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Repairs: What Tenants Should Know

Getting a repair made to your unit can sometimes be troublesome for renters, especially if your landlord is being uncooperative. Here is a step-by-step legal guide for getting repairs completed.

  1. Request the repair in writing and then be prepared to wait the amount of time designated by the law.
  2. Write a repair request letter (see the sample letter in the resource sheet linked below) and keep a copy of the letter for your files.
  3. Send the letter to your landlord either through certified and regular first-class mail or by delivering it personally. If delivered personally, you should have a witness present or have the landlord sign and date a copy you keep.
  4. Take photos of the problem that needs repair with a copy of the day’s newspaper to prove the date.
  5. Your landlord then has a certain amount of time to take action after receiving your written notice, which varies depending on the necessary repair:
    • 24 hours when the defective condition deprives you of hot or cold water, heat or electricity, or is imminently hazardous to life.
    • 72 hours when the defective condition deprives you of the use of a refrigerator, range and oven, or a major plumbing fixture supplied by the landlord.
    • No more than 10 days in any other cases.
  6. Should your landlord break the deadline, you have a few legal options. Before doing any of the following, consult with an attorney to get advice on your specific situation.
    • You can break your lease and move without consequence, provided the repair required warrants such an action. You should send a second written notice that you are breaking your lease along with sending the initial letter, taking photos of defective conditions, and waiting the appropriate time. Keep a copy of this letter, as well. Return the unit to its initial condition and take a photo as evidence.
    • You can make a repair and deduct the cost from your rent. You may only deduct up to the amount of one month’s rent, and if the repair requires a licensed professional to fix it. You may not legally repair it on your own. See the resource sheet for more specifics.
    • You may notify your landlord and then put the rent in escrow should repairs be too difficult to perform. This is a potential remedy for an extraordinary situation that requires more extreme measures.
    • You can go to court and ask a judge for reduced rent based on the unmade repairs.
    • You can request mediation through a Dispute Resolution Center.
    • You can call Local Code Enforcement after having done the initial repair process. To communicate with the Seattle Department of Construction and Inspection, call 206-684-5700. For Bellevue, call 425-452-2047. For Kirkland, call 425-587-3600. Check the resource sheet for more information.
    • You can sue the landlord through Small Claims Court for partial or total rent reduction for unmade repairs. You will need evidence of the severity of defective conditions, such as code inspection reports, photos, and witnesses.

Remember that as a tenant you have legal rights.

For more information about your rights to your deposit or the specific applicable laws, see this Resource Sheet.

ELAP also hosts a monthly repair workshop on the second Monday of every month from 4-6 p.m. More information and registration.

By Evan Yi, ELAP intern, with legal review by Sarterus Rowe, ELAP staff attorney (WSBA 47010)

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