An “essential service” means heat, plumbing, hot and cold running water, gas, electricity, light fixtures, locks for exterior doors, latches for windows, and any cooking appliance or refrigerator supplied or required to be supplied by the landlord. An “essential service” also includes any habitability requirements (see the question ‘Does the landlord have to make repairs?’ above) or service under the rental agreement, the lack of which creates a serious threat to your health, safety, or property, or makes the place unfit to live in. ORS 90.100(13).
If the landlord fails to provide an “essential service,” you have several options:
Seek Substitute Services: You can get the essential service during the time that the landlord fails to supply the service and deduct the cost from the rent; (YOU SHOULD NOT WITHHOLD RENT UNLESS ADVISED TO DO SO BY A LAWYER WHO HAS AGREED TO REPRESENT YOU IN COURT!)
Seek Reduction in Rent: You can get compensation for the damage caused by the failure to provide an essential service, based on how much less the rental unit was worth at the time of the landlord’s violation; or
Seek Substitute Housing: If the failure to supply an essential service makes your rental unit unsafe or unfit to live in, and you have given your landlord written notice of the problems and you stay in alternate housing while the problem is being repaired, you are not obligated to pay rent for the time period the landlord failed to supply this essential service. You may also seek compensation from the landlord for the fair cost of comparable housing above your rent amount.
In order to do one of the three things listed above, you must first give your landlord a written notice describing the lack of substitute service and stating that you may do one of the three things above if your landlord fails to fix the problem within a reasonable amount of time. You should give your landlord a specific date to fix the problem by. ORS 90.365(1).
If you have a lease for a fixed term, your landlord’s failure to supply an essential service may give you legal grounds to terminate your tenancy. How to terminate your tenancy depends on how serious the failure to supply the essentials service is. If the landlord’s failure to supply the essential service poses an “imminent and serious threat” to your health, safety, or property, you have the right to end your tenancy and move out. To do this, you must give the landlord a written notice that says that you are moving out in no less than 48 hours (or 5 days if the notice is mailed) unless the problem is fixed in that time. See Sample Letter 6 in the resource ‘Sample Letters to the Landlord’. ORS 90.365
In all other cases, upon the landlord’s failure to supply the essential service you may give your landlord a written notice describing the lack of essential services. This notice must explain that you will move out on a date not less than 7 days from the date of the notice (or 10 days if the notice is mailed to your landlord) if the essential service is not restored within 7 days (or 10 days if the notice is mailed). If your landlord restores the essential service within the amount of time provided in your notice you do not have legal grounds to terminate your rental agreement for a fixed term. However, if the same essential service is lacking again within six months of your written notice, you may give the landlord a written notice describing the same lacking essential service and explaining that you will move out on a date no less than 14 days (17 days if the notice is mailed) from the date of the notice. ORS 90.360(1).
Also, it is illegal for a landlord to intentionally diminish an essential service to your unit, to seriously attempt to cause an interruption of an essential service, or to seriously threaten to do so. If the landlord does any of these things, you have a right to terminate your rental agreement. Regardless of whether or not you terminate your rental agreement, you also have a right to get a court order requiring the landlord to restore the essential service. You also you have the right to sue for damages in the amount of two months’ rent or twice the amount of the actual damages caused by the shut off of the essential service, whichever is more. If you terminate the rental agreement for these reasons, the landlord is required to give you back all prepaid rent and security deposits. ORS 90.375.