Dear Consumer Ed:

I have an upstairs drain that is leaking downstairs into my kitchen. I live in an apartment complex so I rent and I am getting the run-around about the problem being fixed. What can I do?

Consumer Ed says:

For the answer to this question, we consulted the 2010 edition of the Landlord-Tenant Handbook published by the Department of Community Affairs.  

You do have recourse in this situation. First, you should give your landlord a written dated notice informing him of the problem needing repair and keep a copy for yourself. If the requested repairs are not made within a reasonable time following the written notice, you should notify the landlord in writing that you plan to hire someone to repair this problem and that you will deduct the cost of the repair from your next rent check. Then, you can hire a skilled repair person to fix the leak, pay for the work yourself, and deduct those repair costs from your future rent. 

A word of caution:  There are several things you must remember if you choose to follow this “repair and deduct” remedy.  First, make sure that the person you hire has the proper license and qualifications for the job and charges a reasonable amount for his services.  Furthermore, the repair person should only repair the defect, not improve the property. Finally, you must give the repair receipts to your landlord when you submit your rent payment, and keep copies of the receipts for your records.  This will be important if the landlord challenges the deduction.

If you cannot or do not wish to pursue the “repair and deduct” remedy, you can file a lawsuit against your landlord for damages caused by his failure to repair.

For additional information about landlord-tenant rights and responsibilities, refer to the Landlord-Tenant Handbook.

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