REPAIRS AND MAINTENANCE

 

My lease agreement says that the tenant is responsible for all repairs. Does the landlord not have a responsibility for repairs?

The landlord has a responsibility to keep the rental property in repair. The lease should not require the tenant to make repairs or waive the landlord's responsibility for maintaining the property. Any lease provision which makes the tenant responsible for repairs is challengeable under Georgia law. The landlord is responsible for keeping the building structure, roof, heating and plumbing operational. A landlord is further responsible for meeting all local ordinances and minimum safety standards. This duty to repair does not include damages caused by the tenant, the tenant's household members, guests, or visitors. Before a landlord can be required to make a repair he must be given notice of the defect. The tenant should give the landlord written dated notice of the problem needing repair. The tenant should keep a copy as a record of notification.

The landlord promised to replace the carpet before I moved in. I have been living here for three (3) months. Now the landlord says that there was no agreement to replace the carpet and that he does not intend to replace it. What can I do?

The landlord may be responsible for fulfilling a verbal promise to replace the carpet. You would have to go to court, prove the promise was made and ask the court to enforce the promise. 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 changes to be made. The landlord will be less likely to deny making such promises when they are in writing.

 

I spoke to my landlord over a month ago about repairing a leak in the kitchen, but it still has not been done. What can a tenant do to force a landlord to make repairs?

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 tangible 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. Be sure the lease provision for notice is followed. If your landlord fails to make the requested repairs within a reasonable time after written 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 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.

It is a good idea to notify the landlord in writing that you plan to use the "repair and deduct" remedy before you arrange for the repairs to be done. Written notice is the best notice. There are additional remedies which are risky to pursue without legal counsel. If you do not feel that "repair and deduct" will address your issue, you should consider contacting an attorney for more detailed information.

You may also wish to contact the local county code inspector if you are in a city, town or county with a housing, building, or health and safety code. A landlord must comply with applicable 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.

 

My lease specifically requires the landlord to provide air conditioning during the summer. It has been out of order for six weeks. I am paying for a service that is not being provided as specified. Can I get an adjustment on the rent?

Unless found in the local ordinance, air conditioning is not a service commonly found under the landlord's duty to repair. Because your lease specifies air conditioning will be provided, you can use "repair and deduct." You should first notify the landlord that the air conditioning is out of order, preferably in writing. If the landlord fails to repair within a reasonable amount of time, you can then pay a competent repair person for the repair and then deduct that money from your future rent.

 

The roof on my unit is leaking badly. I notified the landlord and it was fixed but it took about three weeks to have the repairs completed. During that time, I did not have use of the room where the leak occurred. Shouldn't the landlord reduce the rent to compensate me for the time I could not use that room? What if furniture or personal belongings were damaged?

Under certain circumstances a tenant may be entitled to a reduction of rent by the diminished value of the premises due to need for repairs. Such a claim is best brought with the advice and guidance of an attorney. 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 about the loss and inconvenience experience. 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?

The landlord is responsible for making repairs within a reasonable time after being notified of the need for the repair. If the landlord undertook and completed roof repairs within a reasonable time after notice, the landlord has fulfilled his repair responsibilities and compensation to the tenant for the loss of the room is unlikely. However, if the landlord unreasonably delayed in undertaking the repairs and the tenant suffered a loss due to the delay, the tenant may have a claim against the landlord for damages to personal property caused by the delay in repair.

 

I do not have a written lease agreement but I am renting an apartment month-to-month. The landlord is refusing to make repairs. Should I expect the landlord to repair the leaky roof and plumbing?

Yes, regardless of whether or not you have a written lease, your landlord is obligated under state law to make repairs. 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.

 

Is pest control part of the maintenance responsibilities of the landlord?

No, unless your 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.

 

My landlord will not repair a broken parking lot light. I am concerned about my safety. What can I do to force the landlord to make this repair?

Your landlord is obligated to keep the premises in repair under Georgia law. You need 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. 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. You should state how you want the landlord to remedy the situation. You should keep a copy of this letter for your own records. Beyond notifying your landlord, your options are limited. "Repair and deduct" would not be an appropriate remedy since you cannot authorize repairs on the common areas of the apartment. If you are living 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.

 

A tenant of mine changed the locks on the unit without my permission and will not give me a set of keys. The locks were not broken. What can I do to force the tenant to give me the 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.

 

One of my tenants has re-wallpapered a bathroom and did a very poor job. The tenant did not ask my permission. Can a tenant make changes to rental property without the landlord's permission? What remedy does a landlord have if the change is made? Can the landlord withhold a portion of the security deposit when the tenant leaves in order to return the unit to its original state?

As a general rule, a tenant is prohibited from substantially altering leased premises without the landlord's consent. A tenant may make minor alterations to the premises. Determining what may be a "minor" alteration is often difficult. It is best for a tenant to get written approval from the landlord before altering the rental property.

A tenant is required to return the premises in the same condition as when received, subject to normal wear and tear. If the tenant fails to return rental property in such condition, the measure of damages is the reasonable cost of restoring the premises to their original condition. In these circumstances, if the lease so provides, the landlord could retain as much of the security deposit as is necessary to return the unit to its original state. If the security deposit does not cover the full amount of the repair cost, the landlord can file suit against the tenant seeking to recover the amount spent on repairs.

 

There is a tree on the property I am renting. I would like to cut it down because I fear it might fall on my home. Can I cut down the tree?

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. You should contact your landlord informing him of your concerns about the tree, the danger you believe it poses and the action you wish him 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.

 

My personal property was damaged by a fire that started in a vacant apartment next door. The fire department states the fire was caused by an electrical shortage. Can the landlord be held responsible?

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 resident 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.

 

The pipes in my apartment froze and when they melted they leaked. Who is responsible for the damage to the pipes and damage to the my property?

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.

 

I rented a house with land, the land is fenced. The fence was damaged. Does the landlord have to repair?

Yes, if the property rented includes the land on which the fence was located, the landlord is responsible for keeping it in good repair.

 

My landlord refused to repair a hole in my ceiling and my personal property was damaged. Can my landlord be held responsible?

If you promptly reported the repair, took action to protect your property and your landlord failed to respond, you may have a claim for the loss of your personal property. You should read your lease carefully to see what it provides. Prior to filing suit, you should write to your landlord explaining the situation and requesting reimbursement.

 

I own rental property. I have been notified that the county government has declared my property unfit for occupancy. What does this mean?

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. The county or city government may exercise this authority by establishing local ordinances. You should contact the county government for a copy of their housing code.

Georgia law recognizes the following conditions as threatening health and safety:

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.