Tenant Repair Requests

Tenant: "I left a message on my landlords phone 3 days ago telling him that my garbage disposal unit stopped working. Can I just go ahead and have my handyman friend either fix it or replace it and then deduct the cost from my next rent check?" Though the above may seem reasonable to some tenants, the answer is 'no'.

A tenant has a right to:

  • A safe and healthy home
  • Repair of any health and/or safety issues within a reasonable period of time
  • A legal recourse when a landlord is negligent of his/her obligations to the tenant
  • Freedom from retaliation after having legally reported a landlord violation

A tenant does not have a right to:

  • Make unauthorized modifications or repairs
  • Change, re-key, or repair locks
  • Hold back rent to coerce the landlord into action
  • Destroy the property in retaliation for landlord negligence
  • Move forward with 'authorized' repairs without the necessary city permits or outside of city building codes
  • Automatically break the lease if the landlord fails to act promptly.

Steps for requesting a repair

  • Be clear on your state and local legal rights as a tenant as well as your landlord's obligations.
  • Check your lease agreement for how to proceed with repair requests
  • Know your state 'repair statutes' and your particular municipal ordinances that would trump the lease agreement
  • Be current on your rent and other obligations. Never withhold your rent.
  • Know the legal difference between a health/safety issue, a major but not an emergency issue, and mere nuisance issues
  • Take pictures of the problem with a copy of the daily paper in the photo to verify date.
  • Write a letter and/or fill out request form if available. Be specific. Make copies of everything
  • Be smart. Send your written request to your landlord by certified mail/return receipt requested. Keep receipt.
  • Give your landlord the state required number of days to respond.
  • If your landlord doesn't respond, the law is very particular on your options. You may need legal counsel.
  • Health and safety requests may also require an inspection report from a health, housing, and/or building inspector

What is considered a emergency request?

An emergency is something that materially affects the physical health or safety of a tenant. Examples of emergencies are when the main sewer line backs up, a water pipe broke and is leaking into the property, or when there is a break-in and you have an unsecured entrance to the property.

What are major issues, yet are not health and safety emergencies?

Lack of air conditioning or heating are considered priority calls but not emergencies, unless the temperatures are either extremely high or low and/or the tenant has a specific health issue requiring adequate temperature control. Stopped up drains, malfunctioning garbage disposals, a broken dishwasher or other appliance problems, and pest infestations do not necessarily qualify as emergencies.

When you are renting someone else's property your are contractually bound to follow very specific legal guidelines even when your repair request(s) are legitimate. More more detailed discussions on this topic that are specific to Texas tenancy, please check out the following.

Resources

Verdei Properties - Maintenance Requests

Furnace Compare - Is Air Conditioning A Right?

Texas Tenant Advisor re: Repairs

Texas Attorney General re: Tenant Rights

Landlord and Tenants Guide (2012)

Texas Property Code Chapter 92

Please note: this blog post is not intended to be a substitute for qualified legal advice, nor does it cover this issue exhaustively. It is only written to bring attention to the complexities that may be involved, recognizing that each case is unique.