At the most basic level, renters have the right to feel comfortable and safe in the property they are renting. However, if a landlord refuses to make needed repairs, renters can find themselves living in a rental property that can pose a threat to their health, property, or welfare. Since conditions that make a property unlivable vary from state to state, it is wise to consult with a Miami attorney specialized in landlord-tenant law to better understand the laws and tenant rights specific to Florida.
Renters who find themselves in this kind of unfortunate situation should understand their rights and know that landlords have the responsibility to make sure their rental units are habitable. Due to what is known as the implied warranty of habitability, landlords have a duty to maintain their rental properties to ensure they are safe, operable, and sanitary. Here are steps tenants can take if their landlord fails at this responsibility.
Understand Tenant Rights
Renters, in any state, generally have the right to the following:
- Hot water and drinking water
- Heat during cold weather
- Electricity and plumbing in good working order
- Doors and windows that lock
- A place free from bugs, rats, and other common pests
- Building code requirements met
If these conditions are not met, in most cases the rental property will be deemed unfit to live in.
The Initial Actions
If a rental property is deemed unlivable due to certain problems that need to be fixed, the renter has to communicate with their landlord as soon as possible.
- Tell landlord what the problem is and ask them to fix it. Start with an oral request. This might be sufficient if the renter has a good relationship with their landlord and the landlord encourages open communication. If this is not enough to spur the landlord into action, move onto the next step.
- Send a certified letter. If the relationship between the renter and landlord is strained, the renter will often have to send an official letter specifying to the landlord what the problem is and when it started. This letter serves as an official request for repairs to be made; renters should keep a copy of it.
- Give landlord enough time to fix the problem. After sending out an oral or written request, renters should allow a “reasonable” amount of time for landlords to respond and fix the problem. Generally, a “reasonable” amount of time is 30 days unless it is an emergency, in which case that amount would be much shorter.
- Allow landlord or repairman insideRenters should be accommodating and let their landlord or repairmen enter their rental property so that the appropriate repairs can be made. Unless there is an emergency like a flood or fire, landlords need to give renters notice before entering a rental property.
The More Drastic Actions
If the problem was not caused by the renter and still is not being fixed despite multiple requests, renters will have to take more drastic actions. The safest option is to contact the county or city government health or building inspector to report building code violations and request an inspection. If a violation is found, the landlord might be ordered to repair the property.
Before taking the actions listed below, consult with a Miami attorney specialized in landlord tenant law. Some of these actions are not allowed under certain state laws or local ordinances. It is best to enlist the help of an experienced attorney to understand the federal and state specific laws regarding the following self-help measures. It is critical to avoid violating local ordinances because landlords could evict and sue renters that do.
- Withhold Rent. This should be a last resort action. Tenants stuck in an unlivable rental property should not take this opportunity to try to live for free. States respect the basic rights of landlords to be paid their rent monthly. However, if the landlord has failed to maintain the standard of habitability and refuses to make repairs, some states allow tenants to withhold rent payment until the landlord makes the needed repairs. Renters should put the rent money into a separate bank account (some states require it to be an escrow account) and release the funds after their landlord meets their demands.
- Repair-and-Deduct. Just like the previous self-help measure, not all jurisdictions allow tenants to choose this option. This method can only be used for habitability issues. With this method, renters arrange for the problem to be fixed or the repair to be made at their expense. The amount of the expense will then be deducted from the rent.
- Move. Obviously, this is another desperate option. If the landlord continues refusing to make repairs despite multiple requests, renters might be able to break the lease. Renters have to provide proof that the property was condemned due to the landlord’s refusal or inability to fix the problem. The procedures tenants have to follow to break a lease due to habitability issues are outlined by state law.
When a landlord fails to meet the habitability standards despite reasonable requests by their tenants, they are guilty of material non-compliance. The landlord tenant law attorneys at Graham Legal are experienced at litigating and negotiating landlord-tenant disputes.
Call us to find out how we can help you pursue a material non-compliance claim and defend your tenant rights.