Last time, we began looking at the duties residential landlords under state law. One important point to make about these duties is that, in order to enforce them, tenants must be meeting their own legal obligations. These include paying all rent legally due under the lease and performing certain daily maintenance duties.
These duties include keeping their part of the premises as clean and safe as possible; properly disposing of all waste; keeping plumbing fixtures as clean as possible; avoiding deliberate or negligent damage or removal of any part of the premises and taking responsibility for it when it occurs; meeting his or her duties under the building and housing codes; and providing proper notice to the landlord regarding repairs to smoke detectors and other necessary maintenance.
When a tenant has suffered damage or destruction to personal property because of the landlord's failure to maintain or repair the premises, it may be possible to sue for the value of the damaged or destroyed items, or to obtain moving expense. Often, when a tenant realizes that their landlord is not fulfilling their legal obligation to make repairs under state statute and the codes, the tendency is to want to stop paying rent. It has to be emphasized that this is always a mistake except in two situations: first, when the landlord consents to withholding of payments in writing; and second, when a judge or civil magistrate allows withholding of payments.
In some cases, landlords will be cooperative with a tenant and reduce rent invoices based on payments made for repairs. When a landlord refuses to cooperate, the tenant needs to continue making payments and work with an attorney later on to seek out abatement or recoupment of rents. In either legal remedy, various elements must be satisfactorily proven to obtain relief, and working with an experienced attorney is critical to building the strongest possible case.