I don't have heat, my home is unsafe or unlivable

  • Duties. A landlord has a duty to maintain a safe, sanitary and livable rental. The landlord also has a duty to make repairs in accordance with the lease agreement.

  • Types of problems. A problem relating to sanitation, safety and livability is usually severe and makes life in the home extremely difficult or unsafe. Some examples are a lack of heat, an non-working toilet (to no fault of the tenant), an infestation of mice or bedbugs, standing sewer water, or shorts and defects in the wiring.

  • Responding to unsanitary, unsafe, or unlivable conditions:

    • Notice. Call your landlord as soon as possible and inform him or her of the problem. Follow up by writing a letter or email to the landlord describing the problem. We have a form letter available for your use. If your landlord agreed by phone to fix it, describe the agreement in your follow-up letter. Save a copy of the letter or the sent email. The best practice is to send the letter certified mail, return receipt requested.

    • Reasonable time. You must give your landlord a reasonable time to fix the problem.

    • If landlord isn't or won't fix the issue. If your landlord fails to respond in a reasonable time, there are several options but the procedures for using them can be complicated. They include bringing a lawsuit, breaking the lease and leaving, calling the city to report a code violation, and/or paying your rent into an escrow account while notifying your landlord that you are withholding rent until the problem is fixed. You may also be able to make the repair yourself and deduct the cost from your rent, but the law only allows for that under a very strict set of facts. We strongly suggest you call an attorney before proceeding with any of the avenues above. If you simply stop paying your rent in response to the problem, you may not be protected if your landlord sues you later. Low-wage workers can call us for a free consultation.