On Your Side: Knowing your rights as a renter

Dealing with unresponsive landlords

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WBRC) - From mold, to rats, to a busted AC, we hear it all when it comes to people dealing with issues in apartments and homes they are renting. We hear from hundreds of people each year who need help with these problems.

Jenica Smith said she had to walk in rain boots recently in her apartment because of rising water. She lives there with her brother. Smith said water is apparently leaking into her apartment from an upstairs unit. She told us management is working to get that unit ready to rent, but in the meantime, it’s causing her plenty of headaches.

“The light fixture you can see is brown. It floods. The light fixture leaks over my food. I can’t cook,” Smith said.

Towels are lining the stove, around the corner and down the hall to soak up the water. Smith said she’s doing everything to try and keep her floors dry. No such luck in one of her bedrooms. The floors are soaked. It’s a similar story in her bathroom. The toilet needs to be replaced because it’s leaking, too.

“You don’t know what’s going to happen especially with this water dripping down like that. What do you think is going to happen? You are endangering me right now,” Smith said.

Smith told us all of this is leading to mold and causing her health problems. After complaining to management, Smith reached out to the WBRC On Your Side Investigators for help.

“I would like it fixed. I’m not going to say I love being here. It’s convenient. I pay for what I want. So, I should feel like I should get what I pay for,” Smith said.

There is not a day that goes by we don’t receive similar complaints from people dealing with issues in their apartments and houses. You do have renter’s rights. By state law, tenants have a right to a decent place to live. Housing codes must be up to par. There must be working AC and heat, hot and cold water, etc.

According to the Alabama Landlord Tenant Act renters have the right to request, in writing, that a landlord make reasonable repairs. When doing that, it’s best to document everything. Take pictures and video, then put pen to paper or email and get the issues to management.

“The first thing is to document it. Secondly, let them know and if they don’t take the proper recourse then you have options. If you want to try and get out of a lease, you may have grounds to do that,” Martin Weinberg, a Birmingham attorney said.

Some people told us they are not going to pay rent until the issues are fixed, but state law says you are not allowed to withhold rent for a landlord’s failure to make repairs.

We know it hasn’t been an easy financial year for both renters and landlords, so Weinberg suggests both sides work with each other to address issues when they come up.

“I would say its time to try and work with folks. I think things will get better in the new few months. We’re kind of getting our way through this pandemic. I know it’s been tough for a while,” Weinberg said.

A day after speaking with Smith, we did hear back from management. They say a construction team working in the unit above hers accidentally broke a water pipe. They say the carpet has been cleaned and treated and they will be replacing the light fixture in short order.

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