If my landlord promised to fix a massive leaky hole in my roof 3 months after my move-in and it’s been 5 months, what are my rights?

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If my landlord promised to fix a massive leaky hole in my roof 3 months after my move-in and it’s been 5 months, what are my rights?

I have a massive (4’x3′) hole in the roof. My landlord made a deal and took $100 off the rent each month until it was fixed. He also promised that the hole would be fully repaired 2 months ago. It still isn’t fixed. Though covered, it leaks, my property’s been damaged and now that it’s winter. The hole allows heat to seep out of the home, adding to my heating costs. Also, birds have nested in the hole, making the place quite uncomfortable. What are my rights here? Should I sue for damages? Can I terminate the lease early without penalty?

Asked on December 13, 2011 under Real Estate Law, Virginia

Answers:

M.D., Member, California and New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 9 years ago | Contributor

Quite possibly. Every residential lease contains what is called the "warranty of habitability". This is an implied guarantee that provides that a tenant must be given a sanitary and safe premises in which to live.

For this type of a breach a tenant has several options:

  • Withhold rent until the repair is made; 
  • make the repair and the deduct the cost from rent; or
  • terminate the lease     

If the loss of heat causes you to have to leave the premises, then this would be what is known as "constructive eviction". You may have a legal claim for any costs you incur (such a hotel; extra travel time; storing belongings; etc.). Also, there is the possibility for you to recover your attorney's fees, if any.  You may also be entitled to other remedies, depending upon applicable state law. Any photos and other documentation that you may have (e.g. having the unit inspected by the a health inspector) will add to the strength of your claim.  

At this point, consult directly with an attorney who specializes in landlord-tenant cases, or at least speak with a tenants right advocacy group. If you attempt any of the above remedies, you must be certain of your legal rights under applicable state law.  


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