Are Landlords Responsible for Outlets and Lighting?

HomeLawsUSAAre Landlords Responsible for Outlets and Lighting?

Tenants are typically responsible for the cost of replacing light bulbs in their apartment. If faulty wiring causes a bad outlet or bad lighting, it’s the landlord’s responsibility if it’s severe, required by local housing codes, or is likely to cause injury.

Light Bulb Replacement

Unless the lease says otherwise, tenants are required to replace light bulbs in their apartment at their cost. Where it’s the tenant’s responsibility, landlords are not liable for injuries or other issues caused by failing to replace light bulbs. Landlords are responsible for replacing light bulbs in common areas outside of apartment units, like hallways and communal rooms.

Broken Outlet or Faulty Wiring

Tenants may find that one or two of their outlets or lights don’t work.

Some local housing codes require landlords to ensure that every outlet and powered fixture is working. If not, the landlord is generally only required to ensure the apartment as a whole has working power, but not necessarily in every outlet is working. If the issue only affects one or two outlets, the apartment doesn’t automatically become unsuitable for habitation but if a whole room is missing power, the issue may rise to a level where the landlord is responsible.

Dangerous Wiring

Tenants may find exposed wiring, power overloading their appliances, or similar issues that affect the safety of the tenant and the apartment. Such situations could burn or electrocute the tenant, explode appliances, or burn down the apartment. Similarly, wiring issues causing poor lighting may cause injuries to the tenant.

The landlord is required to fix dangerous wiring for a few reasons.

First, the landlord may be liable for the tenant’s injury. If the landlord was notified or otherwise should have known about the issue and failed to fix the problem in a reasonable time, the landlord will likely be liable under negligence for costs of the tenant’s injuries, both physical and to their property. However, if a tenant knew about a dangerous outlet and continued to use it, then the landlord may not be liable to the tenant. Tenants are expected to take reasonable precautions to protect themselves when they know of a danger.

Second, the landlord is required to provide the tenant with safe housing under the “implied warranty of habitability.” In every state except Arkansas, leases include an “implied warranty of habitability” which requires apartments to be safe and livable. It exists as a tenant right even if there is no written lease, it’s not mentioned in the lease, or even despite a lease that says the landlord is not responsible. The exact details of what needs to be fixed to keep the apartment safe and livable depends heavily by state, but the key factors are health and safety (not comfort, annoyance, or quality). Unless the tenant caused the problem, the landlord cannot charge tenants for these repairs and tenants are free to break a lease if the landlord doesn’t fix the problem in a reasonable time (some jurisdictions specify exact time periods by which landlords must fix issues). In breaking the lease and moving out, tenants are entitled to their deposit back, but in practicality, it may prove difficult to get the landlord to hand back the money. Furthermore, the tenant’s next landlord may discover the incident in the tenant’s rental history, so tenants should be prepared with documentation and the story of why it was necessary to move out.

Third, the landlord may not know the extent of damage the dangerous wiring can cause. Even if the tenant isn’t home, bad wiring can lead to fires and destroy the apartment. Even worse, the wiring may cause a sudden explosion or fire while a tenant is at home, leaving the landlord with potential criminal charges and the guilt of an injured or deceased tenant.

Tenant-Caused

If a tenant attempts to rewire their home or uses a high-power device that causes an outage, the tenant is responsible for the cost of repairs they caused.

Housing Code Violations

Local laws often include detailed rules about how a landlord must maintain an apartment. Where a landlord is in significant violation of housing codes, or where the apartment has become unsafe, tenants can report the issue to housing authorities. This may result in an inspector visiting the apartment and then generating a report. Depending on the jurisdiction, the report may go to the landlord, the city, or to housing court. Failure to fix the problem may result in fines, court orders to fix the problem, reductions in rent, or other remedies. Often, the threat of reporting violations will push landlords to fix issues quickly.

Tenants that suffer harsh conditions, can’t afford a lawyer, and don’t wish to move to a different apartment may consider this option of reporting the landlord. Sometimes, tenants will be required to report a housing code violation before taking a landlord to landlord-tenant court.

Deduct and Repair

About two-thirds of states allow tenants to deduct the costs of repairs from their rent when certain conditions are met. Usually, the state includes detailed rules about the types of repairs the tenant can make, how much they can deduct for the repairs, how long the tenant must wait before repairing the problem, and the proper notice the tenant must give to the landlord. If a tenant fails to follow the proper procedures for a deduct and repair, they may be legally treated as not paying a portion of their rent and thus, may be evicted. Tenants should consult with a local lawyer before engaging in a deduct and repair, or at least thoroughly read the law and procedure about the requirements. This remedy is usually not available when the tenant caused the problem.

Breaking the Lease

In very severe cases, a tenant may break their lease and move out. If the landlord has broken a promise in the lease, the tenant is free to break their end of the agreement too. The tenant can move out and is entitled to get their deposit back. Alternatively, the tenant can go to court and seek a reduction in rent or a court order requiring the landlord to fix the problem.

In every state except Arkansas, leases include an “implied warranty of habitability” which requires apartments to be safe and livable. It exists as a tenant right even if there is no written lease, it’s not mentioned in the lease, or even despite a lease that says the landlord is not responsible. The exact details of what needs to be fixed to keep the apartment safe and livable depends heavily by state, but the key factors are health and safety (not comfort, annoyance, or quality). Unless the tenant caused the problem, the landlord cannot charge tenants for these repairs and tenants are free to break a lease if the landlord doesn’t fix the problem in a reasonable time (some jurisdictions specify exact time periods by which landlords must fix issues). Similarly, a house with dangerous wiring or where electrocution or fires are likely is considered uninhabitable.

In breaking the lease and moving out, tenants are entitled to their deposit back, but in practicality, it may prove difficult to get the landlord to hand back the money. Furthermore, the tenant’s next landlord may discover the incident in the tenant’s rental history, so tenants should be prepared with documentation and the story of why it was necessary to move out.

By |August 27th, 2018|USA|

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