When I moved into my current house, I was told that the heater worked great, and that the insulation was new. Once winter arrived, I realized that the doors and windows leaked - some so bad they let water in. When I told the landlord, he said he would have to wait until Spring to fix it - when the weather was drier. I also discovered that the heater was not working properly. I always set the thermostat to 60 degrees, but came home on multiple occasions to find the house 70+degrees with the heater still running. It took several months and multiple visits from the repair man to resolve the issue. The result was 4 months of $300 power bills when they should have been about $150. Does my landlord owe me compensation?
Probably not. The RLTA has a way to address issues like this, but withholding rent will get you evicted. Unless the landlord's promises about the heater and the insulation were in writing in your contract, basically he can tell you any story he wants, but it isn't an enforceable part of your contract.
Landlords always have a duty to maintain property. See RCW 59.18.060. If you were being exposed to the weather (leaky doors and windows) the first thing you have to do is tell him, in writing and demand repairs. He'd have ten days to get it started. There is no time off for winter weather.
If your thermostat was broken, same thing - tell him in writing and expect it to be fixed. Your landlord is responsible for maintenance - even the thermostat - so I hope he paid for the repair bills.
But your remedies are basically to demand formally that the issues get fixed pursuant to RCW 59 18 115, which is the one that allows you to demand that the Building Department come inspect the exact issues you have previously notified your landlord about. If the Building Department concurs with you and certifies that the issues are interfering with your health and safety, then the remedy in RCW 59 18 085 kicks in. You are being exposed to the weather. I know that sounds absurd but they have jurisdiction over that issue.
If you decide that the problems cannot be fixed, then you need to move out. You can sue him in small claims after you are gone, if necessary, but it is impossible to sue your landlord while you are living in his house.
And things that interfere with health and safety are not the same as things that cost way too much money. I don't think a judge would go for it, frankly, unless you can show that you complied with the statute. If your landlord has not provided you with the tenancy you expected to have, then arguably you have a case, but you'd want to discuss this with a local attorney and get their take on these issues.
Also, look at RCW 59 18 230. What that section says is that contract terms that are inconsistent with the RLTA are unenforceable. Lots of landlords have no clue this section exists. They cannot demand the winter off from maintenance issues, they cannot demand that you refrain from suing them for negligence, they cannot demand that you hold them harmless. In the end result, it is likely that your rent is the largest expense you have every month. If your landlord isn't treating you fairly, give notice properly and find a new landlord who has a better understanding of his obligations.
I know this is contradictory, but I hope it helps. Elizabeth Powell
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