Renter’s Rights

Maintenance requests and the unresponsive landlord

One of the biggest perks of renting versus owning is that you’re almost always off the hook when it comes to home repairs. The operative word here? “Almost.” Ideally, your landlord will honor your lease agreement and swoop in with a maintenance crew soon after you report an issue. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case. In these instances, it’s up to you as the tenant to take control of the situation.

One of our friends, a twenty-something professional living in Chicago, is all too familiar with going the DIY route when it comes to getting things fixed in her Lakeview duplex. Once, her laundry closet overflowed with thick, black muck that seeped into her plush white carpeting. After placing multiple unanswered phone calls to her landlord’s 24-hour emergency maintenance hotline, she was left with no choice but to rent a carpet cleaner from her local hardware store and clean up the mess herself.

She’s hardly the only gal who’s dealt with yucky situations and landlord frustrations. Nearly every renter has at least one story about a leaky pipe and a property manager with a laissez-faire approach to maintenance requests. But how do you handle these types of issues without completely losing your cool? Every situation will be different, but there are a few basic guidelines you can follow the next time you find yourself in a sticky position.

1. Check your lease agreement. Some contracts specify that you must make repair requests in writing. Send a certified letter to the management office and be sure to keep a copy for yourself.

2. Submit a maintenance request at the first sign of damage. Temporarily trying to “fix” the problem yourself could result in a much bigger issue down the road and you may be responsible for covering the cost of repairs.

3. Take photos of the damage. Whether it’s a broken window or a leaky faucet, having visual proof of the repair work that needs to be done will be helpful if the problem doesn’t get resolved within a reasonable timeframe.

4. Keep a record of all correspondence with dates. This is easy to track if you contact your landlord via email. If a problem escalates and you wind up in small claims court, you’ll need to be able to prove that your landlord is at fault, not you.

5. Wait the proper timeframe. Refer to your state’s Tenant Rights Act to determine how long your landlord has to begin repairs. Depending on the problem, this could be anywhere from 24 hours to several days.

 The next steps

If your landlord hasn’t begun the repair work within the appropriate timeframe, you have several options under the law, each with its own legal process and limitations. Making the repair yourself and deducting the cost from your rent, like our Chicago friend did, is one possibility. In extreme cases you may be able to break your lease and move with no penalty.

However you decide to remedy an unmet maintenance request with your landlord, the important thing to remember is to keep a cool head. Handling the situation without blowing a fuse will test your patience, but remaining civil will greatly improve your chances of getting that window fixed and maintaining a peaceful home environment.

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Kate Kasbee
Kate Kasbee is a blogger and freelance copywriter living in Los Angeles. She has a background in real estate marketing and has also written about a variety of subjects including pet care, how to adopt a vegan diet, and technology. Prior to living in sunny California, Kate spent eight years in Chicago where she lived in nine different apartments in five different neighborhoods. Though she’s not quite done exploring, Kate dreams of planting her roots and owning a home with creaky floors and plenty of land for starting an organic farm.
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