You have legal options if your landlord refuses to fix the problem
Imagine coming home to your apartment after a long day at work, only to find that a massive leak has turned your living room into an indoor swimming pool or discovering an electrical issue that has left you without heat in the middle of winter.
When disaster strikes in a rental unit, tenants may feel at the mercy of their landlords. In this article, we’ll look at the legal rights tenants have when it comes to necessary repairs, and we’ll discuss the options tenants have when landlords refuse to make repairs within a reasonable amount of time.
What does my landlord have to repair?
In Washington, landlords have certain responsibilities under the Washington Landlord-Tenant Act to maintain rental units in a “habitable” condition.
According to the Act, landlords must:
- Maintain the rental unit so it doesn't violate state and local laws in ways that endanger the tenant's health and safety.
- Maintain the structural components (chimney, roof, floors, etc.) of a rental property.
- Provide a reasonable program for the control of infestation by insects, rodents, and other pests.
- Make repairs when something breaks in the unit, except if it is caused by normal wear and tear.
- Maintain all electrical, plumbing, heating, and other facilities and appliances supplied by the landlord in reasonably good working order.
- Fix electrical, plumbing, and heating systems if they break.
- Make repairs needed to make the house weather-tight.
In general, landlords are responsible for ensuring that rental properties are safe, livable, and in compliance with local and state regulations. If there are issues with essential services such as heating, plumbing, electricity, or sanitation, landlords must address them in a timely manner. Additionally, they are responsible for maintaining the structural integrity of the building and making major repairs as needed.
How long does my landlord have to make a repair?
Anyone who has ever had anything break in their home understands that it can’t always be fixed immediately. Nevertheless, landlords in Washington are required, under the Revised Code of Washington 59.18.070, to meet certain deadlines:
|Within 24 hours of receiving notice||Within 72 hours of receiving notice||Within 10 days of receiving notice|
How should I request a repair?
Your landlord can’t make a repair if they don’t know something is broken. What’s more, you can’t take any legal action to force your landlord to make a repair until you’ve provided your landlord with written notice.
The written notice must be delivered to your landlord. To prove delivery, you should send the notice “certified mail with return receipt requested.”
RE: NOTICE REQUESTING REPAIRS
Dear [Landlord’s name],
This is to notify you that the rental unit at [rental unit address] that you manage and I occupy needs repairs for the following defects:
[list all defects that need repair]
The Washington Residential Landlord Tenant Act requires you to begin making repairs within one of these specific time periods:
Twenty-four (24) hours to repair the loss of hot or cold water, heat or electricity, or a condition imminently hazardous to life.
Seventy-two (72) hours when the defect deprives the tenant of the use of a refrigerator, range, oven, or other major plumbing fixture supplied by the landlord.
Ten (10) days in all other cases.
A list of landlord responsibilities required by the Act is attached. If the repairs are not completed within the applicable period of time, I intend to use the legal remedies provided in the Act.
Be sure to keep copies of all notices you deliver, along with any other written communications between you and your landlord (including text messages).
What do I do if my landlord doesn’t make the requested repairs?
Unfortunately, even when informed of the law, landlords don’t always make the requested repairs. If your landlord refuses to act, it will be up to you to take legal action.
Generally speaking, you have four options when your landlord fails to make a necessary repair within the allotted time period:
- Move out: You can terminate your lease if your landlord doesn’t make the required repairs within the allotted period of time. You need to provide your landlord with a letter notifying them that you’re moving out due to their failure to fix the problem.
- File a lawsuit. You can sue the landlord in state court for any remedy provided under the Washington Landlord-Tenant Act.
- Go to mediation: If your landlord agrees, you can try to settle the dispute in mediation.
- Repair and deduct: You can repair the problem yourself and then deduct the cost from your rent. You can only deduct an amount of up to two months’ rent during any 12-month period. What’s more, you must provide your landlord with a written estimate of the cost at least two days before having the item repaired, and you must give your landlord a chance to inspect the work when it’s completed.
You can do the repairs yourself, provided the cost of the repair is not more than one month’s rent, the repair doesn’t require a licensed repair person, and the repaired item is not located in a common area.
Although you can handle landlord-tenant issues yourself, it’s often a good idea to meet with an experienced landlord-tenant attorney in your area to review your legal options. Most initial consultations are free.