Landlords are typically required by state law to provide clean, running water at normal temperatures at normal times. State and local laws usually govern water pressure.
Fault of the Utility Company
In every state except for Arkansas, landlords are responsible for providing a tenant with an apartment that is suitable for human habitation. States define this right, the “implied warranty of habitability” differently, but it almost always requires running water in the apartment. Under the implied warranty, landlords are responsible for providing running water regardless of whether it’s their fault. Therefore, even if the problem is caused by a natural disaster or a utility company, the tenant is not obligated to complete the terms of the lease if there is no water present. The landlord is required to return the security deposit and the tenant is entitled to move out, as described below.
When landlords are unable to fix broken pipes or water in a reasonable time, it’s common practice (if there’s a positive relationship with the tenant) to offer a rent deduction or temporary accommodation at another facility. Friendly communication from a tenant will help to reach such compromise and to secure better terms. Therefore, tenants should refrain from being confrontational if seeking this option, despite the unpleasant situation of not being able to shower or wash dishes.
Deduct and Repair
In some situations, tenants can hire someone to fix the problem and deduct the cost of the repair from the rent. 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 making the repair, 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 fully read the law and procedure about the requirements. This remedy is usually not available when the tenant caused the problem.
About 80% of states allow tenants to withhold rent until essential repairs are made. Whether running water qualifies depends heavily on the state and the cause of the problem. The states that offer this right may offer restrictions about the types of issues that tenants can withhold rent for, the amount they can withhold, details about the timing and content of the notice the tenant sends the landlord, and sometimes requires the rent be placed in an escrow account. If a tenant fails to meet these requirements, the tenant may be successfully evicted. Therefore, tenants should consult with a local lawyer before engaging in rent withholding, or at least fully read the process and requirements. This is usually not available when the tenant caused the problem.
Breaking the Lease
If the water goes out, landlords are generally required to fix it in a reasonable time or lease the lease is considered broken by the landlord.
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). This varies based on the particular situation but fixes longer than 48-72 are generally outside the realm of reasonable, unless there are extraordinary circumstances. For example, a major blizzard has frozen the pipes and it’s still dangerous to go outside.
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 money. Furthermore, the tenant’s next landlord may discover the incident in the tenant’s rental history, so tenants should be prepared with clear documentation and the story of why it was necessary to move out.
State and Local Laws
Laws differ heavily by state, county, and city. Login to RenterPeace to see more specific laws for to a given apartment and to see comments from people in your area. Often, local users who've dealt with the same problem can provide helpful tips beyond the law, such as numbers for local non-profits or lawyers, tips about DIY fixes, and stories about judges.
Documenting the Problem
Tenants should document their issues, notify their landlord, and stay informed about their rights. Renterpeace is a free app that helps with each step of this process. Tenants can login for an easy way to track their problems, share updates with their roommates, keep their landlord notified, see laws for their state and locality, and chat with other tenants about taking action. RenterPeace also comes with a home management system to track chores, shopping, and finances. It's the ultimate, must-have app for every renter. Learn more.
Using Property Management Software
To stay updated and organized about the problems in their apartments, landlords should use a property management system. Many are expensive or have high setup fees, but landlords can use RenterPeace for free. It's complete with legal compliance tips targeted to their problems, maintenance tracking, tenant screening, money-saving grant information, and tenant chat. It makes managing properties easier and staying updated about status of rental properties a breeze. Learn more.