Getting the Landlord to Make Repairs
Authored By: Legal Aid Services of Oregon
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IMPORTANT: This is an excerpt from the 2016 Landlord-Tenant Law in Oregon booklet. This booklet and all Resources referred to below are available on this website. This information is for general educational use only. It is not a substitute for the advice of an attorney. If you have a specific legal question, you should contact an attorney. The information included here is accurate as of March 2016. Please remember that the law is always changing through the actions of the courts, the legislature, and agencies.
TIME LIMIT WARNING Under state and federal laws there are time limits for taking action to enforce your rights. Most lawsuits related to the rental agreement and the Oregon Residential Landlord and Tenant Act must be filed (started in court) within one year of the incident. There may be other — shorter — time limits that apply in other cases. Ask a lawyer about the time limits that could apply in your situation.
Questions & Answers
Does the landlord have to make repairs? +
Yes. The landlord must keep your place and the common areas in good repair at all times. This means that the unit must not substantially lack the following:
- Effective waterproofing and weather protection;
- A proper and functioning plumbing system;
- A water supply, under the control of the tenant, that is capable of producing hot and cold running water, furnished with appropriate fixtures (such as faucets and knobs), and connected to a proper sewage system. Also, as far as the landlord can control this, the water supply must be maintained in good working order and provide safe drinking water;
- Adequate heating facilities;
- Electrical lighting and wiring;
- Smoke detectors installed and working when you move in. Tenants must test the detectors every 6 months, replace batteries when needed, and give the landlord written notice if the detectors are broken;
- Safety from fire hazards;
- Appliances and facilities (air conditioning, ventilating) in working order if they are provided by the landlord;
- Working keys, locks, and window latches;
- No garbage, rodents, or vermin in your place when you move in or in common areas around the building throughout the tenancy;
- Garbage containers and garbage service, unless you agree otherwise in writing or unless there is a local ordinance that doesn’t require this;
- Adequate plumbing, heating, and electrical equipment kept in good working order;
- Walls, floors, ceilings, stairways, and railings in good repair;
- The place must be clean and in good repair when you move in; and
- The areas under the control of the landlord must be safe for normal and expected use.
The landlord and tenant can agree in writing that the tenant will fix certain things if the agreement is not an attempt by the landlord to avoid the duty to repair. The written agreement must state the amount of the payment for repair and it must be a fair amount. ORS 90.320.
What can I do if my landlord will not repair my place? +
Ask your landlord to make repairs. If this does not work, write a letter to your landlord asking for repairs. See Sample Letter 1 in the resource ‘Sample Letters to the Landlord’. Keep a copy of the letter.
If this does not work, call a lawyer to ask for advice on what to do next, such as calling a city building inspector (if available where you live), health inspectors, fire inspectors or neighborhood mediation. In an emergency, like a broken pipe or no heat, call a lawyer right away.
You can sue a landlord for a court order to force repairs. If you have given the landlord notice of the need for repair and if the problem was not caused by you or someone else (besides the landlord), you may sue the landlord for damages to compensate you for reduced rental value and destroyed property. However, you cannot get an order for repairs in small claims court. When you sue the landlord for money, be sure to ask for all the money that you think you should get. You may sue for money because the landlord failed to make repairs, and because your landlord damaged or destroyed your clothing or furniture.
You may sue for money because your home was worth less each month because of the need for repairs. For example, if you could not use two rooms in a four-room apartment because of a bad leak in the roof, you might say that there was a 50% reduced rental value. (Because you could use half the apartment, you could argue that you should only pay half the rent during that time.) You may also sue for lost work time, medical expenses, higher heat bills, and other expenses caused by the landlord’s failure to make repairs. ORS. 90.360. It is best to have a lawyer in order to file this kind of case. If you are unable to find a lawyer willing to represent you, you can sue your landlord for money in small claims court. See the information about Small Claims Court in the resource ‘Can Small Claims Court Help Tenants?’ and the Time Limit Warning at the beginning of this section.
If you have written your landlord multiple times to ask for repairs and your landlord refuses to make the necessary repairs, you may terminate a fixed term tenancy early and move out. In order to do this, you must give your landlord a written notice describing the needed repairs and explaining that you will move out on a date not less than 30 days from the date of the notice (or 33 days if the notice is mailed to your landlord) if the repairs are not completed within 30 days (or 33 days if the notice is mailed). If you have a week-to-week tenancy, the notice must explain that you will move out on a date not less than 7 days later (or 10 days if the notice is mailed) if the repairs are not completed. If your landlord completes the requested repairs within the amount of time provided in your notice, you do not have legal grounds to terminate your tenancy. However, if the same repair is needed again within six months of your written notice, you may give the landlord another written notice describing the same needed repair 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. You do not need to give the landlord the opportunity to fix the problem before moving out with this second notice. ORS 90.360(1).
What can I do if my landlord fails to provide an “essential service”? +
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.
If I am a victim of domestic violence, dating violence, stalking, or sexual assault, may I have my locks changed? +
Yes. You are responsible for the cost of the lock change. You are not required to provide any evidence that you are a victim of domestic abuse, dating violence, sexual assault, or stalking. If the landlord fails to act promptly, you may change the locks without the landlord’s permission and give a key to the landlord. If your abuser is your co-tenant, you must give your landlord a copy of a restraining order signed by a judge before the landlord can change your locks. An abuser who was a co-tenant is jointly liable with any other tenants for any rent owing or damage caused to the unit before the abuser was excluded from the unit. ORS 90.459.
May I withhold rent if repairs aren’t made? +
First, follow the steps listed under ‘What can I do if my landlord will not repair my place?’ above, including making a demand for repairs, writing a letter to the landlord, and calling an inspector, if available where you live. If this does not work, it is legal for a tenant to withhold all or part of the rent to force legally required repairs when there is serious need for repairs and the landlord refuses to make repairs. YOU SHOULD NOT WITHHOLD RENT UNLESS ADVISED TO DO SO BY A LAWYER WHO HAS AGREED TO REPRESENT YOU IN COURT! See ‘Find Legal Help’ at http://www.OregonLawHelp.org.
If you decide to withhold rent, you should probably withhold less than the full amount of rent. Think about what is a fair amount to withhold because of the need for repairs.
IF YOU WITHHOLD RENT, DO NOT SPEND IT. PAY IT TO YOUR LAWYER’S TRUST ACCOUNT OR OPEN A SEPARATE BANK ACCOUNT. KEEP THE MONEY.
If you withhold rent, your landlord will likely give you a 72-hour or 144-hour notice of nonpayment of rent and will file an eviction court case against you if you do not pay rent within the notice period. If your landlord files an eviction case against you, this may appear on your credit record whether you win or lose the case. (You have a right to dispute the accuracy of your credit report). During the eviction case, the court may order you to pay the withheld rent into court, into a lawyer’s trust account, or into a separate bank account. During the eviction case, you must be ready to continue paying rent into court or a separate account as rent becomes due, to file an Answer describing the serious need for repairs, and then prove that there were serious problems that the landlord was aware of and failed to fix. YOU SHOULD NOT WITHHOLD RENT UNLESS ADVISED TO DO SO BY A LAWYER WHO HAS AGREED TO REPRESENT YOU IN COURT.
Sometimes tenants lose in court after withholding rent. If you decide to withhold rent, you or a lawyer should to send a demand letter like Sample Letter 5 in the resource ‘Sample Letters to the Landlord’. A TENANT SHOULD NOTIFY THE LANDLORD OF THE REASONS FOR WITHHOLDING RENT BEFORE THE LANDLORD FILES THE EVICTION CASE IN COURT. ORS 90.370.
May I hire a repair person to do the repairs and deduct the costs of repairs from the next month’s rent? +
Yes, if the repairs can be done for less than $300. You should make the demand for repairs as described under the question ‘What can I do if my landlord will not repair my place?’ above.
IT IS USUALLY NOT A GOOD IDEA FOR PEOPLE TO USE THE REPAIR AND DEDUCT SECTION UNLESS YOUR LANDLORD AGREES IN ADVANCE TO LET YOU USE REPAIR AND DEDUCT OR YOU HAVE BEEN ADVISED BY A LAWYER TO USE THE REPAIR AND DEDUCT SECTION.
If you decide to repair and deduct, you must follow these rules:
You must notify the landlord in writing of the need for the repair and that if the landlord does not make the repair within at least 7 days (or 10 days if mailing the notice) you will have the repair made and deduct the cost from your rent. See Sample Letter 2 in the resource ‘Sample Letters to the Landlord’ After sending the letter to your landlord, call the landlord and try to get the landlord to agree to make the repair or to agree to your having it done. As always, keep copies of all letters!
The total costs of the repairs must not be more than $300.
The problem that needs to be repaired must not have been caused by you, your family, or guests.
The work must be done in a professional manner and at the lowest possible cost. If the person you hired to do repairs causes damage to the property, the landlord may argue that you must pay. The landlord may specify the person you must use to do the repairs. ORS 90.368.
Are there any risks if I use the repair and deduct section? +
Yes. You must follow all the rules listed in the question ‘May I hire a repair person to do the repairs and deduct the costs of repairs from the next month’s rent?’ above. The landlord might try to evict you for not paying the full rent and might sue you to recover the rent not paid if you do not follow all the rules. If the landlord files an eviction case, the filing may appear on your credit record even if you win the case in court. (You have the right to dispute the accuracy of your credit record.)
If I call the building inspector, can I be evicted? +
Your landlord cannot legally evict you in retaliation for your calling a building inspector. But you may have to go to court to prove that this was the reason for the eviction. ORS 90.385.
The building inspector could force you to move if the unit is very dangerous, but this doesn’t happen often. If it does, contact a lawyer.
Can my landlord bill me for repairs? +
Yes, if you, your family, or your guests cause damage to the premises that is beyond normal wear and tear.
If I am a victim of domestic violence, dating violence, stalking, or sexual assault, do I have to pay for damage done by my abuser? +
No. Your landlord cannot charge you for damage to the unit that was caused by your abuser as long as you can verify that you are a victim of domestic violence, dating violence, stalking, or sexual assault. The “verification” of your having been the victim of abuse can be:
- a valid court order requiring the abuser to stay away from you (such as a restraining order signed by a judge);
- a court order of conviction or a police report regarding an act domestic violence, dating violence, stalking, or sexual assault; or
- a statement signed by a qualified third party (law enforcement officer, attorney, licensed health care professional, or victims’ advocate at a victims service provider) saying that you have been a victim of abuse within the past 90 days. ORS 90.325(3).