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Tenant Rights to Minor Repairs

How to use a Houston apartment finder to help get rental property owners or apartment managers to keep their end of the maintenance bargain.
Renters often feel stuck with less-than-ideal conditions while living in Houston or elsewhere. Maybe the drip, drip, drip of your leaking bathroom faucet is driving you insane. There's an unsightly hole in your living room carpet. Or the paint in your kitchen has gone from crisp white to the dingy yellow of spoiled milk. These aren't huge problems, justifying a move from your apartments for students in Houston, but you don't just have to live with them.

Your Houston Apartment Finder Knows the Responsibilities of Rental Owners and Managers
Your rental property owner or apartment manager is responsible for keeping your apartments for students in Houston in a habitable, or livable, condition. The rental property owner or apartment manager must keep the structure of the apartment building sound, including floors, roofs and stairways; keep electrical, heating and plumbing systems operating safely; supply hot and cold water in reasonable amounts; and exterminate infestations of pests in your apartment such as cockroaches. Keep in mind, however, that if a problem is the result of your own carelessness—such as a vermin infestation caused by your poor housekeeping—the repair bill will properly be forwarded to you. If you don't pay it, the amount may be taken out of your security deposit.

But what about the niggling problems most apartment residents face, like leaky faucets, old paint, broken glass or worn flooring? While these types of problems can be unpleasant or inconvenient, they don't make the unit uninhabitable.

Whether or not your rental property owner or apartment manager must take care of a minor repair depends upon a number of factors, beginning with the nature of the problem. Purely cosmetic repairs to your apartment are not legally required. Mildewed grout or worn carpet, for example, are less likely to require a rental property owner or apartment manager’s attention than are loose tiles that make the shower unusable or holes in carpeting that could trip someone. Also check to see if your specific complaint is addressed by:

  • the terms of your apartment lease agreement,
  • any oral or written promises your rental property owner has made,
  • state and local building codes and
  • state rental property owner-apartment resident laws.

Getting the Job Done
Often it is harder to enforce your rights to minor repairs to your Houston apartment than major ones. Apartment residents in an uninhabitable dwelling are often allowed by law to withhold rent or use "repair and deduct" procedures, but taking those actions for merely minor problems could get you evicted from your apartment. There are, however, a number of proven strategies for getting rental property owners or apartment managers to take care of minor problems.

1. Write a repair request.
Even if you've already asked your rental property owner or apartment owner to take care of a problem, a written request is almost always helpful. It gives you a chance to articulate the problem clearly and point out why it's in the rental property owner apartment manager’s best interest to have it fixed. A letter also allows a reluctant rental property owner or apartment manager to think it over without having to give the renter an immediate answer (which often results in a knee-jerk "no").

Try to develop a number of themes in your letter. One effective tactic is to explain that the problem might become worse--and more costly to the rental property owner or apartment manager--if it's not taken care of right away. A rental property owner or apartment manager might find it easy to ignore your drippy faucet until you point out the possibility of an overflowing sink and water damage to the floors. Another theme that will grab your rental property owner or apartment manager’s attention is the potential for injury. A hole in the stairway carpeting could cause someone to trip and fall in your apartment, making the rental property owner or apartment manager liable for the injury. Rental property owner or apartment managers are also sensitive to security issues, so be sure to point out any security risks created by your problem, such as a broken lock or faulty hallway light in your apartment. Finally, if the problem affects other apartment residents, be sure to emphasize that.

2. Propose mediation.
If your oral and written requests are ignored, contact a mediation service, which will invite the rental property owner or apartment manager to meet with you and a trained mediator. Many communities offer free or low-cost mediation services as an alternative to going to court. A professional mediator may be able to help you and your rental property owner or apartment manager reach an agreement.

3. Report your rental property owner or apartment manager to your local building or housing agency.
Some minor problems may violate local building or housing codes. Call the agency that enforces these codes in your area to find out. (Look under the city or county government listings of your phone book.) Officials at the agency should be able to explain whether or not your problem in fact violates local or state codes, and may be able to take action against your rental property owner or apartment manager.

Keep in mind, of course, that reporting your rental property owner or apartment manager won't likely improve your relationship, which may be important to you if you want to stay in your unit for some time. Even state "anti-retaliation" laws, which prohibit rent hikes, lease terminations or other adverse actions following a apartment resident's complaint to a government agency or exercise of a legal right, cannot forestall a sour relationship.

4. Sue your rental property owner or apartment manager in small claims court.
If you can prove in court that the unaddressed problems decrease the value of your apartment, a judge can award you the difference between what you've been paying in rent and the amount the unit is actually worth. Obviously, suing your rental property owner or apartment manager is not your best option if you want to salvage your rental property owner-apartment resident relationship. But if you've tried everything else, taking your rental property owner or apartment manager to court might be the right remedy.

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