A home is considered “uninhabitable” if it is not fit to live in. The renter can immediately end their rental agreement if this is the case. In this situation, a renter would not owe rent if the home becomes uninhabitable and they have let the landlord know in writing, always a paper letter. Rent paid in advance can be returned, but the renter must request it in Small Claims Court. The renter can also ask for their security deposit back.
Renters should speak with an attorney before doing this! The landlord could take the renter back to court where the judge may decide that the home is still fit to live in. Any renter considering this option should take photos of anything proving that the home is unfit to live in. These photos are evidence the judge will want to see.
Building Code Violations
Local governments have building codes requiring landlords to keep their properties in safe and healthy conditions. If a renter believes that their home is not meeting these building codes, local officials should be called for an inspection.
The inspector can order the landlord to make needed repairs. The inspector may also condemn the property by saying it is unfit to live in. Renters cannot live in condemned properties and will be forced to move.
If you have no water, heat, electricity, natural gas, or “other essential services” (such as air conditioning in the summer), you have more options.
You must first give the landlord a letter, or written notice, describing the problem in detail. The next step you choose depends on which remedy you use:
- Move Temporarily: You can leave your home until the landlord fixes the utility problem. You will not owe rent for the time you are away. To use this option, you must tell the landlord in your first written notice:
- that you are leaving until the problem is fixed; and,
- the address and phone number where you can be reached.
- Obtain substitute services: If the landlord is supposed to pay your utilities but has not, you can sign up for the service in your own name and then subtract the cost from your next month’s rent. Save your receipts and send copies to the landlord with the next month’s rent.
- Mediation: You can request a mediation session with your landlord. Mediation involves meeting with the landlord and a neutral person who is trained to help people settle disagreements.
There are 12 Early Settlement Mediation Programs in Oklahoma. To find out more about mediation, call Early Settlement at (877) 521-6815. If there is no mediation program in your area, ask the Court Clerk about local mediators or programs.
- Break your lease and move out:
- First Written Notice: Your first written notice must give the landlord a period of time to fix the utility problem. The length of time depends on the problem. If you have no electricity, heat, or water, a few days may be long enough for the landlord to make repairs.
- Second Written Notice: If the landlord does not take action within the time period, you can move, but you should give the landlord a second written notice. This second notice must tell the landlord that you are breaking your lease because they have not fixed the utility problem. In the second written notice, you should also ask the landlord to return your security deposit and any advance rent you have paid.
- Sue for losses: You can file a court case in Small Claims Court if your losses, or “damages”, are less than $10,000. Your damages are the difference between your rent and the amount someone would pay to rent the place with its current problems.
You must keep paying rent while your lawsuit is active. There are court costs and fees to file a court case. Those fees can only be waived by a judge based on your income.
Handling Common Problems
Problems like a leak in the roof or a slow-running drain are common issues covered by the law. These are issues that can effect your health and safety, but are not immediate threats.
- Write a letter, or written notice, to the landlord describing the issues.
- Describe in detail each problem you need fixed. Make a list so the landlord can fix each one.
- In the letter, tell the landlord they have 14 days to fix the issues.
- Let the landlord know that if they do not fix the issues within 14 days that you have three options:
- Make the repairs on your own and subtract the cost of those repairs from your rent. You can subtract up to one month’s rent, but no more.
- End your lease and move out within 30 days of when you sent the letter.
- Sue in court for any damage to your personal property.
- Sign and date the letter.
- Make a copy before you send or deliver the letter. Cellphone photos of the letter also work!
- Send the letter by certified mail or hand deliver it. Make sure you save the certified mail receipt and keep track of when the letter was hand delivered or mailed.