Question: We have not had a working toilet in our apartment for 6 days, who do we contact to get action.
The landlord has a duty to provide a rental dwelling that is safe, clean and habitable. This includes maintaining all electrical, plumbing, sanitary, heating, ventilating, air-conditioning and other facilities and appliances, including elevators that are supplied or required to be supplied by the landlord, in good and safe working order and condition. (A.R.S. § 33-1324).
The tenant can seek resolution under an Arizona law called Self Help for Minor Defects. (A.R.S. § 33-1363). If the landlord fails to provide a dwelling that is safe, clean and habitable, and the reasonable cost of the repair is less than $300.00 or an amount equal to one-half of the monthly rent, whichever amount is greater, the tenant may recover damages for the landlord’s failure (under A.R.S. § 33-1361 (B)). Or the tenant may inform the landlord, in writing, of the tenant's action to correct the condition at the landlord's expense. After the tenant informs the landlord in writing, if the landlord fails to fix the problem within ten days (or as soon as can be done in the case of emergency), the tenant may have the work done by a licensed contractor. Then, after giving the landlord an itemized statement or receipt for the work and a written statement that the tenant will not sue for recovery of the amount of the cost of the repair (called a waiver of lien), the tenant may deduct from his or her rent the cost of the repair work. The tenant must continue to pay rent before, during and after the repair. If the tenant withholds the rent, the tenant may be evicted for failure to pay.
Generally, the landlord and the tenant may agree that the tenant will make certain repairs, maintenance tasks, or alterations or remodeling but only if:
- The agreement of the landlord and tenant is entered into in good faith and not for the purpose of the landlord avoiding his/her duties under the law;
- The agreement must be in writing signed by both parties;
- There must be some value given by the landlord to the tenant as part of the agreement, such as a reduction in rent, etc.;
- The work that the parties agree that the tenant will do is not necessary to bring the residence up to code or make it fit or habitable;
- The agreement does not reduce the obligation or duty of the landlord to any other tenants in the complex, if a multiple dwelling.
Without a written agreement specifying that the tenant will provide the maintenance, it is the landlord’s duty to keep the plumbing in safe and working order. The landlord should be contacted immediately in writing specifying what needs to be repaired (e.g., the toilet). It is best to send the written notice by certified mail, return receipt requested to show what date the landlord received the notice; it is also very important to keep copies of any letters to the landlord. The written notice to the landlord may also state that as a result of the landlord’s failure to maintain the residence in a safe and habitable manner, the rental agreement will terminate upon a date not less than five days after receipt of the notice (the date on the receipt from the post office) if the repairs are not made in 5 days. Be aware that the termination of the rental agreement means that the tenant has to move, so this may not be a good option for some people. If the landlord continually fails to keep the property maintained in a safe and habitable condition, it may be the only option. In addition to the right to termination the rental agreement if the landlord fails to make the necessary repair(s), such as fixing a toilet, in five days, the tenant may recover in court monetary damages and seek an injunction (a court order commanding that the landlord repair the broken toilet, for example) for any failure by the landlord to keep the property in a safe and habitable condition. (A.R.S. § 33-1376). Also, note that if the rental agreement is terminated as a result of the landlord’s failure to keep the residence in a safe and habitable condition and the tenant must vacate the residence, the tenant is entitled to his or her security deposit.
For additional information on the Arizona Residential Landlord/Tenant Law, visit the Arizona Supreme Court online. For information on renting in general, government programs and assistance, and fair housing laws, visit Housing and Urban Development (HUD) online. For information on residential inspections for Section 8 housing in Phoenix, visit the City of Phoenix Housing Department online. For information on residential inspection in Tucson, contact the interactive voice response system at Tucson Development Services, (520) 740-6970 or visit the City of Tucson Development Services online. For assistance with landlord/tenant issues in Tucson contact: Legal Aid - (520) 623-9461 (income restrictions may apply) or Southwest Fair Housing Council - (520) 798-1568
April 15, 2007