How to Demand Repairs

If your landlord who puts off repairing the heating system until winter, or ignores a first-floor tenant's requests to replace a broken window until a burglary happens, you might have a problem.

But like most problems, there's an easy and a hard way to solve it.

The hard way is either hiring a lawyer to help communicate with the landlord, explore the possibility of a quick settlement, or take the landlord to court if necessary.

However, you may need a lawyer to coach you on the best way to withhold rent or make the repair yourself and deduct the cost from your rent, if that's allowed in your state.

But before consulting a lawyer, try to take the easy - and much cheaper - route and solve the problem yourself.

Put it in Writing

Write out your specific complaints and be sure to include details and the history of the problem that needs to be repaired. The letter should be polite but firm. You're not begging for charity, but insisting on your rights as a tenant.

Describe your previous attempts to have the problems fixed and set a reasonable deadline for when you will pursue your legal rights.

If repairs are needed immediately, such as a dangerous situation like exposed wires, describe the danger to you and your family and demand that the problem be fixed within 24 hours.

Other options
  • If the letter doesn't work, consider making the repairs yourself or hiring someone to do them, and deducting the cost from the next month's rent. You can also stop paying the rent until the landlord fixes the problem, depending on what state you live in.
  • Call the local housing department or building inspector, who can usually order that repairs be made.
  • Move out, even if you're in the middle of your lease or rental agreement.
  • Contact your city manager or mayor's office and ask about tenants' rights groups in your area. They may know how similar issues were solved in your area, or may help negotiate with your landlord.
Aaron Crowe has lived in at least five rental properties in the San Francisco Bay Area. Reach him at
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