Landlord and Renters’ Rights to Privacy and Repair FAQ

It is critical that landlords and tenants understand their legal rights in regards to entering rental property, and when to demand repairs.

There are a few instances that make it acceptable for landlords to enter rented premises, they include: performing needed repairs (or in some states, just to determine whether repairs are necessary), in emergency situations, or to show the property to prospective new tenants or purchasers.

In certain states, landlords or property managers are allowed the right of entry during a tenant’s extended absence (often defined as seven days or more) to maintain the property as necessary and to inspect for damage and necessary repairs. A landlord is not permitted to simply enter the rental property just to check up on the tenant and the rental property.

In most states landlords are typically required to provide advance notice (usually 24 hours) before entering a rental unit.

Without advance notice, most states allow a landlord or manager to enter rented premises while a tenant is living there only in an emergency, such as a fire or serious water leak, or when the tenant gives permission.

Landlords are required to provide and maintain housing that complies with basic habitability requirements: adequate weatherproofing, accessible heat, available electricity and water, and clean, sanitary, and structurally sound property.

Minimum requirements for light, ventilation, and electrical wiring are typically set by your local building or housing codes. Many cities require the installation of smoke detectors in residential units and specify security measures involving locks and keys.

Ask your local building or housing authority, and health or fire department for more information. They should be able to provide current information on local housing codes and penalties for specific violations.

When a tenant’s request(s) for repairs have gone unanswered and the landlord or property manager have complied with the habitability requirements, a tenant usually has several options, depending on the state. These options include:

  • making the necessary repairs and deducting the costs from the next month’s rent
  • withholding the entire rent until the problem is remedied
  • paying less rent while the rental remains substandard
  • contacting the local building inspector directly, who can usually order the landlord to make repairs, or
  • moving out without responsibility for future rent, even in the middle of a lease.

A tenant may sue the landlord for a partial refund of past rent, and in certain circumstances the tenant may also sue for emotional distress as a result of living with the discomfort, annoyance, and emotional strain caused by the substandard conditions.

The best advice is to handle repairs as soon as possible (or delegate the repairs to the tenant in exchange for decreased rent). Take care of major problems, such as a plumbing or heating, within 24 hours. For minor problems, respond in 48 hours. It is important to maintain good contact with tenants, and to inform them as to when and how the repairs will be made, and the reasons for any delays.

All tenants have the responsibility to keep their own living quarters clean and sanitary. If a tenant fails to maintain their rental unit, they may not simply go to the landlord and request repairs that are due to negligence, such as infestations of pests such as ants. In situations where tenant negligence has caused the issue, the landlord could have the work done and send the repair bill to the tenant.

However, if the landlord is responsible for making certain repairs, the landlord can usually delegate the repair tasks to the tenant in exchange for a reduction in rent (if the tenant agrees). In the circumstance that the tenant fails to do the job properly (fix the problem), the landlord is still responsible for maintaining the property and ensuring habitable conditions.

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