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Uninhabitable Living Conditions: What Should You Do?

By: Susan Finch
April 7, 2020

Uninhabitable living conditions can make apartment living difficult at best. It's hard to know when we should be patient and when to escalate the issue through the proper legal channels. 

The good news is, there’s a path to resolving the situation. Residents can resolve these issues with landlord involvement or property housing authorities. 

Let's start the process by knowing what people consider to be uninhabitable living situations for a tenant.

What are Considered Uninhabitable Living Conditions for a Tenant?

Uninhabitable living conditions don’t mean merely feeling uncomfortable by some chipped paint or having a small leak that left a stain on your ceiling. 

There’s a set criteria of what is considered uninhabitable living situations for a tenant. Study up on your local laws and housing codes. They outline specific obligations for a landlord, requiring certain living conditions.

It’s true that a landlord may disagree with what's considered uninhabitable. But some cases like broken or unsafe utilities are deal-breakers, and it’s in their best interest to resolve the issue. Otherwise, they could face fines, penalties, and loss of rent.

Examples of Uninhabitable Living Conditions

Got a leaky roof? Spotty electricity? A broken front door to the apartment complex? It may not always be clear what are considered uninhabitable living situations for a tenant. 

Here's a rundown of what to look for:

1. Utilities and Appliances Not Working

Your landlord and property managers are required to ensure your utilities and appliances are in working order and are safe to use. However, there are a few caveats to consider. 

Your landlord can’t control when the city grid goes out due to a natural disaster or routine maintenance. The landlord is, however, responsible for making sure the utilities are safe to use in your apartment and in working order. 

Safe, working utilities are generally considered essential to tenant living conditions. A leaky faucet may not be the cause to sound the alarm. However, not having any water impedes your ability to bathe and cook for yourself. 

Appliance maintenance can also get complicated. Not all states require landlords to provide major appliances like refrigerators. However, most do and will, therefore, fix it. 

Check the terms of your lease to find out who’s responsible for fixing the appliances. Many landlords will fix stoves and refrigerators. However, some won’t repair optional appliances like dishwashers and washing machines that aren’t essential to your living conditions. 

2. Noncompliant Safety Codes

Tenants have the right to a safe building that meets all safety codes. How does that impact what are considered uninhabitable living situations for a tenant? Here's what to know:

  • Buildings must meet all fire and other health and safety codes by your city.
  • Your landlord must keep all structures, including roofs and walls, in safe, working order and intact.
  • Common areas like the stairways and elevators must remain in sanitary, safe, working order.
  • Your apartment building or dwelling must adhere to occupancy limits.

3. Dangerous Circumstances

Dangerous living conditions extend past spotty electrical outlets or a damaged elevator. Pest and rat infestations can also cause property damage to apartment walls, electrical systems, plumbing, and roofs. 

There are also rat droppings to consider. Those pose health hazards like Hantavirus, Lassa Fever, and Hemorrhagic Fever.

Mold can also quickly escalate to uninhabitable living conditions. Hazardous mold can cause allergic reactions and possibly impair your respiratory system. 

Tenants who don't feel impacted should consider their guests and roommates. They should also consider the likelihood that the mold can spread throughout the apartment.

Here are other dangerous circumstances that make a dwelling uninhabitable:

  • Broken locks
  • Broken or damaged windows
  • Gates that don't work correctly and impair tenant safety
  • Holes in the floor
  • Unlit hallways
  • Stagnant swimming pools

This is just a short roundup of what are considered uninhabitable living situations for a tenant. It’s wise to report any condition that you feel is dangerous. 

Take photos and keep notes. Inform your landlord of any issue you suspect is dangerous or impeding your safety.

What Should Tenants Do if They’re Living in Uninhabitable Conditions?

Tenants should report all uninhabitable conditions to the landlord immediately. It may also be helpful to reference local housing laws and codes if necessary. 

In an ideal world, the landlord will quickly respond and resolve the issue. It also helps to have documentation in hand, including:

  • Notes about the uninhabitable condition and photos
  • Documentation about when you alerted the landlord or property manager and their response
  • Documentation of all follow-ups, resolutions, or lack of action taken

The documentation can help a proactive landlord understand the issue. It also helps them to have an idea of how to tackle the conditions. 

Proper documentation can also help if your landlord declines to take action. If you need to escalate the issue to housing authorities, you'll already have a clear paper trail of what action you took and what the landlord did. 

Once your landlord responds, ask what action they’ll take. Also, ask when to expect a resolution. Continue to document the process in case there are any issues along the way. 

So, what happens if the landlord does nothing?

Tenants can escalate uninhabitable living conditions by informing local housing authorities. Withholding rent payments is also an option until the landlord fixes the problems. 

However, it's always wise to consult with a lawyer when possible. They can help you to determine your rights for your particular area and dwelling.

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