.e. front or back door, working key lock for doors,)
- defective or missing safety devices (i.e. smoke detectors)
*If your lease dictates that you are responsible for the electric bill, and your electrical problem is due to your failure to pay, your landlord is not responsible for the problem.
Your landlord must either perform the repairs himself, or hire a qualified contractor at his own expense. All repairs must be performed according to all applicable state and local codes. Your landlord cannot charge you for these repairs unless he can prove that you are directly responsible for causing the damage, either by purposely or negligently creating the problem. Your landlord also cannot evict you for requesting repairs or reporting his failure to perform repairs to the appropriate housing authority.
Keep Common Areas Safe and Well-Lit
If you live in a building or complex, your landlord is responsible for maintaining all common areas shared by other tenants. This includes, but is not limited to:
- parking lots
- sidewalks and walkways
- shared stairwells
- open grounds
- shared laundry facilities
- community centers
- community pool
- community gym facilities
- community playgrounds/parks
Your landlord must keep these areas clean, safe and well-lit at all times. These areas should not be accessible to individuals other than tenants and their guests; it is your landlord’s responsibility to ensure no outside parties gain access. Should you, other tenants or your guests be injured in a common area -- including by an outside third party, such as a mugger -- your landlord may be liable. Your landlord cannot charge you for regular “wear and tear” or damages caused by your guests or other tenants, although he may charge you for damages you caused directly to these areas. If you notice a common area is unclean, unsafe or unlit, you should report what you find to your landlord immediately to ensure he makes the appropriate repairs in a timely fashion.
Provide Reasonable Notice Before Entering
Landlords have a right to access the unit whenever necessary to perform repairs, assess problems, and show the property to other prospective tenants. However, your landlord cannot enter the unit at will; she must first provide you with adequate notice, and in most states, that notice must be in writing. She must also explain the reason why she needs to enter the property, give you an opportunity to reschedule, and only request to enter during a reasonable time (for example, she cannot request entry during the hours you are asleep).
What constitutes “reasonable notice” varies from state to state; in most states, the average notice must come at least 24 to 72 hours prior to your landlord’s entry. Exactly how much prior notice your landlord must give you depends on two things: your lease and your state of residency. If your lease defines how much notice your landlord must provide before entering, then that clause prevails and you must abide. However, if your state has a statutory right-of-entry requirement in place, and the law extends the time of notice, your state law prevails -- even if your lease gives your landlord less time. Further, your landlord cannot continuously request access to the unit for unnecessary reasons. For example, if your landlord demands to enter your home on weekly basis for “inspection,” you can deny her access unless these inspections are explicitly permitted by your lease.
There are exceptions to the reasonable notice rule. First, you can waive your right to reasonable notice by granting your landlord permission to enter the property when she asks. Doing so might foster a better relationship between you and your landlord, while still allowing you to exercise control over when she may enter. In emergency situations, your landlord can enter your property without prior notice, even (and especially) if you are not home at the time. Emergency situations include a fire, water leak, flooding or burglary inside the property. Your landlord can also grant access to law enforcement and emergency rescue services -- like firefighters or police officers -- on your behalf in an emergency situation.
Maintain a Habitable Unit
It is your landlord’s sole responsibility to ensure your unit is clean, safe and habitable at all times. Even if the unit was in livable condition prior to signing the lease, you still retain the right to a habitable home for the entire duration of your stay. Your landlord must perform necessary repairs in a timely fashion, ensure the appropriate security and safety devices are in place and otherwise maintain appropriate upkeep on the property and ensure the unit meets any and all applicable health, safety and building codes.
If your landlord fails adhere to his responsibility to maintain a habitable unit, you have multiple available remedies. First, you may be able to withhold future rent payments until your landlord completes everything necessary to bring the property back to a habitable status. Most states allow tenants to withhold rent, although some do require you to keep your rent payments in a savings or escrow account. During the time you withhold rent, you landlord cannot evict you for failure to pay rent.
Second, if your landlord continues to ignore his obligation to perform repairs, you may use any withheld rent to cover the costs of the repairs yourself. You can either purchase the necessary tools and equipment using the money and perform the repairs on your own, or use the money to hire a qualified contractor to repair the unit, instead. If the expenses you incur as a result of handling the repairs yourself exceed the amount of rent you withheld, you may continue withholding rent until you are fully reimbursed. Be sure you obtain receipts for every dollar you spend so you can account for your use of the rent money to make repairs in the future, if necessary.
Third, you can terminate the lease early and move out of the unit without penalty if you would rather not perform repairs or withhold rent. In most states, you do not need to provide prior notice before moving out, although some states may require you to give your landlord a few days’ notice in writing before you leave. Your landlord cannot hold your security deposit (unless he can prove you caused damage to the unit) and he cannot collect any future rent for the remainder of the lease. If you did withhold rent prior to breaking the lease, you can use this money to secure a new home -- your landlord is not entitled to it.