What to do about a no-good landlord
By Isabel A. Suárez
I’ve been reading your article for the past few weeks, and I thought you might be able to help me in my situation. I have not had heat in my apartment since December. I have two teenage daughters and a wife who cannot layer any more clothes. I have told my landlord about the situation at least a dozen times since the beginning of December. His so-called maintenance man came by and looked at the furnace twice. It appeared that he poked around and told me that everything was fixed. In the meantime, we still have no heat. I’m no handyman and don’t know how to fix the problem. What can I do?
Generally, the laws in Ohio greatly favor landlords. Even so, you may still have legal recourse against your landlord for failure to perform his duty. This, however, is predicated upon you being current on your rent. If you are behind on your rent, there is no legal remedy.
Assuming you are current, here is some information on your landlord’s duties. Your landlord must: comply with all safety and health regulations; do whatever is necessary to keep the premises fit and habitable; keep the common areas in a safe and sanitary condition; maintain all electrical, plumbing, sanitary, heating, ventilating and air conditioning fixtures and appliances, required to be supplied by him; supply running water and reasonable amounts of hot water; give reasonable notice of his intent to enter the premises; and not abuse this right of access.
There may be other duties, which depend on the lease agreement. Keep in mind that the issue of what is “fit and habitable” is a tricky one and has been interpreted by various courts in Ohio.
Back to your issue, if you are current on your rent and you have no working heat during this harsh winter, then your landlord has breached his duty and your apartment is in fact uninhabitable.
Having breached his duty, you will need to do the following: Provide your landlord a written statement listing all the problem(s) in the apartment. Keep in mind that a dripping faucet does not make the apartment unfit or uninhabitable, although it would drive me crazy. For you own protection, either send the statement of problem(s) to the landlord by certified mail or get a written acknowledgement that the landlord has received your letter. You can also provide this letter to the person who takes your rent payment or take it to the office where you pay the rent. After receipt of this letter, the landlord has 30 days to fix the problem(s).
If these are not fixed within 30 days, you can legally do one of two things: Terminate the rental agreement and move to a new location without incurring liability for the remainder of the lease term or, the other option is to deposit the rent with the clerk of the municipal or county court where your apartment is located.
If you choose the second option, bring a copy of the letter given to the landlord. The clerk of courts will then send notice to the landlord that the rent has been submitted into escrow and will remain there until the problem(s) has been fixed. There is no fee to you for submitting the rent in escrow. The court fee will be subtracted from the moneys paid to the landlord. The landlord will not get his money until you have given written notice to the court attesting that the problem(s) has been fixed.
Surely no reader out there would do this, but just in case, it bears mentioning: the tenant must not be at fault or act in bad faith, such as requesting that the money be put in escrow out of some personal dislike or vendetta against your landlord. Again, be careful when giving the landlord notice. If the court finds that you as a tenant are at fault or acted in bad faith, then you will be liable for damages and all costs, including landlord’s attorney fees. So tread carefully.
In your case, skip the 30-day notice requirement. Having no heat during the winter is considered an emergency situation and certainly falls under the “fit and habitability standard.” If this is the case, you can submit your rent in escrow whenever the next payment is due. In other words, you do not have to wait 30 days.
On a lighter note, since Puxatony Phil did not see his shadow, you may continue to save on your utility bill – but this is a definite maybe, utilities always win.
Legal disclaimer: The content herein is for entertainment and informative purposes only, and should not be interpreted as a legal consultation. Readers act on this information solely at their own risk and are advised to seek an attorney if legal consultation is needed. The accuracy of this information cannot be guaranteed as laws are subject to change. Neither the author, the Dayton City Paper, nor any of its affiliates shall have any liability stemming from this article.
Isabel Suarez is a Cuban-born American who has been practicing law since 1984. Her diverse multicultural and multilingual practice Suarez & Carlin in Old North Dayton especially serves the regions working poor. Isabel is also a board member of and volunteer for the Ohio Intervention Program. You can reach Isabel by email at email@example.com or by calling her office located at 765 Troy St. in Dayton at (937) 258-1800.