Authored By: GeorgiaLegalAid.org
What must a landlord do?
Landlords have a duty to keep a unit in a safe and habitable condition and in good repair. If the condition of the rental property changes from its condition at the time you moved in, the landlord must repair the structure or thing to its original condition. The landlord must keep electric, heating, and plumbing in working order.
Even if you do not have a written lease your landlord is obligated under state law to make repairs.
When you move into a rental property, the law will assume that you accepted the unit in its condition and accepted all damages that were visible at the time you moved in. Often, landlords will promise to make repairs but once you move in the repairs are not made. In such cases it is hard 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 promised to you verbally, you would have to go to court and prove the promise was made.
Even if your lease states that you are responsible for all repairs, that can be challenged under Georgia law.
Landlords must take care to prevent third party criminal acts on tenants. For example, if there is a broken parking lot light and you are concerned about safety, give written notice of the problem to the property manager and owner and state the safety concern because of the defect.
You must give written notice of a needed repair
You must immediately give written notice of any problem(s) needing repair to your landlord.
- If it’s not in writing, it did not happen!
- Keep copies of all leases, letters, receipts, and everything else you send to your landlord in a safe place.
Make sure to put your name, address, and date on the letter.
You should hand deliver the letter if possible and have the person who received it sign your copy. If you mail the request, send it by certified mail.
Take pictures of your conditions and problems. Pictures provide evidence of conditions and problems.
What is a landlord NOT responsible for?
Unless your lease states it, the landlord is NOT responsible for:
- Problems that were obvious during the move-in inspection, unless the problem makes the unit unsafe or unsanitary
- Carpet cleaning, or
- Air conditioning, appliances, or fences (EXCEPT a landlord who provides these is responsible to repair them).
The landlord’s duty to repair does not include damages caused by the tenant, the tenant’s household members, guests, or visitors.
Think about some examples
Example 1: Tina is showering in her apartment one morning. All the water pressure is suddenly lost. She discovers a hole in the rusted water pipe and reports the problem to her landlord. He tells Tina to get it fixed herself.
Answer: The landlord would have to repair the damages. A rusted water pipe would be considered ordinary wear and tear. Tina would not have to make the repair or pay for it.
Example 2: During a fierce storm, the branch of a falling tree smashes Cheryl's bedroom window. Her table by the window is damaged by the rain.
Answer: The landlord would be obligated to repair the premises, but Cheryl would have to pay for repairing her own table.
Example 3: Before renting to Toby, the landlord shows him a defective gas heater in the bedroom. Toby agrees to rent the unit "as is."
Answer: Toby knew of the problem before he rented the apartment. However, to make the residence safe, the landlord would have an obligation to repair a potentially dangerous defect, such as the gas heater.
My landlord is not making repairs as he should. What can I do?
First, you should send the landlord a written, dated notice to let them know of the exact repairs that are needed. Be sure to look at the lease for how to give notice to the landlord of needed repairs. If the landlord fails to make the repairs within a reasonable time (“reasonable time” depends on the seriousness of the condition and the nature of the repair) after written notice, you have five options:
Your 1st option is repair-and-deduct
Give your landlord written notice that you intend to have the repairs done yourself, and to deduct the costs of the repairs from your rent.
Have the repairs done by a competent repair person, and at a reasonable cost; keep copies of all repair receipts as well as a written statement of the work performed and the problem corrected.
You should get three (3) cost estimates to be sure that you pay a reasonable amount.
Deduct these repair costs from your future rent by sending copies of the repair receipts along with the remaining amount of rent due to your landlord. This is the easiest and safest option for the tenant who wants to fix the problem without a lawyer.
If you are renting the apartment month-to-month without a written lease, you should not spend more on the repairs than you can deduct in 60 days because the landlord can terminate your lease with 60 days notice.
Although repair-and-deduct is an option, you should be aware that landlords can argue the repair was unnecessary or completed at an unreasonable cost. It is very important that you give notice to the landlord, and it’s best to get the landlord to agree to the cost before beginning the repair.
Your 2nd option is to bring a damage suit
You can sue the landlord for damages caused by the landlord’s failure to repair. ry to get advice from an attorney.
Your 3rd option is a "recoupment to rent" action
You can get an expert to estimate the amount of value that has been lost due to the unrepaired premises. You can deduct that amount from the rent that is due each month. If the landlord sues you to recover that money, you can bring a counterclaim of recoupment to rent. This is a more complicated option that should be used only by an attorney.
Your 4th option is to contact your local, county, or city housing code inspector
If you don’t know if your area has housing, building, or health and safety 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 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 ventilation, light, or sanitary facilities
- Dilapidation, disrepair, and structural defects
If repair issues are serious (affect health and safety) and still aren’t being addressed, call Housing Code Enforcement.
You should be aware that contacting a code inspector might further strain your relationship with the landlord and only proceed as a last resort.
Your 5th option is to move out
Sometimes the landlord’s failure to make repairs can make the unit uninhabitable. This may amount to a “constructive eviction” which relieves you from having to pay rent. The classic constructive eviction requires that:
- The landlord’s failure to keep the unit repaired has allowed the unit to become an unfit place for the tenant to live
- The unit cannot be restored to a fit condition by ordinary repairs, and
- The tenant moves out of the premises
An example of constructive eviction is a landlord who makes no attempt to repair a massive roof leak, resulting in the unit completely flooding when it rains.
You cannot claim constructive eviction if the unit’s condition results from another tenant or individual’s act; the condition must result from the landlord’s actions. The unit cannot be merely “uncomfortable,” it must be completely uninhabitable. For example, air conditioning that doesn’t work for three days air conditioning that does not meet your comfort standards will probably not be considered constructive eviction.
Your landlord may be responsible for damages or expenses you incur because of their failure to make repairs.
You may be able to recover from your landlord for damage to personal property if you reported the need for a repair right away, took action to protect the property, and the landlord failed to respond. You 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.
Even if the landlord fails to make repairs, generally you must continue to pay rent. If you do not pay rent, the landlord can consider it a breach of the lease and take action – you’ll likely get yourself evicted.
- If utility bills seem high because of faulty pipes or wiring or other repair issues, address the issue right away.
- If you need help getting your landlord to make repairs, call Legal Aid