It’s played out many times for people all over the place: You’ve found the perfect apartment or home to rent. The area is nice and the commute is decent. Things start off smoothly enough — but then something breaks.
You inform the landlord and look forward to prompt action, but it doesn’t happen. Soon the pleasantries you once exchanged with the landlord become a lot less friendly. Before long, they stop responding.
In a situation like this — and many of us have been there — what’s a tenant to do? What recourse does a renter have when the landlord refuses or delays repairing or replacing something that needs fixing?
In this article, we’ll cover how to handle an unresponsive landlord, as well as steps to take to protect yourself in a dispute.
How to deal with an unresponsive landlord
This exact scenario happened to Team Clark member Sarah recently. Sarah’s air conditioning unit broke just as temperatures hit the mid-90s in Atlanta .
“We first noticed the AC was out on March 19. We emailed the property manager that day but got no response,” Sarah says. “On April 12, I submitted a maintenance request through the online portal our rental company has.”
Sarah says it was “three weeks or so of calling them, emailing them and entering emergency maintenance requests,” and still no response from the landlord.
Meanwhile, it wasn’t getting any cooler outside!
That’s when she reached out to Clark Howard’s Consumer Action Center (CAC), which gives free advice and offers solutions to people in jams.
4 steps you need to take to protect yourself if you have problems with your rental
1. Read your rental agreement
The easiest way to get some leverage in a landlord-tenant dispute is to prove that any lapse caused by the owner is a violation of the rental agreement.
“I always tell people to read their contract to see whether the lapse has broken their rental agreement,” Lori says.
2. Read the Landlord Tenant Handbook for your particular state (here is Georgia’s — you can Google your particular state’s).
Each state has specific laws governing landlord-tenant relations and how they should go. Reading the Landlord Tenant Handbook for your particular state will show you what’s allowed where you live and what options you have.
Some states permit you to withhold rent when certain conditions aren’t met. Some allow you to break the lease. “What you can do depends on your rights under the Landlord Tenant Handbook,” Lori says.<
Get familiar with the Landlord Tenant Handbook for your particular state.
3. Send a certified letter to the landlord
The reasons to send a certified letter are two-fold:
A. You put the landlord on written notice. The letter should state, “This is what I’m going to do if it’s not repaired in X amount of days.” See below for a full sample letter.
B. “If you end up having to go to small claims court, you’ve got it in writing,” Lori says. “You’ve got them on notice and you’ve got documentation so you can proceed, or if they try to come after you.”
4. Submit a complaint to the Better Business Bureau.
Many people use the Better Business Bureau (BBB) to select reputable businesses to deal with, but one of the better applications is to use it to file complaints against unyielding companies.
How to write a complaint to your landlord: Sample letter
Need help getting action from your landlord? Here’s a sample letter you can use as a guide. Don’t forget to send it via certified mail!
Your Name ____________
Landlord name _________
My name is ______________ and I am your tenant at the following address _______________.
I am writing you this letter because I have a complaint at the property. Here is the specific problem:
As a courtesy, I have also documented the following issues:
This problem has severely impacted my [health / enjoyment / safety / comfort] at this property for _____ days and made it uninhabitable.
The lease agreement specifically addresses this issue. The contract expressly says:
I am requesting that you give this matter immediate attention and tell me how you plan to address this problem.
I would appreciate prompt followup either by phone or email:
Here is my contact information: __________________________________________________.
Thank you for your serious consideration of this matter.