What to do if repairs to my rental are needed but I don’t have a lease agreement with my landlord?

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What to do if repairs to my rental are needed but I don’t have a lease agreement with my landlord?

I have lived in this property for close to 12 years. The outside roof developed a leak several months ago and I informed the landlord but no steps were taken to fix it. Now the leak has caused my ceiling in one corner of my apartment to collapse, which in turn as resulted in exposing the joyces and outside of the roof. Water has damaged the carpet and the dining room light fixture. Can I hold back rent until this condition is repaired?

Asked on January 1, 2011 under Real Estate Law, Michigan

Answers:

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

Answered 10 years ago | Contributor

First of all, if you don't have a lease then your are considered to be a month-to-month tenant.  Consequently, there is a legal landlord-tenant relationship and you have all of the rights of any other tenant. Specifically, youhave the right to the "warranty of habitability".  This is the right to live in a clean and safe premises.  Additionally, if you have to move out due to this situation, you have been "constructively evicted".  Accordingly, you can:

  • Repair and deduct - You can fix the problem and charge the landlord for reimbursement;
  • Withhold Rent - You can withhold any further rental payments until the heat is restored; or
  • Terminate your lease - You can choose to end your tenancy and move. 

You can also hold your landlord liable for reimbursement of any expenses incurred as a result of any move.  However, you need to consult with a landlord-tenant attorney before pursuing any of these self-help measures.  If you fail to follow the proper procedures for attempting any of the above remedies you could be held liable financially.  At this point either hire an lawyer or contact a tenants rights organization, Legal Aid, or the state/county bar association.  A  local law school clinic might also be of help to you.


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