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Who Fixes What?
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Do you know your rights when something in your rental breaks or stops working? If your hot water goes out, is it your property owner's responsibility for getting it working again? What about a burned out light bulb? Is it your landlord's responsibility to replace it, or your own? If your landlord doesn't fix a major problem can you stop paying rent? As a renter you are protected by what is known as the Warranty of Habitability.

Essentially, your landlord has a responsibility to provide its tenants with a fit and habitable dwelling and to maintain the premises for which you are paying rent. That means your rental unit must comply with local building codes affecting health and safety and provide basic amenities such as heating, hot and cold running water, electricity, proper plumbing, a smoke detector and adequate ventilation. Plus, your property owner must also maintain any appliances supplied as a part of the rental agreement. Conversely, as a tenant, you have a responsibility to maintain your place as far as it is in your control and to keep the unit safe and reasonably clean. Maintaining the walls is clearly the responsibility of your landlord, but if you or a guest puts a hole in one, you can expect to foot the bill. If something fails on its own, through an act of nature, by the act of someone you didn't let into your place or by someone acting on behalf of your property owner, then the responsibility falls squarely on your landlord.

But what about minor repair issues like replacing light bulbs? Yes, some landlords will even replace light bulb in ceiling fixtures, but most won't. If responsibility isn't explicitly defined in your lease on minor issues such as this, don't count on it happening, though there's no harm in asking. Just don't get to the point of pestering which could lead to a "crying wolf" problem. On the other hand if the light bulb in a supplied appliance (e.g. microwave or refrigerator) needs replacement, your landlord might actually prefer to do this for you to ensure that you don't damage their appliance when you're trying to do it on your own.

When something breaks or stops working, and it's the responsibility of your landlord to fix it, there are a few steps to take to ensure that your rights are protected. First you need to inform your landlord of the problem. This sounds obvious, but sometimes tenants get so upset they actually forget to tell their property owner. You can call your property owner, send them a letter or visit their leasing office. Whichever method you choose, you want to make sure you'record in writing who you spoke with, what you told them, what they told you and include the date and time. Make sure you're clear when describing the problem. Telling your landlord that that the "the shower isn't working right", doesn't convey the fact that you have no hot water. If the repairs aren't made in a reasonable amount of time, follow-up. Again make sure to thoroughly document your communication.

If a reasonable amount of time has passed, and it appears that your property owner is unwilling to make the repairs that they are required, then it's time to take things up a notch. Though there might be a temptation to withhold rent, don't. Not paying your rent can weaken your case or even get you evicted, even though it's your landlord's fault. Contact the local Code Enforcement office and let them know about the problem. At this point you probably should also contact the proper university provided assistance service and/or a local lawyer. Depending on the severity of the problem you might be able to recover a partial refund of the rent and/or be allowed to break your lease. A minor problem won't likely get you much of anything, but if your heat isn't working in the winter and you had to stay elsewhere you might be able to get a prorated refund of the rent for the days you were unable to occupy your place. You may also be able to recover your legal fees. Unfortunately since living in an apartment is generally cheaper than a hotel, you're going to still come out behind if you have to abandon ship. A hotel room can easily cost you $3000 for a month, while the most you should expect to recover is the actual amount of your rent. Therefore if you need to find temporary housing, be cost conscious and avoid pricey accommodations.

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