If a landlord refuses to make major repairs that affect the habitability of a rental unit, the tenant's options include calling governmental building inspectors, withholding rent, repairing the problem and deducting the costs from rent, moving out and suing the landlord. All these options carry potential consequences that the tenant must be prepared to face.
Reporting a problem to building inspectors typically gives the landlord 30 to 60 days to fix a problem. This method of dealing with a landlord is questionable since inspectors are not always effective.
Most states allow tenants to withhold rent if a landlord's actions result in health and safety issues. However, each state's laws have slightly different requirements, and tenants should be sure they are following all the rules if they choose this option. "Repair-and-deduct" laws also vary from state to state, Often, this option is impractical if the problem involved is very large.
Tenants who are prepared to break their lease and move out due to a landlord's refusal to make repairs should also confirm their local laws, which may require them to make a report to building inspectors and to grant the landlord a set amount of time to remedy the problem. Suing a landlord should only be done if a tenant wants to stay in the rental unit. Tenant-landlord lawsuits are typically handled in small claims court.
Nolo warns that a tenant preparing to take action against a landlord for failure to make repairs should make sure certain conditions are met. The problem must affect health or safety and must not be the tenant's fault. The tenant must be paid up in rent and must have given the landlord ample opportunity to resolve the problem. Finally, the tenant must be willing to face eviction.