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What to do about an unresponsive landlord

A tenant may be at their wits’ end. Maybe water is dripping from the apartment ceiling, or mold is growing in the basement. The place is clearly in disrepair, and patience has worn thin. Calls to the landlord go unanswered. As a tenant, what recourse does the tenant have?

Landlords have legal responsibilities

Landlords have a legal duty to address issues that are “essential to the health and safety of their tenants.” That includes correcting electrical malfunctions, eradicating insect infestations, repairing holes in the roof, correcting a lack of water or heat and eliminating mold.

Generally speaking, sending the landlord requests for repairs via registered mail is recommended, which is considered formal written notice of the problems and your request for action. Take photos of the situation that needs addressing. Keep track of all pertinent information, such as any attempts you make to contact the landlord by email, phone or text messages.

What if those measures don’t work?

There are additional tactics you can try, such as:

  • Taking your landlord to small claims court
  • Notifying local and state building inspectors and health officials know about the situation
  • Putting your rent into an escrow account pending repairs

What about things that are not “essential”?

Although squeaky doors and creaky stairs are irritating, these issues are not urgent, health-related matters. Therefore, the landlord does not have any legal obligation to correct those problems. However, review what it says in the rental agreement or lease to see if it gives you any options.

When you still can’t get results

When the tenant has exhausted all reasonable avenues and your landlord still has not addressed your problem, the landlord may be in “material noncompliance.” This phrase means that they are in breach of contract, and it is time to take legal action.