To avoid problems with tenants, landlords should make repairs to rental units as soon as possible. Major problems, such as a plumbing or heating problem, should be handled within 24 hours. But before entering rented premises to make needed repairs, landlords must provide advance notice to tenants (usually 24 hours). Without advance notice, in most states a landlord or property manager may enter rented premises only in an emergency, such as a fire or serious water leak.
Under most state and local laws, landlords must offer and maintain housing that satisfies basic habitability requirements, such as adequate weatherproofing, available heat, water and electricity, and clean, sanitary, and structurally safe premises. Rental housing must also be free from significant danger from lead, asbestos, and mold, and must have reasonable protection from criminal intrusion.
Local building or housing codes typically set specific standards, such as the minimum requirements for light, ventilation, and electrical wiring. Many cities require the installation of smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors in residential units, and specify security measures involving locks and keys.
Your local building or housing authority, and health or fire department, can provide information on local housing codes (and penalties for violations).
When a tenant requests necessary repairs and the landlord or property manager doesn't meet legal responsibilities in providing them, a tenant usually has several options, depending on the state. These options include:
A tenant can also sue the landlord for a partial refund of past rent, and in some circumstances can sue for the discomfort, annoyance, and emotional distress caused by the substandard conditions.
A landlord's best bet 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 problem, within 24 hours. For minor problems, respond in 48 hours. Landlords should always keep tenants informed as to when and how the repairs will be made, and the reasons for any delays.
Typically, after giving notice to tenants, landlords can enter rented premises in order to make needed repairs (or under some states' landlord entry laws, just to determine whether repairs are necessary), or to show the property to prospective new tenants or purchasers. In most states, landlords must provide 24 hours' advance notice before entering a rental unit.
Without advance notice, in most states a landlord or manager may 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.
Several states also allow landlords or property managers to enter rental property during a tenant's extended absence (often defined as seven days or more) in order to maintain the property as necessary and to inspect for damage and needed repairs. In most cases, a landlord may not enter just to check up on the tenant and the rental property.
For the most comprehensive and up-to-date legal and practical guide for residential landlords, get Every Landlord's Legal Guide, by Janet Portman, Marcia Stewart, and Ann O'Connell (Nolo).