How to get your landlord to fix a bad electrical system

Written on August 31, 2017 by

Bad Electrical WiringAlmost every state (except Arkansas) has a statute that requires landlords to provide habitable housing with a working electrical system. However, the statutes don’t require the electrical system to meet current code. It just has to work.

The California Civil Code uses language typical to most state laws. It says the landlord must supply the following:

“Electrical lighting, with wiring and electrical equipment that conformed with applicable law at the time of installation, maintained in good working order.”

It’s expensive to bring an outdated electrical system up to code, so landlords tend to follow the adage, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” It’s a different story, though, when old wiring creates a hazard and not just an inconvenience. In that case, the landlord has to do something to make the rental safe.

When outdated wiring is dangerous

Although safety standards have improved over the years, older electrical systems aren’t always hazardous. A combination of age and wear can turn what was a safe circuit into a dangerous one, though. Watch for these situations:

Ungrounded wiring

The lack of system grounding was a nuisance in the early 20th century. When the electrical code began to require a ground rod and a third circuit wire in the 1960s, people got fewer shocks, and the number of electrical fires went down. Grounding also protects sensitive equipment from power surges.

Renters living in an older home with an ungrounded electrical system might experience some of the following problems:

  • Flickering lights
  • Shocks when touching a wall or lamp switch
  • Frequent blown fuses (houses with ungrounded wiring usually have fuseboxes, not breaker panels)
  • Overheated outlets and switches that can melt or ignite
  • Power surges

Flickering lights, power surges, and blown fuses can cause headaches, but they aren’t hazards. Shocks and overheating outlets are.

Aluminum wiring

Electrical systems installed in the 1950s and early 1970s may include aluminum wiring, which is a known hazard. Junctions at receptacles and switches can overheat, and there’s a real possibility of one of them melting or bursting into flames. Strange smells, smoke and sparks, and flickering current are three signs of aluminum wiring.

Worn out receptacles

Sockets that can’t hold a plug are especially hazardous for children and pets who might make contact with the exposed prongs. Not only that, but anything touching a prong, such as a curtain, could ignite. Speaking of receptacles, the current code requires GFCI outlets in kitchens, bathrooms, laundry rooms, and outside. Conventional outlets, when installed in these locations, are dangerous according to current standards.

Exposed wires

Wires sticking out from a wall or an unused electrical box are obviously dangerous, but sometimes you can’t see them. They may protrude from an unfinished ceiling in the basement or the garage, or they may be partially hidden by a wall. That can make them even more dangerous.

How to get the electrical system fixed

When an electrical problem creates a hazard, you as a renter, must contact the landlord or property manager before doing anything else. In most cases, a phone call is all it should take to get a response, but if none is forthcoming, it’s important to repeat the request in writing and to save a copy. That preserves a record of the date of the request.

Statutes give the landlord a reasonable time to respond—as much as 30 days. However, when a hazard exists, the time could be shorter—perhaps only a day or two, depending on the nature of the problem. If the situation isn’t corrected, renters in all but a few states have the option to hire someone to make the repair and deduct the cost from the rent. Renters may also have the option to withhold rent until the landlord makes repairs.

Repair and deduct

Forty-three states have repair and deduct laws on the books. Here are the ones that don’t:

  • Alabama
  • Arkansas
  • Georgia
  • Idaho
  • Indiana
  • North Carolina
  • West Virginia

Each state sets its own guidelines, so it’s important to be familiar with the laws that apply in your state. Repair and deduct statutes cover things like:

  • Qualifying problems
  • Type of notice
  • Amount of time the landlord has to respond
  • Maximum deductible amount

In California, for example, renters can’t deduct more than a month’s rent at a time and can’t use the repair and deduct option more than twice in a calendar year. The option is not available if renters or their guests crated the hazard through misuse or neglect. This is true in most states.

Withhold rent

You can’t withhold rent as a matter of right; this option is available only if your state or municipality specifically allows it. Before withholding rent, you must verify that the problem is serious and not just bothersome.

You must also contact the landlord and allow a reasonable amount of time for a response—usually 30 days unless the problem is urgent. You can withhold an amount commensurate with the problem. For example, if an outlet has become dangerous, you could withhold the amount of money needed to replace it, which would be about $200.

Keep the money safe, because when the problem is fixed, you’ll have to pay it to the landlord.

Check the lease

When renting an older house or apartment with outdated wiring, it’s a good idea for landlords to include a lease clause that covers the proper use of the electrical system and stipulates the landlord’s and renter’s responsibilities.

Renters should remember to read the lease carefully and keep in mind that outdated wiring isn’t illegal as long as it’s working. The law calls for action only when an electrical problem creates a bona fide hazard.

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32 CommentsLeave a Comment

  • Janet Jones

    Who to contact when the landlord doesn’t want to fix electrical problems?

    • Catherine Joanne Smith

      Circuit breaker box needs updating what to do to make landlord do this

    • Christine G Mroskey

      Who to call when having electrical problems and landlord won’t take care of it?

      • Alexis mixon

        Hi my name is Alexis Mixon. I recently moved to Gary Indiana a month ago and have been experiencing alot of issues. Not all apply with what you handle but one is electric which is my ceiling fan in my bedroom. It won’t go off as well as it flickers and gives off this static noise. I have contacted my landlords realistate agency about it over a week ago as well as other things and no one came out I don’t even have a door nob to my back door or smoke detector. Those might not be issues you can fix but I wanted to add that because I been waiting on those since I moved in. If you can call me to give me legal advise or who I should contact I would very much appreciate it.

    • Kathryn Leon

      My landlord says we have a lease here but won’t give us a copy of it. I asked several times. The panel box has burnt wires in it & the floors are falling. The landlord says we owe back pay of $2000 of unpaid rent & wont provide anything in writing. To our knowledge we don’t owe that much money. How do we get help

  • Brittany Taber

    Who to contact when the landlord doesn’t want to fix electrical problems

  • Chris Deziel

    It depends on the nature of the problem. If it’s merely an inconvenience, such as an outlet that doesn’t work, you probably don’t have any recourse other than to fix it yourself and, if the state allows it, deduct the cost of the repair from the rent. If it’s a safety issue, such as uncovered wires in a place that people go, report it to the county or municipality, which will then require the landlord to make the repair. Be sure to let the landlord know that you intend to do this before you actually do it, though.

    • MARGARET

      My power shuts of at least once a day, yet I do not even own a tv nor any large electric items. Also, my bedroom light doesnt just flicker, it shuts off for a few seconds and turns back on. I reported it and electric guy came by and said I need a new box and it cost alot of money. My property management was notified by mainenance but they never told me they were gong yo fix it. Now my daughts light fixure blew out and has black on outside. What can I do now?

    • VALARIE

      My daughters WHOLE room is without power, the landlord refuses to fix it. We do NOT have a lease. What can we do? The lights flicker in the house as well. We have stated the problem to her since Dec. Its now Feb. Do I withhold the rent? Do I hire someone to fix the problem?

    • Mary

      I recently got shocked due to bad receptacle can use 2 of my fingers i have complained way before this happen to my landlord can i sue

    • Eden

      Reviewing this site it’s obvious to see that it’s for the Landlords benefit only. No help for tenants.The many unanswered serious questions and the manor that this one was answered proves it. Any tenants reading this I hope you find a site etc geared to help. This isn’t it. I wouldn’t subscribe or put anymore energy or popularity into Cozy. No renter solutions here. You see for yourselves that your problems aren’t important as a renter. I’m so sorry about the situations you all are going through. There are State landlord/Tenant Court’s buildings. You can go there and ask legal questions for free. I witness cases all day. I’m a clerk not a legal professional. I hate seeing good tenants lose because they lack knowing their rights & protocol.

  • Nate

    I have had exposed wires from a vent a hood that my land lord took out before I resigned the lease the 2nd time… it’s been a year and she just won’t do it….. now I’ve just resigned the lease…. the only matter of subject stand in the lease that won’t be repaired is the refrigerator. ……. please what can I do?

  • april smith

    Numerous random electrical outlets & lights shut off randomly throughout the day and night. Everytime we check the breaker panel none of them are blown or switched over. We flip them over once or twice and the outlets work again, for awhile and it begins all over again. My husband is on electric oxygen at night so this is a real hazard. Is fire a concern also? We’ve told the landlord. He says hes working in it but i dont think he realizes the health impact. My husband is terminal with a lung disease.

  • Jeremiah Ray

    The main power box is broken. There is no power at all coming out of it. There no power to our RV at all

    • j

      if you don’t have electricity due to the hook up, you’re place has become uninhabitable until the landlord corrects the issue. As far as I’ve read in California, you should have you’re rent pro-rated for each day without power and the landlord must pay to fix it. Other costs like staying in a motel, spoiled food, candles, batteries, etc. RV Parks rent space with amenities unless otherwise stated and as long as you’re are paying your bill they are required to provide electricity as an amenity without electricty it is technically uninhabitable.

  • lydia smith

    it appears renters have no recourse or advocacy. my electricity is not up to code, yet the law states it just has to work? despite brown outs and blown fuses? which agency should i contact? termites, rodents and open walls due to unfinished work by landlord is actually legal?

    which agency can be contacted when a low income, but not subsidized tenant needs help or just to report the landlord> and will it help?

    or is the tenant just royally screwed?

  • sharon wilson

    I would like to know what I can do about my electrical outlet in my front room none of them work its been months since I informed the landlord. also I have a black mold growing around the wall borders. I need to know how to tell with this situation and also need an Inspector to come check the house for me

  • Nicholas Rowell

    our current rental has the circuit box in the bedroom closet, the dryer has no dedicated circuit and we can’t use the dryer because of low voltage, exposed wiring in at least 2 rooms. I’m seriously afraid we are gonna die in a fire, and we have no recourse under Colorado law. Bunch of redneck slumlords, Colorado sucks!!

    • Sallyann

      Just wonderful!! We live in CO and just bought a new home after 6 yrs of renting from an Englewood slumlord. I want to report the unsafe wiring before he rents to someone else and from your post, is there really no recourse?? My conscience can’t take the idea that he’ll set up another renter in the unsafe conditions, especially those w/children. He didn’t make us aware of it until we moved in and inquired when discovering the problem ourselves. My being in the midst of serious treatment for late stage cancer at the time, this man sure saw us coming & knew the situation would keep us from moving for yrs after. Have you found other info or is my only option to pray for the safety of the newcomers? The wiring is just the tip of the iceberg.

  • Esther C Sanchez

    I rented a RV space on a mth to mth bases. My trailer plug in is connected to laundry room breaker box. It doesn’t put up enough watts to use electric in my trailer. I have been here since 1-14-18 with no electric. Property manager says it’s because my trailer is bigger than 30 amps. It’s posted on my trailer it’s 30 amps. WHAT can I do?

  • Donald Duck

    Ground system is a requirement. Those 1960 houses do have a grounded system. These is bounding metal to metal. These metal parts include exposed structural steel members, electrically conductive metal water or electrical piping systems, metal sprinkler piping, metal gas piping, other metal piping systems, buiding steel structures, etc.
    These has being moving slowly to an insulated copper conductor. The ground would be insulated and have its own conductor versus having different metals bounded that would overheat.

  • Georgianna

    Who do I call to report bad elercity in my house and gardage if the landlord dose not want to fix who can I get to come and look at my roof to let me and the judge know it bad

  • Georgianna ferguson

    Who do I call to report bad elercity in my house and gardage if the landlord dose not want to fix who can I get to come and look at my roof to let me and the judge know it bad

  • Stacey

    I have a slum lord who lives out of state and uses a handyman that’s awful. I have investigated this, and wanted to let you all know that your only recourse is to call your city code enforcement. They’ll come out and inspect at no cost to you. The landlord is notified by them. The landlord can refuse, however, and allow the place to be condemned. This effectively forces you out. Happens here. If it’s a huge job, better look for a new place. We, as tenants, get screwed. If it’s not a really big job, your LL will probably fix it when the city gives notice. If you have this much trouble, tho, your LL only cares about his money, not your safety. My LL bragged that by waiting for a disaster, his insurance would pay for repair.

  • Elizabeth

    The maintenance guy came to change out old light switches now the lights aren’t working in half my apartment but there is still power to those rooms also switches in one room now turn on lights in other rooms landlord is aware of the problem but want to send the same person that messed it up to repair it. Also the maintenance aren’t required to have any training or licencing to work for this property

  • Barbarina Johnston

    mobile home Ga. Thurs.May 30 main outside at the pole tripped. The park had the maintenance try fix it no avail. this went on rest of day. the main trips over and over no fix. Next day Fri. May 31 no rest that night reset breaker over and over. I’m across from office maintenance & manager came to work no one came to me, I went to them. Said they had a work order in Georgia power. Manager called G.P. no order. waited for GP was told the park has to do. Waited all day no fix. weekend now noone came,completely no power Sat, Sun nothing. ga now having heatwave. Mon. will be 5 days can’t cook, no air, food ruining. no shade.fixed income, and 2 Chihuahuas. Also I’m disabled 54. HELP!

  • Sarah

    The apartment I live in, well hallway light does not work outside light does not work have talked with landlord been well over 30 days the basement full of mold washer is down there that stopped working 3 or 4 months ago what do I do?

  • Catherine Green

    I wondered why ALL the complaints on here are Not being answered! Electrical is Serious & People Need Help! But then I realized this is Not a place for Renters to get help! It’s for you Crooked Landlords! I won’t bother leaving my complaint as I’m sure it will like the others Go Un-Answered

  • Annoying tenants

    I am very annoyed that landlords have the nerve to just put tenants into their rental place and then not have any morals anymore to update their own property to the county/city of the state building laws including electrical wiring which it’s a very dangerous situation (I have dealt with renting out apartments) we had to upgrade or update our apartments for our residents to be able to have an safe place to live and lay their head down at night. Plus there’s children involved. I was in an electrical fire one time that landlord took responsibility for a wiring situation that he was not up to date with. I have to be able to see in writing that landlords are allowed to not do anything about the electrical that they are responsible for.

  • Art

    To all reading,

    If your main electric box has these words “Stab-Loc”, Federal Pacific, or Federal, this box must be replaced. These boxes are fires waiting to happen. The company was sued because of house fires.

  • Naima

    Fuse blew and it turned off the outlet my tv was connected to. When we switched the fuse back on, the tv screen is messed up. it is flickering and the screen is broken internally. Renter insurance doesn’t cover that, is my apt complex liable to pay for my TV because of their busted fuse?

  • Sandra

    I live in an rv park and our electricity goes out just about every day when it goes out we have no water because the pump won’t work without electricity my air conditioner mostly blows out warm air because it surges all the time also when I do have electricity just about every time I turn on my water heater the electricity goes out also my water pressure is so bad it barely trickles out and he is wanting to raise my rent

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