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Repairs to Rented Property (Answers to Common Questions)

Authored By: Georgia Legal Services Program® LSC Funded

FAQ

Repairs to Rental Property Who Is Responsible?

Landlords are responsibility for keeping their rental property in good repair. If the condition of the rental property changes from its condition at the time the tenant moved-in, the landlord must repair the structure or thing to its original condition. Even if you do not have a written lease your landlord is obligated under state law to make repairs. Any lease provision which makes the tenant responsible for repairs is challengeable under Georgia law. A landlord is also responsible for meeting all local ordinances and minimum safety standards.

Before a landlord can be required to make a repair, he must be given notice of the problem. The tenant should give the landlord written dated notice of the problem needing repair. The tenant should keep a copy. The landlord's duty to repair does not include damages caused by the tenant, the tenant's household members, guests, or visitors.

When a tenant moves into rental property the law will presume that the tenant accepted the unit in its existing condition and accepts all damages that were visible at the time of the move-in. Often landlords' will promise to make repairs but once the tenant moves in the repairs are not made. In such cases it is difficult to force the landlord to make the promised repairs unless the promise is in writing. If the landlord refuses to make the repair that was verbally promised, you would have to go to court, prove the promise was made, and ask the court to enforce the promise or to compensate you for the loss of value to your apartment due to the lack of promised repairs. If there are no witnesses to the verbal agreement, and the landlord denies it, your ability to enforce the promise may depend on whether a judge believes you or your landlord. The better way to handle this type of situation is to have a written agreement as to any repairs to be made after you move-in. The landlord will be less likely to deny making such promises when they are in writing.

What Is a Repair?

A repair means that there has been a change in the rental property from the conidtionit was in when the tenant moved in. Repair includes any upkeep to preserve and maintain the property. A repair is not an improvement.

What If the Landlord Refuses to Make Repairs: Repair and Deduct

First, you must notify the landlord of the condition needing repair. It is best to give a written, dated notice informing the landlord of the problem, and keep a copy for yourself. Written notice provides evidence that the landlord was aware of the need for the repair. If it is not possible to give written notice, verbal notice is acceptable unless the lease requires written notice. If your landlord fails to make the requested repairs within a reasonable time after notice, you may want to consider using "repair and deduct." In determining what is a reasonable time consider the seriousness of the condition and the nature of the repair. When the landlord fails to respond to repair requests, the tenant can arrange to have the required repairs done by a competent repair person at a reasonable cost. The tenant should keep copies of all repair receipts and ask the repair person for a statement detailing the work performed and the problem corrected. Keep copies of this information. You may subtract the repair cost from your next month's rent, send any rent owed along with copies of the repair receipts to your landlord. A tenant-at-will has the right to use "repair and deduct" but should keep in mind that their lease can be terminated with sixty (60) days notice. A tenant-at-will would not be wise to spend on repairs more than he can deduct in sixty (60) days. If you do not feel that "repair and deduct" will address your issue, you should consider contacting an attorney for more detailed information.

What If the Landlord Fails to Repair: Sue Your Landlord

If your landlord fails to make repairs, after you gave him timely written notice, you can sue your landlord to recover the difference between the rent you have been paying and the rent you feel the apartment is worth because of the landlord's failure to repair. Such a claim is best brought with the advice and guidance of an attorney.

Can the Local Housing Codes Help?

If your landlord fails to make the repairs necessary to keep your apartment in good condition, you may also wish to contact the local code inspector. If you live in a city, town or county with a housing, building, or health and safety code, your landlord must comply with the requirements of the local housing codes. If you are unaware whether or not your area has such codes, call the city hall or county courthouse and ask for the building inspector or the code enforcement office. Georgia law gives county and city governments the authority to order repairs, close or demolish structures which are unfit for human habitation and dangerous or detrimental to health and safety. Georgia law recognizes the following conditions as threatening health and safety:

· Defects which increase the hazard of fire, accidents, or other calamities.

· Lack of adequate ventilation, light or sanitary facilities.

· Dilapidation, disrepair and structural defects.

· Uncleanliness.

Georgia law requires that the owner receive notice of the housing code violation and an opportunity for hearing. If violations are found, the owner can be ordered to repair, vacate, close or demolish the property. If the owner fails to remedy the code violations, the local government may "condemn" the property declaring it unfit for human habitation and prohibiting its use as a residence. A tenant living in condemned property would likely be justified in treating their lease as in default and moving from the premises. The tenant should keep proof of the property's condemnation and write to the landlord declaring the lease in default, prior to moving.

How Are Housing Codes Enforced?

When a county or city has enacted a housing code, it can also establish ordinances outlining how the code is enforced. Georgia law requires that the owner receive notice of the housing code violation and an opportunity for hearing. If violations are found, the owner can be ordered to repair, vacate, close or demolish the property. If the owner fails to comply with the order to remedy the code violations, the local government may "condemn" the property declaring it unfit for human habitation and prohibiting its use as a residence. A tenant living in condemned property would likely be justified in treating their lease as in default and moving from the premises. The tenant should keep proof of the property's condemnation and write to the landlord declaring the lease in default, prior to moving.

Specific Fact Situations and the Landlord’s Duty to Repair

Appliances: There are no state law requiring landlords to furnish appliances such as refrigerators or stoves. You should check your lease to see if such appliances are part of your lease agreement. It is important to inspect the unit prior to signing a lease to see what appliances are included and to check if they work function.

Flooding: Prior to leasing residential property after July 1, 1995, an owner must notify prospective tenants in writing that the property may flood, if flooding has damaged any portion of the leased living space at least three times over the past five years. O.C.G.A. §§ 44-7-20. An owner who fails to provide the required notice can be held liable for damages to the tenant and the tenant's family in residence personal property caused by flooding during the lease term.

Smoke Detectors: Some county or city housing codes require that dwellings built after July 1, 1987 have a smoke detector. Not all counties and cities have building codes. To find out if your local code requires smoke detectors contact your fire marshal, local government or code enforcement.

Frozen pipes: If your water pipes freeze, then burst, your landlord most likely will not be responsible for the damage to your personal property. You need to read your lease carefully. Most leases state that the tenant must take steps to keep pipes from freezing in winter, such as keeping the apartment heated or the water running. Even if your lease says that your landlord is not legally responsible for the loss of personal property, a court can hold the landlord responsible if it is shown that it is the landlord's fault that the pipes burst. The landlord must repair the water damage to the apartment.

Security Concerns: If there is a need for a repair in a common, such as a stairwell or parking lot, the tenant needs to give written notice of the problem to both the local property manager and the owner pointing out that you are worried about your safety because of the defect. You should keep a copy of this letter for your own records. If a landlord has knowledge of unsafe conditions and does not repair, the landlord may be liable if someone is injured as a result of the danger. Beyond notifying your landlord, your options are limited. "Repair and deduct" would not be an appropriate remedy since a tenant cannot authorize repairs to the common areas of the apartment. In a locality with a housing code, one option would be to complain to the building inspector or code enforcement officials at your city hall or county courthouse.

Keys : Unless the lease prohibits the tenant from changing the locks without permission, the tenant is permitted to do so. Unless the lease states that the tenant must give the landlord a key, the tenant is not obligated to do so. When the tenant vacates the premises, the tenant either has to turn over the new keys or restore the lock box to its original condition and return the appropriate keys. If the tenant neither turns over the keys nor restores the lock, the landlord may deduct the cost of replacing the lock from the security deposit and notify the tenant that this deduction will be made.

Air Conditioning: Unless required by a local housing ordinance, a landlord is not required to provide air conditioning. If your apartment had a working air conditioner when you moved-in but it has stopped working, you can use "repair and deduct" if your landlord fails to repair the malfunctioning air conditioner.

Trees: A tenant does not have the right to cut or destroy growing trees or otherwise injure the property. A tenant has a right to use and enjoy the rental property but not to make changes in the property. If a tenant fears that a tree on the landlord's property is about to fall and damage the tenant's property, the tenant should contact the landlord with your concerns about the tree, the danger you believe it poses, and the action you wish the landlord to take. If the landlord fails to repair a dangerous condition, he may be held responsible for any damages which result from the failure to remedy the problem.

Pest Control: The landlord is not required to provide pest control unless the rental agreement provides that the landlord will supply pest control services. The lease should be read to see if pest control is specified as the responsibility of the landlord. If it is not in the lease, pest control may not be required of the landlord unless local housing or health codes require this. If the pest problem in the apartment is severe, the landlord may be required to address the problem because the property's condition violates local health and safety ordinances.

Damages to the Tenant’s Property Due to the Landlord’s Failure to Repair

A tenant may be able to recover from the landlord for damage to personal property if the tenant promptly reported the need for a repair, took action to protect the property, and the landlord failed to respond. Tenants should read the lease carefully to see what it provides. Most leases state that the landlord is not responsible for the loss or damage to the tenant's personal property. Despite this lease language, a court may hold the landlord responsible if the loss or damage was caused by the landlord's negligence. A tenant should first seek reimbursement for lost or damaged property by writing to the property manager. If that is not successful, write to the property owner. If you are not reimbursed and feel your landlord is responsible, you should talk with an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, you can file a claim against your landlord in magistrate court.

Must a Landlord Compensation a Tenant When a Problem Occurs Requiring a Repair?

Generally, a landlord will not be required to compensate a tenant for the temporary loss of a portion of the premises. This should not prevent the tenant from approaching the landlord seeking compensation for any loss or inconvenience experienced. The tenant should try to negotiate compensation for the loss. While the law may not require the landlord to compensate you, the apartment complex is a business and you are its customer. A well run apartment complex would want to maintain good tenant relations and ensure that you will want to remain there when your current lease expires. It is usually more successful for a tenant to negotiate for a future rent credit, then to ask the landlord to pay cash out of pocket. Use common sense and reasonableness when approaching the landlord. For example, was the room involved the kitchen or the only bathroom, both of which are essential for health or safety reasons? Or, was it a spare bedroom or storage area that is not significantly used each day?

My Apartment Has Flooded Several Times. Should My Landlord Have Told Me That the Apartment Flooded Before I Signed My Lease?

Prior to leasing residential property after July 1, 1995, an owner must notify prospective tenant in writing of the property's propensity for flooding, if flooding had damaged any portion of the leased living space at least three times during the preceding five year period. O.C.G.A. §§ 44-7-20. An owner who fails to provide the required notice can be held liable in tort to the tenant and the tenant's family in residence for damages to personal property proximately caused by flooding during the lease term.

Susan Reif
Georgia Legal Services Program
Last Revised: December 2003

Last Review and Update: Jun 12, 2002