Have you ever asked your landlord to fix something in your apartment only to wait for months while nothing happens? Or been told that it’s not their problem?
The truth is that in Washington state, you have a right as a renter to a safe and secure home. And your landlord is required under state law to keep certain things in working order – no matter what it says in your lease. The first step to addressing problems with your apartment is to know your rights.
Here are some things that landlords are required to do under the Washington State Residential Landlord-Tenant Act:
- Keep all structural components, such as the roofs, floors, and walls, “in reasonably good repair so as to be usable.”
- Manage any rodent, insect, and other pest infestations (so long as you didn’t cause them).
- Assure that all electrical, plumbing, heating, and other facilities and appliances supplied with the apartment are in “reasonably good working order.” This does NOT apply to appliances that you brought into the apartment yourself.
- Address any conditions that lead to the development of mold. You should report any leaks, built-up condensation, or poor ventilation ASAP.
- Keep all common areas reasonably clean, sanitary, and free of anything that would increase the risk of fire or accidents.
This means that if your fridge is no longer keeping food at a safe temperature, or if water leaks into your apartment when it rains, your landlord is required to fix the problem.
What if your landlord keeps ignoring your requests, or saying they’ll get around to it later? Here’s what you need to know:
- Under state law, landlords must start repairs within 24 hours if the problem has left you without hot or cold water, heat, or electricity – “or is imminently hazardous to life.”
- Landlords must begin repairs within 72 hours if the problem keeps you from using your refrigerator, range, or oven – or any other “major plumbing fixture supplied by the landlord.” Again, this is only the case if the landlord provided these appliances when you rented the apartment.
- Landlords must begin repairs within 10 days “in all other cases.”
But what if the landlord ignores those deadlines and refuses to fix the problem? Under state law, you can:
- Contact your local code enforcement office. In Seattle, that’s the Department of Construction and Inspections.
- Repair the issue yourself and deduct up to one month’s rent
- Hire somebody to fix it and deduct up to two month’s rent
- Break the lease
BUT be very careful about withholding rent, because the law may not protect you. As Tenant Services Counselor Edgar Aldrett says: “If you owe even a penny of rent, your landlord could turn around and give you a 14-day eviction notice.”
Here are some additional things to be careful about:
- Document everything. Keep all receipts and take pictures of the problem before and after repairs.
- Make sure you aren’t paying over-market rate for any repairs.
- You may be held liable for any damages that occur if you repair something yourself, so make sure you know what you’re doing.
- Breaking your lease or deducting anything from your rent can be risky.
Remember: Your landlord can’t retaliate against you for asserting your rights and requesting repairs. This means they can’t respond to your request by raising your rent, terminating your tenancy, or requiring you to take on landlord duties.
Still have questions about your rights as a renter and your landlord’s duties?
- To learn more, leave a voicemail on Solid Ground’s Tenant Services Message Line at 206.694.6767 (currently open for messages Mondays and Thursdays between 10:30am and 1:30pm) or attend an upcoming Tenant Webinar.
- Image at top: Solid Ground Tenant Counselor Olivia Mansker-Stoker works with a tenant via Zoom (photo by Michael B. Maine).