Dear Consumer Ed:
There is a leaky water pipe underneath the house I rent. I’ve spoken to my landlord about it several times over the last two months, but he won’t fix it. What can I do to get this repaired? Also, am I still responsible for paying my water bill, which, thanks to this leak, has gone from $77 to $142 a month?
Consumer Ed says:
According to Georgia law, residential landlords have a duty to keep the rented premises in a safe and habitable condition and in good repair. In keeping the rented premises in good repair, the landlord must: maintain the structure; keep the electric, heating and plumbing in working order; and exercise ordinary care to keep the premises safe for tenants. A leaky water pipe qualifies as a necessary repair that the landlord is required to fix. To enforce the landlord’s duty to repair this problem, it is not enough that you have spoken to the landlord about the problem; you need to provide written notice to him or her. After the landlord receives your written notice, he or she is given a reasonable opportunity to repair the problem. Since the law does not define a “reasonable opportunity” in a number of days, what constitutes a “reasonable opportunity” depends on the severity of the repair (e.g.: A hole in the roof should be repaired more quickly than a broken ceiling fan in December).
Again, it is important to communicate with your landlord in writing of the need for any repairs. In addition, you must allow access to the premises so that the repairs can be completed.
Generally, if the landlord fails to repair the problem in a reasonable amount of time after being notified of the problem in writing, you have three options:
- You can “repair and deduct.” You can have the leak repaired yourself and then deduct the cost of the repair from the next month’s rent. If you are considering using the “repair and deduct” remedy, there are a few common practices to remember. First, notify the landlord in writing that you intend to use this remedy before arranging for the repairs to be done. Second, keep detailed records, including receipts, of what work was done and how much it cost. Finally, continue to pay rent until after the repairs are completed, then deduct the cost of the repairs from the following month’s rent. Include the receipt for the repairs with your adjusted rental payment.
- You can file a lawsuit. If you choose this option, you would need to continue paying the increased water bill until the end of the lease and then sue the landlord for damages. These damages could include the water bill increase for each month or any other damages you suffer that are caused by the leaking water.
- You can deem the premises uninhabitable and vacate. If the problem needing repair is so bad that it makes the apartment uninhabitable, and the repairs cannot be made while you are living there, you can notify the landlord in writing that you intend to vacate the premises due to these circumstances. This is known as a “Constructive Eviction,” and it cuts off your responsibility to pay future rent due under the terms of the lease. You must vacate the apartment and return the keys in order to use this defense in a court of law against any claim by the landlord that you owe unpaid rent.
You should also review the terms of your lease to see if it contains any provisions that address what remedies you have in this type of situation.
As to whether you are obligated to pay your increased water bill, the answer is yes. The water utility is separate from the landlord, so you do not have the right to make the decision about how much you owe. However, if you decide to sue the landlord for damages, you could ask to be compensated for the water cost increase in your complaint.
Submit your own question to Consumer Ed. Remember…we do not give legal advice. Always consult a lawyer about legal issues.