Housing and Community Development Department

Fair Housing - Tenant Law - Intro to Landlord / Tenant Law

Intro to Landlord / Tenant LawTenant's Repair & Deduct Remedy
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Even if you don't have a lease, the law obligates the landlord to do certain things and guarantees tenants certain rights. A landlord may own an apartment, but it is your home; you do have rights.

What a Landlord must do

  1. He or she must KEEP AREAS USED BY ALL TENANTS IN SAFE CONDITION, including stairs and other areas. A landlord must also keep your home in a safe and livable condition. Hot water, heating, plumbing, etc. should be adequate. If your home isn't kept in a livable condition contact the City's Housing Code Division, Building Inspection Division, or Health Department.
  2. A landlord must LET TENANTS ENJOY THEIR HOMES. A landlord has no right to come into your home without your permission, except in an emergency such as fire, unless your lease says otherwise. He or she would be trespassing, and you might wish to contact a lawyer.
  3. A landlord must TELL YOU ABOUT KNOWN PROBLEMS in the apartment, such as a leaky roof or bad plumbing. If he or she deliberately conceals this type of information, you have the right to consider the lease broken and to move out without paying any rent. (You might wish to contact a lawyer if you plan to do this.)

Warranty of Habitability, or Landlord's Duty to make repairs 

What is the warranty of habitability? Basically, it is a law which requires a landlord to make a reasonably diligent effort to repair or remedy any condition which materially affects the physical health or safety of an ordinary tenant. However, under this law, a tenant can force a landlord to repair damages or defects only when all of the following conditions have occurred: 

  • Notice of the defect has been given to the landlord (preferably in writing)
  • All rent due has been paid in full
  • The landlord, after notification of the problem, has failed to attempt repairs in a reasonable period of time.

If the above conditions have all been met, the tenant may either terminate the lease or sue the landlord. Before the tenant may do either, the tenant must give notice to the landlord in writing that the tenant intends to sue or terminate the lease unless the condition is repaired in seven days.

Any court action taken by a tenant in respect to this law must be filed in the district or county court, and cannot be filed in the Justice of the Peace courts. This means that tenants will probably need to hire an attorney to represent them. When a lawsuit is filed, all attorney's fees must be paid by the party who loses.

A landlord may not, within six months from the date of the tenant's repair notice, retaliate against a tenant by eviction, decreasing services, or raising the rent. If a rental increase is applied in a systematic manner, however, it will not be considered retaliation. An eviction would not be considered to be retaliation if a tenant has been delinquent in his rent, caused property damage to the premises, threatened the personal safety of the landlord or his employees, or otherwise breached the rental agreement.

It is important to keep in mind that this law prohibits a tenant from withholding rent when a landlord fails to make repairs. Also, a landlord has no duty to repair damages or defects caused by the tenant, the tenant's family or guests. Tenants should note that this law covers only the very basic conditions that affect the tenant's health or safety, and does not include the comforts which a tenant may take for granted. These less basic conditions should be made a specific part of a written lease.