Renters & Healthy Housing

The spaces we live in can impact our ability to learn and grow properly. Housing can be a contributing factor to health issues like asthma, allergies, lead exposure and other chronic illnesses. Poor housing conditions, chipping and peeling paint, pest infestations and holes in walls can be detrimental to health. WHE educates individuals about environmental risks and provides tools, resources and action steps tenants can take to ensure safe and healthy rental housing while helping create healthy spaces for families to live, learn, grow and play together. 

Renters Guide to Healthy Housing

What every tenant needs to know about their rights to habitability.

Understanding Tenant’s Right to a Habitable Home

As a tenant, you are entitled to live in an environment both safe and habitable. It is important to understand what your rights are and how you can work with your landlord to maintain a healthy and safe space. The implied warranty of habitability applies in all cases where someone is renting a place to live — whether a house, apartment, mobile home or lot in a mobile home park. It applies whether you have a written lease or an oral agreement with a landlord. The warranty is so important, it is in effect whether or not you and the landlord have specifically agreed to it. It cannot be given up (waived).

Under State Law

A landlord must make repairs necessary to keep your home in a safe, sanitary and healthy condition, provided you as a tenant did not cause the problem and provided you are current on your rent when the problem(s) develop.

This includes only serious defects such as:  

  • Leaking roof 
  • Dangerous wiring
  • Broken floor
  • Lack of water
  • Infestations 

If the landlord does not make repairs, the tenant has the right to repair and deduct the cost of repair from future payments to the landlord. 

How to Assert Your Right to a Habitable Home 

How to Assert Your Right to a Habitable Home Try to work the problem out with your landlord in a way that’s fair to both of you. If that doesn’t work, then you should:

Step 1
Tell the landlord about the problem. Tell your landlord, in writing, what the problem is and what you plan to do about it. Keep a copy of the letter to prove that the landlord was notified. Your letter should describe the problem(s), ask the landlord to fix it, and say what you will do if it is not fixed within a reasonable time.
Step 2
Allow your landlord time to repair. The law gives your landlord a reasonable amount of time to make the repairs. The amount of time depends on the seriousness of the defect. The more serious the problem, the sooner it should be fixed. Emergencies such as lack of heat in winter should be fixed very promptly.
Step 3
Collect evidence to show that the landlord did not make repairs. You want to be able to show the judge what the problem was, that you gave the landlord notice, and that the problem was not fixed within a reasonable time. A copy of the letter sent to the landlord can be used as evidence, so can pictures, witnesses, or the report of a housing code inspector. If repairs are needed, it is also helpful to get a contractor, plumber, or electrician to give you an estimate to repair the problem(s), if possible.

What If the Landlord Does Not Fix the Problem?

Every case is different. Depending on the special facts in your particular case, you may be able to do the following: 

Reduce the amount of rent that you pay, because of the problem. The amount you should hold back depends on how bad the problem is—the worse the problem, the more rent you may withhold. It is a good idea to keep the rent that you withhold in a separate bank account, so that you can pay the money later if a court decides you owe rent. Then, if your landlord tries to evict you and the judge rules that the housing conditions were not as bad as you thought, you will be able to pay the rent the judge says you owe.

Repair the defect yourself or have a professional repair it and deduct the cost from your rent payments. The repairs must be necessary to make the home safe and livable and must be reasonable in price. Get a signed receipt. When your rent comes due, give your landlord a copy of the receipt and pay the difference between your rent and the cost of the repairs. The cost of the repairs cannot be more than the amount of rent you owe for the lease term—for example, if you have a month-to-month lease, the repairs cannot cost more than one month’s rent.  

Legal aid may be available to get back the rent you paid when your home was not fit or to get compensation for any injuries or other damages you suffer because of the landlord’s failure to make repairs.

This will require the landlord to make repairs. 

If you move out, write to your landlord to provide your moving date and notify him/her you are moving because the housing conditions were not repaired. You should only use this option if the unit is totally unlivable. Your landlord may sue you for all the rent remaining due on the lease, so you must be able to show you had no other alternative. 

Your landlord must obey any housing code which covers the place where you live.  In some cases, the local code enforcement officer can make the landlord fix the problem, or at least help prove the problem really exists. The same is true for the Health Department. Contact your local government to see if help is available.