Is my landlord required to fix a major leak and exposed wires?

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Question:

I am living in an apartment complex and there are several problems with my unit. One of them has been going on since last summer -- a huge hole above my shower and a pipe that leaks when my upstairs neighbors take long showers. It is mildewed and looks and smells awful. There are also two outlets in my sons' bedroom with exposed wires. Do I have any legal recourse against the apartment complex?

Answer:

If you haven't done so already, put your specific complaints in writing, including details and history of the problems with the shower and leaking pipe. The letter should be polite, but firm; you are not begging your landlord for charity, but insisting on your rights as a tenant. Describe your previous requests to have the problems fixed and set a reasonable deadline after which you will pursue your legal rights.

As for the electrical outlets, however, you would be wise to take immediate action -- write a similar but separate paragraph describing the danger to you and your children and demand that the problem be fixed within 24 hours.

If your landlord doesn't respond, you may have several options, depending on what state you live in:

  • Make the repairs yourself or hire someone to do them and deduct the cost from your next month's rent.
  • Stop paying rent until the landlord fixes the problem.
  • Call the local housing department or building inspector, who can usually order the landlord to make repairs.
  • Move out, even if you are in the middle of your lease or rental agreement.

Also, contact your city manager or mayor's office and ask about tenants' rights groups in your area. They may have helpful recommendations as to what has worked on similarly thorny housing situations in your area -- or may even agree to intercede in your negotiations with your landlord.

Be sure you check your state laws to see whether rent withholding and repair and deduct are available in your state.

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