As a renter, you can't take advantage of your legal right to repairs if you don't make your landlord aware of the problems with your unit. Sure, you can let your landlord know when you pass them in the hall... but if it ever gets to a point where they're ignoring you, then verbal communication won't be much help because you won't be able to prove it happened. Here's the best way to ask your landlord for repairs—and actually get results.
1. Make sure the repair is actually your landlord’s responsibility
You can figure this out using two different sources. First, check your state’s warranty of habitability. This is a legal guarantee that your landlord will keep the rental property livable, and generally includes basic requirements like heat, hot water, and a home free from pest infestations (although the specifics vary between states). It’s implied in all leases, even if it’s not written out.
Second, check your lease. It might mention some of the things in the warranty of habitability—but it could also include more details. For instance, it might say that appliance repair is the landlord’s responsibility.
You should also know that if the damage is your fault—or the fault of one of your guests or pets—then the landlord isn’t responsible for fixing it. (And, to clarify: if something breaks during normal use, that’s not your fault. Accidentally smashing a window during a party is.)
2. Document the problem thoroughly
If you’ve determined that the problem is, in fact, your landlord’s responsibility, you need to start documenting it. Start by taking clear photos and videos of whatever is happening and store them somewhere safe. If it’s something invisible—like a lack of heat or hot water—then you might want to get a thermometer and document temperature readings. You should also keep a record of every time you contacted your landlord.
If the problem is related to a basic service like plumbing or heat—so, a violation of the warranty of habitability—you might want to call your local housing inspectors and have them come to your building to record the problem. This sort of official documentation can really bolster a court case, if it comes to that. It may also spur your landlord into action.
3. Ask your landlord in writing to make the repair
If the repair you need isn’t super pressing—like a broken boiler in the middle of a Chicago winter—then you should start by asking your landlord to fix the problem via normal channels. If you normally text them, do that! If you normally email, that’s fine too. If you normally communicate with your landlord by phone or in person, you can let them know that way first—but you should still follow up with a form of written communication you can use as evidence in the (hopefully unlikely!) case you have to go to court.
4. Send your landlord a letter with return receipt requested
If, after the first request, you haven’t gotten an answer from your landlord—or they declined to make the repair—you should make a more formal request for repairs. Send your landlord a written letter via USPS with return receipt requested. You can print out any relevant photos and include them in the envelope. If you involved city officials, then make sure to say so in your letter and include the identification number of the case in a prominent location on your letter.
Here's what you should include in your letter:
Re: Request for Repairs
Buildings department case ID #: (if applicable)
Dear [Landlord’s name]:
I am experiencing the following problems in my home:
After you've made your request you need to give your landlord a reasonable amount of time to make the repair. During this waiting period, pretty much all you can do is carefully document the (continued) problem, as well as any correspondence you get from your landlord.
5. Wait for your landlord to respond
How long you need to wait depends on your state—and the type of repair you’re requesting. Each state has different laws about what your landlord has to fix, how long they have to fix it, and what legal options you have if they refuse to fix the problem. You may be able to repair the problem yourself and subtract the cost from your rent, depending on your state. Or, if the problem is even bigger, you might be able to withhold rent or request a rent abatement—or abandon your rental entirely.
The information provided on this website does not, and is not intended to, constitute legal advice.