What is the landlord required to repair?
Landlords are responsible to make all repairs in the unit except in cases where tenants or invitees of the tenant cause the damage. Tenants may also be liable for repairs that are the result of unreported issues in the apartment if those issues cause further damage in the unit. State law outlines landlords’ obligations to keep your unit safe and livable. Landlords must also maintain their units to comply with all local codes that govern housing quality. Landlords must also provide adequate heat and hot water, provide adequate locks, maintain all structural components in reasonably good repair, and more. Read RCW 59.18.060 for a complete list of landlord duties.
What repairs can my landlord hold me responsible for?
RCW 59.18.130 outlines a tenant’s responsibilities under landlord-tenant law. Tenants must keep their units clean and sanitary, dispose of garbage from inside their units, properly use the facilities and appliances supplied by the landlord, maintain smoke detectors batteries and more. Tenants also must not damage the property or allow guests to damage the property. Tenants can be held responsible for damages caused by them or visitors invited to the property. A tenant cannot be legally charged for damages caused by the landlord’s negligence or for damage resulting from normal wear and tear in the unit. See our Deposits webpage for more details.
How much can my landlord charge to fix items that I damage in the unit?
There are no specific legal standards pertaining to the cost of repairing damages. Tenants may have the opportunity to make the repairs themselves, with permission from the landlord, and depending on the type and extent of the damage as well as the terms of the lease. The tenant may also be able to negotiate with the landlord to have the repairs made. Generally speaking, a landlord can charge for the cost of materials, the cost of hiring a contractor, or the fair cost of labor comparable to regional rates if the landlord made the repair themselves.
When you vacate a unit, it is always a best practice to thoroughly document the unit before you move out. Otherwise tenants leave themselves open to be charged exorbitant fees or charged for damages that they were not responsible for. Protect yourself with documentation!
Can I withhold rent to force the landlord to make repairs?
No. Tenants must be current in rent in order to access the repair remedies written into the law. Even if the repairs are extremely severe, withholding rent can leave renters vulnerable to eviction.
My landlord began to make a repair within the legal timeframe, but they have still not fixed the problem after a considerable amount of time. Can I still break my lease even though they started repairs?
RCW 59.18.090 states the tenant does have the right to break the lease after the appropriate timeframe expires starting from when the landlord received a written repair request and the repair still goes on uncompleted within a reasonable time. However, there are some risks associated with this remedy, and it is a good idea to consult with an attorney before taking any action. Reasonable is not defined in the Landlord-Tenant Act. If possible, document the landlord’s attempt to repair if it is inadequate to fix the problem. Tenants may have a stronger case to break the lease based on the severity of the need for repair. For example, having no hot water or heat may have a different standard of reasonableness than replacing a cabinet.
I can’t live in my unit because a pipe burst causing a flood. Is my landlord required to put me up in a motel or move me to another unit?
While state law does not specifically require landlords to move tenants to another unit or pay for motel stays, tenants have the right to ask these things of the landlord and negotiate to get them. Tenants can argue that they don’t have the obligation to pay rent for a unit during a time that they’re not able to live there or get full use of the unit. If the landlord disagrees and still asks for full rent, tenants still need to pay rent, but they can document financial and other damages caused because of the flooding (for instance, having to pay for a motel room, driving costs, or other financial damages). You can negotiate with your landlord for these things or take them to Small Claims Court to sue for compensation after the fact. Remember to always put it in writing! See Steps to Request a Repair for tools you can use to negotiate with your landlord.
My apartment flooded due to a faulty plumbing and all my belongings were damaged. Is the landlord responsible to pay for the cost?
State law does not specifically require this, but tenants have an argument that the landlord can be held liable for property damage. If the tenant has documentation that they had previously communicated with the landlord about the problem and the landlord took no action to fix it, the argument would be stronger. If the tenant has not communicated with the landlord about the problem, then the tenant can argue that the landlord should have known about the problem. Other tenants in the building may have had similar problems and would be willing to testify or provide written statements. Communicating with other tenants is invaluable. This is another reason why it is helpful for tenants to hold on to copies of all of their repair requests. Landlords cannot be held liable for property damage resulting from a repair problem unless they knew or should have known about the problem. It is also a good idea for renters to get renters’ insurance that will cover the cost of any property damages.
I can’t live in my unit because the mold is impacting my health. Can I legally break my lease because of this?
Other than a requirement to provide written information (RCW 59.18.060), there are no state laws governing landlords’ responsibilities regarding mold removal. State law does give residential tenants the right to vacate their units and move if the landlord is not making necessary repairs. It will depend on whether the landlord attempts to fix the problem causing the mold to grow. The mold itself may not be cause enough to break the lease, but if the landlord fails to fix the leaky pipe causing the moisture that created the mold growth, then the tenant can follow the repair process to eventually break the lease. Thorough documentation is vital if you’d like to use this legal remedy, and there are some risks associated with this course of action. See Repair Process above and Tenants’ Repair Remedies for details. Disabled tenants may also make reasonable accommodation requests to make the unit livable or to be allowed to vacate. To learn more about protections for disabled tenants and how to make a reasonable accommodation request, see Fair Housing & Disability Laws.
What if I follow the repairs procedure and the landlord still isn’t fixing my unit?
If you’ve tried all the resources available to you and exhausted your legal remedies, you may consider seeking legal help and assistance. See the Legal Assistance Guide for more information.
Can I ask the landlord to put in better carpeting or refurbish the countertops?
In general, landlord-tenant laws do not cover cosmetic upgrades to units. You may be able to negotiate with your landlord to request upgrades to the property. It is important that you not make any changes to the unit, even if you believe they will improve the property, without getting written permission from your landlord to do so. Keep in mind that any changes you make to the unit, even ones you consider improvements, could be considered damages by the landlord when you move out of the unit. If there is a repair problem with the carpeting or countertops to the extent that they are not useable, a tenant can ask the landlord to make the repairs through the Steps to Request a Repair above.
Are there legal standards for how often a landlord has to replace the carpet or repaint the walls?
Washington State law does not set out any specific timeframes for landlords to replace carpet or repaint the walls. If there is a repair problem with the carpeting or walls to the extent that there is significant damage, a tenant can ask the landlord to make the repairs through the Steps to Request a Repair above.
My landlord says that they don’t have to make repairs in my unit because my rent is so cheap. Is this legal?
All tenants deserve to live in safe and decent housing, regardless of how much rent they pay. The legal standards to make repairs are the same for all residential tenants.
I signed a lease stating that I have to make all the repairs in my unit, and that I have to accept the unit “as is.” Can my landlord hold me to this?
RCW 59.18.230 states that tenants cannot sign away their rights under the law. The landlord is still responsible for making all repairs for defective conditions that are not caused by the tenant or guests of the tenant. If the lease provision waives a duty that is defined under the law as the landlord’s responsibility, that section is legally unenforceable. For example, if a tenant moves into a unit with no working heat, even if the lease says the tenant is responsible for repairs, state law still requires the landlord to maintain appropriate heating for the unit.
My toilet clogs regularly. We had to call a plumber out, and my landlord is charging me the cost of the repair, saying that I use too much toilet paper. Is this legal?
In this situation, the landlord is arguing that the tenant is responsible for the damages that require a costly repair. Unless the tenant has damaged the toilet by flushing things that cause clogs, the tenant has an argument that they were using the facility within normal use and that they are not responsible for the cost of the repair. The tenant can provide documentation in the form of prior repair requests or a report from the plumber clarifying the nature of the plumbing problem. If the move-in checklist indicates that the toilet was working fine when you moved in, it may be difficult to prove that the problems with the toilet were not caused by the tenant.
I injured myself because the landlord didn’t make repairs on my unit. Can I hold my landlord liable for the costs of my medical bills?
You may be able to take your landlord to court to sue for the costs of your medical bills. It is important to have documentation of the repair problems and your landlord’s negligence in fixing them. Seek legal advice from an attorney for a specific situation. Tenants have often found it helpful to consult with an attorney regarding health problems that result from mold.