If you rent an apartment, room, or house, your landlord may have a legal duty to maintain the apartment, room, or house in good repair. This duty may be
(1) the terms of your lease with the landlord
(2) the city Housing Code, which sets certain minimum standards health and safety for residential housing and the interior and exterior structures, systems, and appliances including: the foundation, walls,roof, stairs, handrails, doors, windows and screens, sanitation, insect and rodent infestation, bathroom, kitchen, plumbing and sewer, water heater, heating facilities, electrical, light, ventilation, and fire escapes/fire safety; and
(3) State law such as the implied warranty of habitability.
However, the tenant is responsible for any repairs necessitated by the negligent or intentional conduct of the tenant or his guests.
Students having maintenance problems should follow these guidelines.
- Checking for Applicable Lease Clauses
Most leases will state whether it is the duty of the landlord or tenant to provide maintenance for the apartment or home and its structures, utility systems, appliances, and furnishings. Before requesting repairs, determine what obligations your landlord may have, and make sure that you are in compliance with any clauses that specify how a request for repairs is to be made.
- Requesting Repairs in Writing
Notify the landlord of any maintenance problem as soon as it is discovered. Unless the lease specifies otherwise, you may telephone your request to the landlord. Always follow an oral request with a confirmation in writing via letter, text message, or email while maintaining copies of these written records. If the landlord does not respond within a reasonable time, send a second request by certified mail with return receipt requested.
- Keeping A Record of Maintenance Problems
Besides keeping a copy of your written requests for repairs, keep a written journal of each maintenance problem, when and how it occurred, when you requested service, when the repair was made, etc. If your landlord is tardy or uncooperative in making repairs, have two neighbors or friends inspect the problem with you, recording the observation in writing and take photographs or a videotape of the problem in the presence of your witnesses. Photographs, witnesses, and written records can serve as important evidence should it become necessary later to prove the facts surrounding a maintenance problem (e.g. in a lawsuit). While digital photos often have metadata that indicates the date it was taken, it can be valuable to also hold today's newspaper headline in the pictures or other ways to verify the current date. Emailing the photographs along with other forms to your landlord is another way to date materials effectively
- Taking Enforcement Action
If your landlord has a legal duty to make repairs and fails or refuses to do so within a reasonable time after receiving a written request, you may have several remedies. These include:
(1) Soliciting an attorney to write a letter to the landlord;
(2) Notifying the city Building Commissioner and county Board of Health of possible violations of Housing Codes or health regulations;
(3) Filing a complaint with the Better Business Bureau
(4) Filing a lawsuit in small claims court.
In your court claim, you may seek "specific performance" (a court order to the landlord to make repairs) or compensatory damages for breach of lease, or sometimes both. Prior to filing suit, however, you should make every attempt to resolve the problem directly with the landlord. A lawsuit is not a quick, easy, or guaranteed solution, but rather a remedy of last resort.
It is important to understand that Indiana law does not necessarily allow a tenant to withhold rent (or hire a repairman and deduct the bill from the next rent payment) in circumstances where a landlord has failed to make requested repairs. For instance, unless your landlord's breach of his duty has rendered the premises uninhabitable, some courts may treat nonpayment of rent as a breach of lease by the tenant (even though the court may also find that the landlord failed to make the repairs). Student Legal Services recommends that students always consult an attorney before withholding any rent. In all likelihood, an attorney may advise you to pay your rent “under protest.” You can do this by writing such in the memo section of the check or indicating that you are paying under protest (and why) in the memo section of your payment portal.