Your landlord is responsible for providing you, the renter, with a safe, habitable home. If there are issues that must be resolved, we recommend writing a Notice Letter. Learn more by reading our guide.
Notifying landlords in writing of any problems is a fundamental step in the Empowered Tenants Checklist. This ensures that there is a record of the efforts to securethe safe and habitable housing that every tenant is entitled to under the lawand in exchange for paying rent.
As a tenant, it is important to recognize your rights (and obligations) under a residential lease agreement. By signing a lease, the parties are agreeing that the tenant will pay rent each month, and in exchange will be provided a safe, habitable home that meets the minimum housing standards set out by State andLocal law. When a landlord fails to maintain or repair issues with the rental unit, they are in violation of the agreement. But an empowered tenant needs to make sure there is a record of issues by documenting their notifying their landlord of the problems and all the steps that follow until it is resolved.
Ultimately,once a problem is resolved (or a tenant chooses to abandon their home in order to protect their health and safety) the failure of their landlord to meet their obligations under the lease (breach of the contract) entitles the tenant to,among other things, reimbursement for a portion of the rent they paid while theproblems existed and were unresolved.
We recommend a very simple outline for tenants to follow whenever they are dealing with problems with their rental to create a clear, concise record of thetimeline of events in writing.
The Notice Letters includes three distinct sections:
- Summary of events leading upto the letter;
- Request for a specificaction;
- Statement of the impact theproblem is having on the tenant (such as mental or physical health or use andenjoyment of their home).
Section 1: Summary of Events LeadingUp to the Notice Letter
The summary section should be in chronological order and typically begins with a statement seeking to acknowledge that the landlord is already aware of the issue. This is because an empowered tenant first reaches out to the landlord with a friendly call to discuss the problem, but then follows up with the notice letter to summarize and create a written record!
We recommend the letter start with the simple phrase, “Dear Landlord (insert name), As you know from our recent call/meeting etc. , [describewhen the problem began and how it has progressed up to the presenttime]….”
Including the “As you know” is particularly important if the problem has been ongoing and the letter is recounting events over an extended period of time. This opening emphasizes that the landlord is already aware of the problem and, failing a statement to dispute their awareness, it acts as a tacit admission that your notice letter is accurate as written.
Using dates whenever possible is another good technique to keep this section focused and acting as a temporal log of events. If the problems persist the dates clearly track the sequence of events.
Whenever there is a conversation with the landlord/management/vendors, a follow-upsummary of the latest events ensures that the empowered tenant is documenting each step as it happens. Keeping the first section fact based and free from emotional commentary provides the fundamental “notice” that is the goal ofthese writings. The final section is where the emotional context of these events can be laid bare with all appropriately deserving outrage.
Section 2: Request For a Specific Action
Thes econd section makes clear the desired action being requested.
When the problem relates to maintenance and repair needs, this section should include the request that the landlord hire the appropriate “qualified professionals” to evaluate theissue and report formal recommendations for repairs. All too often a nunscrupulous landlord will rely solely on untrained handymen (or themselves) toinspect and repair without the experience or training to safely see the problemfully resolved.
Another common issue is conduct-based, such as unlawful entry without written notice tothe tenant. Here the request can focus on simple statements to remind thelandlord that they are not authorized to enter the property without a minimum 24 hours written notice. The written requirement can be verbally waived by thetenant, but is the law unless the waiver is sought and given.
Notice can also provide the tenant the opportunity to object to the entry and work to reschedule to a time they or their representative are able to be present. A landlord may only enter when a written notice of entry is given and receives noobjection or if there is a clear emergency that necessitates action to protect the property, such as a burst pipe or active fire.
Section 3: Statement of the Impact
The final section is the tenant’s opportunity to comment on how the issue isimpacting them directly. This section serves two purposes.
First,it makes clear that the issue is impacting their use and enjoyment of their rental home - a right the law provides every tenant. In addition, it provides some personal relief to create a space to be heard of how the issue is impacting the tenant and humanizes the plight that the landlord can and should resolve.
Letting the landlord know about health problems (often directly related to water intrusion and mold), impact on employment (perhaps due to impacted sleep orsick days) or elevated stress and anxiety (from the prolonged duration of the problems) may help a considerate landlord understand the importance of promptaction. It also documents the consequences of conduct of an unscrupulous landlord who fails to take action and thus is oppressing his tenants and negatively impacting their life and possibly health and livelihood.
I am always letting clients know that we can’t force their landlord to do the right thing - i.e. follow the law and ensure their tenants have a safe habitable hometo live in and thrive. But by documenting events through concise noticeletters, a tenant is able to ensure there is a record of any mistreatment andthat they are not being made invisible through oppression.
Ultimately,an empowered tenant will either see the issues are resolved or make the difficult decision to abandon their home and relocate to be free from the oppression (i.e. Constructive eviction). At that point, they will have a clear record of the events that caused them to lose their home should they choose to pursue a legal claim with the aid of a law firm like ours.
For more information, be sure to check out our Resources and Tenant Help Guide page.