Repairs to a Rental Unit

Landlord’s Duty To Make Repairs

What can you do when the leased premises where you live needs repairs? First, ask your landlord nicely to make the repairs. Then, wait a reasonable amount of time. Decide if your landlord has a legal duty to make the repairs. Your landlord has a legal duty to make repairs if part or all of the premises is not fit for human habitation (due to such problems as a broken furnace, bad leaks, or no water). However, your landlord has no duty to repair damages caused by you or your guests. Also, you landlord is not required to make the premises look nicer by painting the walls, replacing faded carpet, etc. unless he or she specifically agreed to do so. Cooperate with any efforts of your landlord to make repairs. If your landlord fails to make repairs, but has no legal duty to make the repairs, your options are:

    • Live with the problem.
    • Fix it, at your own expense, but only with the landlord’s written permission.
    • Move out at the end of the lease term after giving proper notice.

If your landlord has a legal duty to make the repairs, you have certain legal remedies, which are described below. Warning: If you insist that your landlord make repairs, he/she may try to evict you or sue you for money. You should be prepared to prove your case in court. Unfortunately, there is no guarantee that the Court will find in your favor.

Steps You Can Take

  1. Take pictures of the needed repairs and write on the back of the pictures the date they were taken and what they show, such as “broken porch railing.” Have witnesses look at the needed repairs and make notes about what they see and when they saw it.
  2. Send a letter to your landlord notifying him/her of the needed repairs. Keep a copy of the letter for your records. Take the letter to the Post Office and send by both first class mail and certified mail, return receipt requested. The Post Office will give you a white receipt when you mail the letter, and a green receipt after the letter is delivered. Keep both receipts for your records. If you are facing an emergency, such as no heat in the winter, and you need the problem fixed immediately, you may want to do Step 3 before Step 2. (If you live in Public Housing, you have the right to request a Grievance Hearing.)
  3. If the premises are unfit, you may notify the Allegheny County Health Department at (412) 350-4046, and request that it inspect the premises.
  4. If the premises are unfit and your landlord has ignored the above steps, you may select one or more of the these options:
    1. After giving advance notice to the landlord, you may make reasonable, necessary repairs at your own expense and deduct the cost from the rent. The cost must be reasonable and cannot exceed the amount of rent owed for the balance of the lease term. For example, if you have 4 months remaining on a one year lease, and your rent is $400 per month, you cannot deduct more than $1600 for repairs. Here’s another example: if you have a month to month lease and your rent is $400 per month, you cannot deduct more than a total of $400 from your rent for repairs. If you plan to hire a repairman to make the repairs, you should get two written estimates from qualified repairmen, who are not your relatives or friends. Select the most reasonable estimate. Show a copy of the estimate to your landlord and invite the landlord to arrange for the repairs himself/herself. If you landlord still refuses to make the repairs, and you are forced to pay for the repairs yourself, get a signed receipt. Then send your landlord a copy of the receipt along with a letter explaining that you have deducted the cost of the repairs from the rent.
    2. You may withhold all of the rent if the entire premises are unfit for human habitation, or you may withhold part of the rent if part of the premises are unfit for human habitation. If your landlord sues you, a judge will decide if you withheld too much. So, if you withhold any rent, put it into a separate bank account so you will have the money just in case you need to pay part or all of it to the landlord to stop the eviction.
    3. If the Health Department decides that the premises are unfit, the Health Department may allow you to pay your rent into the Health Department’s escrow account for up to 6 months until the landlord makes the required repairs. As long as you are paying your rent into the Health Department’s escrow account, your landlord cannot evict you. The bad part about this option is this: if the landlord makes the required repairs before the end of 6 months, the Health Department must turn over all the money to the landlord, even if you have been living in horrible conditions for months. If you move out before the 6 months, your landlord gets all the money.
    4. You may sue the landlord to recover all or part of the rent paid in the past while the premises were entirely or partly unfit for human habitation.
    5. Only if the unit is totally uninhabitable (e.g., a gas leak) should you move out and stop paying rent as the landlord may sue you for all rent remaining due until the end of your lease.