What to do if your Landlord is not Maintaining your Home or Apartment
If you are frustrated with your landlord's failure to provide maintenance to your home or apartment, I hope that you may find some guidance in this post. This post is not a substitute for legal representation, and in some scenarios it may be best to hire an attorney.
The Landlord's Duty to Provide Habitable PremisesUnder section 76-1419 of the Nebraska Landlord Tenant Act, your landlord is supposed to maintain the leased premises in a livable condition. This includes the duties to:
a) Substantially comply, after written or actual notice, with the requirements of the applicable minimum housing codes materially affecting health and safety;
b) Make all repairs and do whatever is necessary, after written or actual notice, to put and keep the premises in a fit and habitable condition;
c) Keep all common areas of the premises in a clean and safe condition;
d) Maintain in good and safe working order and condition all electrical, plumbing, sanitary, heating, ventilating, air conditioning, and other facilities and appliances, including elevators, supplied or required to be supplied by him or her;
e) Provide and maintain appropriate receptacles and conveniences for the removal of ashes, garbage, rubbish, and other waste incidental to the occupancy of the dwelling unit and arrange for their removal from the appropriate receptacle; and
f) Supply running water and reasonable amounts of hot water at all times and reasonable heat except where the building that includes the dwelling unit is not required by law to be equipped for that purpose, or the dwelling unit is so constructed that heat or hot water is generated by an installation within the exclusive control of the tenant and supplied by a direct public utility connection.
When a tenant calls me because their landlord is not maintaining their leased premises in a livable condition, I usually recommend that the tenant send their landlord what is called a "14-30 Day Notice." Regardless of what remedy you pursue, I highly recommend notifying your landlord, in writing, about the problem. Keep a copy of all correspondence because without a paper trail, any dispute in court is just a "he said/she said" thing.
Send a 14/30 Day NoticeIf your landlord does not comply with the health and safety requirements of Neb. Rev. Stats. Sec. 76-1419 and you wish you end your lease, you have to send your landlord a "14-30 Day Notice" under Sec. 76-1425 of the Nebraska Landlord Tenant Act. This notice is simply a letter stating that you will end the lease in 30 days after receipt of the notice of the Landlord does not remedy the problem that is affecting the health and safety of the premises within 14 days. If you send this Notice to your landlord, I recommend keeping a copy of the same and sending the notice by certified mail so that the landlord cannot claim that they did not receive it. You should be able to find a sample of a "14-30 Day Notice" from a Google Search. Legal Aid of Nebraska also has a Landlord Tenant Handbook available on their website with sample notices.
If the landlord performs the repairs and maintenance within 14 days of receipt of the Notice, the lease will not terminate. If the landlord fails to remedy the situation, you may consider the lease terminated and move out. If you continue to live on the premises after the "14-30 Day Notice" period, you will be liable for rent. Your remedy is being able to move out before the expiration of the lease term in the contract because the landlord considered to have breached the lease. If the landlord pursues you for early termination fees and/or accelerated rent (the balance of unpaid rent under the lease for the remainder of the term of the lease), this is where your paper trail comes in handy. If you have complied with the requirements of the Landlord Tenant Act, you will not be liable for these charges. You should only be liable for the typical charges that occur at the end of a lease, such as carpet cleaning.
Please note that when pursuing this remedy, Sec. 76-1425 also states: "The tenant may not terminate for a condition caused by the deliberate or negligent act or omission of the tenant, a member of his or her family, or other person on the premises with his or her consent." This makes some issues, such as bed bugs, difficult as it is hard to prove that the landlord caused the condition.
I do not Recommend Withholding RentI get a lot of questions about whether a tenant can withhold rent until repairs are made or make the repairs and deduct the cost of repairs from the rent. Section 76-1427 of the Nebraska Landlord Tenant Act does provide authority to do this if the landlord deliberately or negligently fails to supply running water, hot water, heat, or essential services. The issue with this is that "essential services" is vaguely defined. The Statute also states that if you proceed under this remedy, you may not also proceed with a "14-30 Day Notice" under Sec. 76-1425. Section 76-1427 also does not clearly set out what the notice requirements are to withholding or deducting rent.
In practice, when I see Tenants try to pursue this remedy or allege this defense in Court, they are almost always evicted for failure to pay rent. Typically the judge will ask the tenants why they would still want to live in the apartment when it's not being maintained, ask if they sent a 14-30 Day Notice, and tell them that they cannot retain the premises and fail to pay rent. For these reasons, I do not recommend withholding rent and instead encourage tenants to take steps to terminate the lease under Sec. 76-1425.
Call the City Housing Code Enforcement OfficeIf you do not want to move, for whatever reason, another option you may have available to you is your City's code enforcement office. You may contact the Omaha housing code enforcement office at (402) 444-5371. Someone from the code enforcement office will inspect the premises and if violations exist, they will send notice to the landlord to fix the listed violations by a date certain.
Section 76-1439 of the Landlord Tenant Act states that a landlord may not retaliate by increasing rent, decreasing services, evicting you, or threatening to evict you for calling the city code enforcement. This does not mean you are excused from paying rent during this time. This also does not prohibit reasonable rent increases or changes in services that would have occurred regardless. The landlord is also permitted to evict you if the violation of the housing code was caused by your own actions.