Getting Repairs Made
Under Oregon law, landlords must keep their rental units in good condition (ORS 90.320). In the cities of Portland, Gresham, Eugene, Salem, Corvallis, Tigard and Beaverton there’s also housing codes that require buildings to be kept in good condition. If the landlord is not doing repairs, there are some steps you can take. Even if you sign a lease addendum, a landlord cannot use this for the purpose of evading obligations ORS 90.320(2)(a).
1) Fill out repair request forms (you can make your own if needed), and send them to the landlord. Fill out as many as needed. Make sure you keep a copy of each request!
NOTE: If you make a repair request in writing, the landlord can enter your home without notice for 7 days after your written request in order to make the repair. You have the right to restrict their access to your home to reasonable times. Put any restrictions in writing.
2) If you are not getting a response, write a letter to your landlord asking that they respond in writing to let you know when they will complete the repairs. Give them a deadline to respond (for example 10 days if non-essential). Send your letter with a certificate of mailing (this is a receipt that proves you mailed something)- NOT by certified mail (your landlord could refuse to sign that they received it). Keep a copy for your files.
3) Write a follow-up letter if you do not hear from the landlord. Shorten the deadline (to 5 days or less). State that you will pursue legal remedies under the law and/ or in the City of Portland (or your city if it has a building code). Again, get a certificate of mailing for the letter and keep a copy for your files.
4) If your repairs are still not completed, and if you live in a city that has a building code (see list below) an inspector will examine your unit and write up code violations. They will send a letter to your landlord and will fine her/him if they do not fix the problems within a certain amount of time. Most systems are complaint driven, so make sure to call back if 30 days pass, and again after 6 months, and before you move if the problem isn’t fixed. If your building had been cited before you moved in and your landlord rented it without fixing the problems, you may be entitled to two months rent or twice the actual damages. Keep a copy of the report for your files.
Cities with building codes are: Portland 503-823-2633, Gresham 503-618-2248, Beaverton 503-526-2270, Tigard 503-718-2441, Eugene 541-682-8282, Salem 503-588-6241, Corvallis 541-766-6944, Monmouth 503-751-0138 and Tualatin 503-691-4822
5) You can ask/sue for reduced rental value. Continue reading for more details.
6) If you are still having repair problems, you can contact an attorney who can assist you in taking further action.
NOTE: CAT does not recommend withholding rent or deducting repair costs from rent as a means to getting repairs done, unless you are represented by an attorney. Both actions are risky and complicated and might leave you vulnerable to eviction for non-payment of rent. An attorney can also talk to you about collecting money for the time your place was not in good repair.
TALK TO YOUR NEIGHBORS. Often repairs are needed in many units. If tenants advocate together for repairs to get done, it is harder for your landlord to ignore requests, or to single a tenant out for retaliation. You can also write your repair letters together.
Does my landlord have to make repairs?
Yes. According to ORS 90.320 the landlord must keep your place and the common areas in good repair. This means that the unit must not substantially lack the following:
Effective waterproofing and weather protection
Plumbing facilities maintained in good working order
Hot and cold running water connected to a sewage system
Safe drinking water
Smoke detectors installed and working when you move in (but tenants must test the detectors every 6 months, replace batteries when needed, and give the landlord written notice if the detectors are broken)
Safety from fire hazards
Appliances and air conditioning in working order if they are provided by the landlord
Working keys, locks, and window latches
No garbage, rodents, or cockroaches in your place or common areas around the building when you move in or throughout the tenancy
Garbage containers and garbage service, unless you agree otherwise in writing or unless there is a local ordinance that does not require this
Adequate plumbing, heating and electrical equipment kept in good working order
Walls, floors, ceilings, stairways, and railings in good repair
DOCUMENT! It is illegal for the landlord to retaliate or try to get back at you for standing up for your rights. Retaliation can be difficult to prove, so documentation is so important. Create a log to document the problems with your home, the landlord’s response to your requests (if any), any verbal conversations, when the problem started, etc. Make sure to include dates and times where at all possible. Take photos and/or video of the problem if possible or use old photos that document the problem even if they were taken for some other reason. Ask a friend to look at the problem so they could be a witness if needed. Save copies of EVERYTHING you send to or get from the landlord.
Reduced rental value
Under Oregon law (ORS 90.320), landlords have to keep their rental units in good condition. In the City of Portland and some other cities in Oregon, there is also a city housing code that requires a building to be kept in good condition.
Tenants are entitled to reduced rental value for any time that the landlord was not in compliance with the law or the rental agreement UNLESS the landlord neither knew nor reasonably should have known of the problem and:
the tenant knew or reasonably should have known of the problem and didn’t tell the landlord…; or
the problem was caused by the tenant or a guest of the tenant.
Here are some steps you can take to try to get reduced rental value from your landlord:
Figure out how much less your apartment was worth each month because of your problem. Think about how much of your apartment you couldn’t use or had to use less than usual. What do you think is fair? You can ask for whatever portion seems to match how much less you could use your place.
Write a demand letter to the landlord. Keep a copy for your records! Keep the letter very professional and civil. Include in your letter the dates and times your problem was going on. Remember, if you end up having to sue your landlord, you will be showing this letter to a judge. You can include the Oregon statute number that allows for reduced rental value, which is ORS 90.360(2). (ORS stands for Oregon Revised Statutes). In the letter, ask your landlord to respond to you in writing within a certain number of days, for example 1 week or 10 days, whatever you think is reasonable.
If the landlord doesn’t respond, write a follow-up letter this time shortening the amount of time you give the landlord to respond. You can also include that if the landlord doesn’t respond, you will pursue further legal action. Remember keep a copy for your files.
If the landlord still doesn’t respond there are a couple of options. One is to get an attorney to write another follow-up letter. You can also file a suit in small claims court for the money.
Notes and Tips
DON’T WITHHOLD RENT unless you are being advised to do so by an attorney who has agreed to represent you in eviction court. Very often, a landlord will serve you with a 72-hour termination notice if you withhold rent. An option can be asking for reduced rental value.
PREPARE FOR COURT: If you do end up having to sue in small claims court, go down to the courthouse and watch a couple of cases. Judges can be unpredictable, even if it feels like you have a clear-cut case. Get a feel for the judges; what type of evidence is compelling to them and how to handle yourself in court. Landlords are often much more accustomed to small claims court that tenants are, so it is very important to be prepared. You can’t bring a lawyer to represent you in small claims court, but you can talk to one ahead of time to help you get organized and give you tips on how to navigate the system. You can also learn about small claims court by visiting www.osbar.org/public/legalinfo/1061.htm or calling 503-620-3000 or 800-452-4776, tape 1061
TALK TO YOUR NEIGHBORS. If tenants advocate together, it is harder for your landlord to ignore requests or to single a tenant out for retaliation. You can also write your demand letter together.
DOCUMENTATION. It is illegal for the landlord to retaliate or try to get back at you for standing up for your rights. While it is illegal, retaliation can be difficult to prove. This is why documentation is so important. Create a log or diary to document the problems with your home, the landlord’s response (if any), any verbal conversations, when the problem began etc. Make sure to include dates and time where at all possible. Take photos and/or video the problem if possible as well.
Need some templates to write your repairs request letters? We got you covered. Download and print our templates here. You’ll find them at the end of the handout.