Q:

What can you do if your landlord is violating your rights as a tenant?

A:

Quick Answer

Landlords may be in violation of a lease agreement or state regulations concerning rental units by refusing to make repairs or perform maintenance. Landlords are bound by both the conditions of a signed lease agreement and state laws that protect the health and safety of the tenant.

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Full Answer

State laws differ about tenant rights, and historically, they have favored the landlord. Tenants have recourse, specifically when conditions are defined in a mutually-signed lease agreement. Although in some states a written lease is not required to consider the agreement valid, it is a way to protect the parties by clearly indicating the rights and responsibilities of each party.

If the landlord is not complying with repair and maintenance responsibilities, the tenant may choose to make the repairs himself and be reimbursed for any out-of-pocket costs. If the landlord refuses to repay, the tenant may settle the matter through small claims court. In some states, such as California, the costs may be reclaimed through deducting the amount from the rent, providing the total amount is less than the equivalent of one month's rent and the tenant is able to produce receipts. In other states, such as Texas, minor repair costs may not be deducted unless the landlord agrees.

In the instance of major repairs or conditions that impact the health and safety of the tenant, such as a collapsed ceiling or lack of heat during winter, the landlord is required to comply within a reasonable time. In some states, under extreme conditions, the tenant may be allowed to withhold rent until repairs are made. Abandonment of the property may also be justified under extreme conditions. The tenant should keep all documented communications and photographs of the problem as evidence.

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