How to Deal with a Deadbeat Landlord

Written on September 30, 2016 by , updated on December 2, 2016

How to Deal with a Deadbeat LandlordWhat do used car salesmen, lawyers, and landlords all have in common? … People in all three professions are often the butt of jokes about—shall we say—low ethics.

Here are some jokes I’ve heard recently:

  1. What’s the difference between a good lawyer and a bad lawyer? … A bad lawyer makes your case drag on for years. A good lawyer makes it last even longer.
  2. I saw the most beautiful cars in the window of a dealership. A salesman came out and said, “Come on in. They’re bigger than ever, and they last a lifetime!” … Later I discovered he was talking about the payments.
  3. What do landlords do for fun? … How would I know? I haven’t seen mine in the past eight months.

Those jokes you hear are often unfair, but what makes them funny is the kernel of truth associated with them. And unfortunately for all the great, honest, just-trying-to-make-a-living landlords out there, the deadbeat landlord gives all of us a bad name.

So, just to show that all landlords are not untrustworthy villains, I would like to do my part by helping all the tenants out there who are stuck with a deadbeat landlord, meaning a landlord who is good at collecting the rent check and nothing much else.

Related: Maintenance & Renovations

There’s a Problem, and Your Deadbeat Landlord Has Disappeared

You won’t know you have a deadbeat landlord until a problem arises. The most common problem tenants have are maintenance ones. So what should you do when you notify your landlord that:

  • The heat went out during the winter (or the AC in the summer),
  • A window won’t lock,
  • Bugs are running around your kitchen,
  • Or any one of a number of possible problems

…and your landlord is M.I.A.?

First of all, here’s what you shouldn’t do: You should not withhold rent. Doing so could get you evicted.

Some tenants think that if the rental unit has a problem that means they don’t have to pay rent. If you stop paying rent, you will probably hear from the landlord—but not to fix the problem. It will be to evict you.

You do not have to live with a problem, either. There’s a concept in the law called the “implied warranty of habitability,” meaning that your landlord has to keep the place livable. Note that livable pertains to necessities, such as running water, not because you can’t bear the olive green walls.

The Appropriate Steps

Here’s what you should do if there’s a problem that needs fixing:

1. Make Contact (and document it)

Contact your landlord as soon as you notice the problem. A good landlord will respond right away, and will take care of the issue. But, since you have read this far, you probably have a deadbeat landlord, and you are being ignored. So go to step 2.

2. Send a Certified Letter

Send your landlord a certified letter if they don’t respond to your first request. State the nature of the problem, and the date it started happening. You’ll need to have this documented in case you need to take further action, so make a copy for yourself as well.

3. Wait

Wait to see whether your landlord responds. Tenants typically need to give their landlord 30 days to fix a problem that is not an emergency. But emergencies need to be addressed immediately.

4. Allow Access

If your landlord responds, let them (or their representative) in to make the repair.

5. Try to “Repair and Deduct”

If your deadbeat landlord still ignores the situation, there’s more you can do. Try the repair-and-deduct method if your jurisdiction allows this. You would arrange for a repairman to fix the problem, and you would then deduct the cost from the rent. Provide your landlord with a receipt.

6. Call the Authorities

Call your local health or building inspector. Someone will inspect, and that could force your deadbeat landlord to act.

7. Withhold Rent

I know I said not to withhold rent earlier. But there might be an instance where you can. Find out whether your state allows this, and if so, under what conditions. What you’d typically need to do would be to set up an escrow account, and put the rent in it. Let your landlord know that you’re putting the rent payment in an escrow account and will release the funds after the repair is made.

8. Break the Lease

If your rental is truly uninhabitable, and your deadbeat landlord won’t do anything to fix it, you might be able to break the lease. But first check with an attorney or legal aid for your area to see whether you have a case.

You Might Not Have a Deadbeat Landlord

Although you are entitled to have your landlord fix major problems, such as no heat, no running water, and a pest infestation, you are not necessarily entitled to have nonessential problems fixed, such as a leaky sink. Read your lease to see whether it addresses minor repairs, how those are handled, and whose responsibility they are. You might need to change out that lightbulb yourself.

Also consider that if you caused the problem, you need to fix it. If your hair clogged up the sink, you need to fix that since you caused the problem. If the landlord fixes a problem you created, they can deduct the cost from your security deposit.

Conclusion

You don’t need to put up with a deadbeat landlord. Try the steps listed here. If you have a deadbeat landlord story of your own, share it in the comments section, along with what you did to solve the problem!

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8 CommentsLeave a Comment

  • Parris

    My landlord will not replace/clean the carpets which smell of pet urine from the previous tenents. He has been notified of the problem and refuses to do anything. I’ve notified a friend of mine who is a tenent atty, the Housing Authority in my town, the Health Dept and D.A. office today. Will let everyone know how it turns out.

  • Cherie Nering

    My landlord has not been to the Trailer Park I live in for four years … How did I get here False advertising .. pure and simple. So either I need a good attorney or some options .. cuz there’s lots more …

  • Adam

    My gf and I moved into a new apt. after being told that it was gutted and all new on the inside, including walls. We didn’t have a chance to see the apt. prior to our move because we had limited time before or move in date, and we were told that we couldn’t see it during the reno. Once we moved in, we saw nothing was new. The water heater, 10 years old, didn’t work, pipes were leaking in the walls, and there were termites, roaches, ants and fleas in every room. (Our cat is allergic) We’ve been here since July, and have called many times for a solution, to no avail. I tried step 6 once, in a former home, and when the health inspector came and checked, the health department gave me a week to move out of my newly condemned home. Yikes…

  • Valerie

    So my fiancé and I moved into this beautiful house and was tenants there for almost two years. The was no AC unit just an old window ac that was placed and cemented in the dining room wall. The wall heater was gutted and didn’t work for shit. The front and back doors had no weather stripping and the the side French doors didn’t shut or lock into place with one figure and a slight push they both would open. I have four kids. My youngest at the time was 2 months olD. There was an illegal gas line under one of the counters. Amongst others.In July 2019 my fiancé was arrested. My landlord put me and my kids in a one bedroom apartment with with even more problems. He Tells my fiancé’s best friend all kinds of unbelievable things he should do etc

  • Daniel

    My family and I haven’t had any heat for 2 months. Landlord has known and is demanding rent. We put rent into our bank under a escrow account. CAN LANDLORD USE ESCROW MONEY TO FIX HEAT HALF WAY OR SHOULD IT BE ALL AT ONCE??

  • Matthew C Potter

    My brother and I rent one side of a house owned by his boss. When we moved in there was no lease and rent was low under the express clause that if something breaks, we’re responsible for its repair. My brother agreed to this. We moved in winter last year, at the end of which the furnace stopped working. We couldn’t afford to repair. This winter we have no heat and the pipes keep freezing. If we drip the water to keep that from happening, my landlord tacks the cost onto the rent from the water bill. My brother is convinced we have no legal ground to stand on and complies with the landlord’s every wishes for fear of not only getting fired but evicted too. I’m tired of living like this and want the man to take some action here. What do I do?

  • David

    If tenants could blackball their ex landlords the same way that they do us, the landlords would be a whole lot more willing to treat us as they want to be treated. It sucks to pay rent for services you don’t receive only to wind up getting evicted for standing up for your rights along with a retaliatory reference, because let’s face it landlords only believe what other landlords tell them, true or not, we get screwed in a country that claims to give us equality under the law, why not the landlord tenant law?

  • Patsy A Hensley

    Oh boy, where do I start. I moved in Feb 2020. Apartment had illegal electric, tub wouldn’t drain, no drip pans on stove, let garbage from last tenant for me to clean out, paid for storage couldn’t use until I cleaned it and no lock. Gas leak on both furnance and hot water tank. Duke came and tagged them, maintenance came and cut tags off and said they are fine. I haven’t used furnance since. Duke call the EMS and they administered oxygen. I felt like I was going to pass out. I’m afraid to use furnace so I do without. I have been sick every since I moved in. I found multiple places with Mold, they told me to clean it. There is a mouse problem, they called someone in for my apt only. City of Florence states they have alot of citations. Help!

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