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What are my rights when my landlord won't fix HVAC or plumbing?

As a renter in North Carolina, you rely on your landlord to repair any plumbing or HVAC problems as soon as possible. But the truth is, some landlords do, and some of them do not. If you have ever rented a home or apartment, you probably know how frustrating it is to have to wait for your landlord to take care of such a problem. It is even more frustrating when they do not.

According to the North Carolina Attorney General's Office, landlords are required to repair and maintain heating, air conditioning, plumbing, electrical and similar utilities and equipment, including appliances. When repairs are needed, it falls to the tenant to notify the landlord, in writing, and repairs are to be made promptly. In emergencies, tenants themselves can arrange for immediate repairs; emergencies include events such as electrical problems that are a safety hazard, loss of heat in winter or leaks that could damage the property.

If an appliance fails or you are having trouble with plumbing or another issue, you should let your landlord know immediately by phone or in person. Follow that up right away with a letter that mentions the day and time of your initial call or visit, the repairs needed and the specific address of your unit, along with apartment number if applicable. Remember to date and sign your letter too, and keep a copy for yourself.

As a tenant, you should know that you have the local building and housing codes on your side. These codes require landlords to maintain safe and healthy conditions throughout the property. The codes are extensive and require property owners to provide safe, working plumbing and heating, as well as appliances. Interiors are to be free of cracks and holes, and free of bugs and rodents as well.

If you think conditions in your unit may be skirting these requirements, a phone call to city planners or fire and health officials is generally enough to bring a response. These agencies have their own authority that can be brought to bear to ensure repairs.

You should not withhold rent payments unless the landlord agrees to it in writing or a judge rules that you can. That keeps you on the right side of the law. You can seek a court order to recover some of the rent you've paid, but you should let the legal system work for you.

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