I Need My Landlord to Make Repairs
Authored By: Montana Legal Services Association (MLSA)
What duties does my landlord have?
Make repairs and do whatever is necessary to keep your place fit and livable;
Keep all common areas clean and safe;
Compliance with applicable building and housing codes;
Not allowing tenants or others to participate in activities on the premises that could endanger the property or other tenants (such as manufacturing drugs or being involved in a gang);
Maintain all systems of electrical, plumbing, sanitary, and heating, and all appliances supplied by the landlord;
Supply running water and hot water at all times;
Supply heat between Oct. 1 and May 1;
Install a smoke detector.
How can I force my landlord to make repairs?
If Landlord is failing to make repairs that affect a household member's health and safety, follow these steps:
Deliver a written notice to the landlord describing what needs to be done, and giving Landlord 14 days to fix the problem. Tell Landlord in the written notice that if the problem isn't fixed within 14 days, this is your written notice that you are terminating your lease in 30 days. If the needed repairs result in a case of emergency, you can give Landlord 3 working days to fix the problem (instead of 14 days).
If Landlord fails to fix the problem within the number of days you give Landlord, you may terminate the rental agreement and move out.
If Landlord makes the repairs before the date you specified in your notice, or otherwise remedies the problem (for example, by paying money to you), then you cannot terminate your lease. If the same problem happens again within 6 months, you can choose to terminate your lease, but you must give the landlord 14 days' written notice telling Landlord of the problem and the date by when your lease will terminate.
Repair and Deduct
If Landlord doesn't make the repairs within a reasonable time after receiving your written notice, then you can make the repairs yourself or hire someone to do it as long as the repairs do not cost more than one month's rent. You can deduct the cost of the repairs from your rent. But, if the repairs are needed for an emergency condition, you must have a qualified person make the repairs (you can't do the repairs yourself unless you're qualified).
WARNING: Do not withhold rent or deduct the cost of repairs from your rent without first talking to an attorney. Do not terminate your lease and move out without first talking to an attorney. There's always a risk that Landlord will sue you, so you want to be sure you're following the law.
Can I sue my landlord for failing to make repairs?
Yes. You may file suit against Landlord and ask the court to order Landlord to make the repairs. You can also ask the court to order Landlord to pay you money. The amount of money is usually limited to the rent that you paid during the time Landlord failed to make repair. But if the court finds that Landlord on purpose caused you to be without heat, running water, hot water, electricity, gas or other essential services, the court can award you up to 3 times the amount of your rent.
What if I caused the problem that needs repair?
Landlord does not have to repair problems that were caused by you, a member of your family, or other persons on the premises with your consent.
What if the problem doesn't affect my health and safety?
If the problem is minor and doesn't affect your health and safety (for example, a closet door that won't shut properly), the law doesn't give you a remedy. You can't move out because of it, but you can still ask Landlord to fix it.
What can I do if Landlord is failing to supply heat, running water, electricity, gas, or other essential services?
First you must give Landlord a written notice telling Landlord of the problem and giving Landlord a "reasonable" time to fix the problem (the law doesn't say how long is "reasonable"). Then if Landlord doesn't fix it, you have these options:
1. You can choose to follow the same steps as above for repairs affecting health and safety; OR
2. You can get for yourself the services that Landlord is not providing and deduct the actual cost from your rent, as long as the cost is reasonable - for example, if you have to buy a space heater, you can deduct its cost from the rent; OR
3. You can file suit against Landlord; OR
4. You can temporarily move some place else, until Landlord fixes the problem. You don't have to pay rent for the time you live someplace else. If you choose this option, it's a good idea to give Landlord a written notice telling Landlord that you've moved out temporarily, until the problem is fixed, and that you won't be paying rent for the days you stay elsewhere.
Do I still have to pay my rent, even if my landlord isn't fixing things?
Yes. If you don't pay the rent in full when due, Landlord may file an eviction lawsuit against you. There are only limited circumstances in which you can withhold rent. Consult an attorney.
Is there a form I can use to ask my landlord to make repairs?
Yes. There is a form that you can complete to ask your landlord to make repairs. Make sure to read the instructions carefully before filling out the form.
Where can I get more help?
Montana Legal Services Association (MLSA) provides free civil legal help to low-income people. Contact us to see if you qualify:
- Apply anytime online at mtlsa.org;
- Call our Helpline at 1-800-666-6899 (Helpline hours are limited).
What help can I find at MLSA?
- Legal advice and representation;
- Referrals to volunteer attorneys and other providers;
- Self-help clinics and materials.