Your landlord has a responsibility to keep the home or apartment you rent from them in livable, or habitable condition. If they fail to do so after you have brought the problem to their attention, you have a right to take action to correct the situation. But taking the wrong action in a landlord-tenant dispute could be legally risky.
What is “Habitable” Condition?
Tenants would like to live in a clean, safe, well-maintained apartment or rental home. They’d like to see everything in good shape. But from a landlord’s legal perspective, some things are more critical than other things. The conditions that make an apartment or rental home “livable” or “habitable,” are those things that affect health and safety.
For example, from a legal standpoint safe and livable means:
- Basic structural soundness: There might be cracks in the wall or creaking steps but the walls and floor are not in imminent danger of collapse. Stairs must be solid and safe. The roof can’t leak.
- A reasonable amount of hot and cold water at reasonable times of day: you shouldn’t have to shower at 2 am in order to get hot water.
- Major household systems need to be working: that is, plumbing, electrical, heating, cooling, and ventilation.
- If there is an elevator in the building, it needs to be functional.
- As known environmental hazards need to be in such a condition that they don’t pose a danger (hazards maybe lead, asbestos, or mold)
- The unit must be reasonably secure from criminal entry. It has functional locks and if it has grates or gates or other security features, they are in working order.
- The property should be free from rodents and insect infestation, although that could be an ongoing effort.
- Common areas of apartment buildings must be clean and safe.
Tenant Remedies if a Landlord Fails to Maintain a Rental Property in Habitable Condition
Things happen and a landlord can’t always stay on top of repairs and building conditions immediately. But when a landlord fails to maintain a rental property in habitable condition due to negligence and inattention results, tenants can take action. They may be able to force the landlord to make repairs or they may protect themselves from unsafe living conditions by breaking their lease.
- A tenant may be able to move out before their lease is up because the property is uninhabitable. The tenant could then be entitled to a refund of the portio of rent that would have covered the time they were not there. They could also deduct their security deposit from rent due or get a refund on their security deposit.
- The tenant may a lso be able to “repair and deduct”; that is, hire someone to fix the problem (or fix it themselves) and then deduct the cost of the repair from their rent.
Texas does not have a statute regarding rent withholding.
Before you take one of the above actions, make sure you know your rights and have a strong case for corrective action because you could wind up in court with your landlord, or facing eviction with an unlawful detainer on your record.
Understand whether the problem you are facing is severe enough to warrant strong action. The condition needs to be severe enough to materially affect the physical health or safety of an ordinary tenant.
Follow the rules. Notify your landlord of the problem in writing and have it delivered by certified mail, registered mail, or some other type of delivery that allows tracking. Give the landlord a reasonable amount of time to get it fixed (usually 7 days but the severity of the problem does count).
Anytime you have a serious landlord-tenant problem like a failure to maintain a rental property, particularly if your actions could result in a lawsuit or an unlawful detainer, talk with a landlord-tenant lawyer. Understand your rights so you can choose a smart path forward.
Contact The Fell Law Firm