Under current law, the landlord owes the tenant the duty to keep and maintain the property in a safe and habitable condition and is responsible for making all major repairs to the property. Furthermore, there are housing codes that require every landlord to provide "the basics": hot & cold running water, a roof that doesn't leak, safe wiring, and the like. The landlord must provide habitable premises when you move in and make repairs to these basics as they are needed.
In addition, communities have health codes that require property owners (including landlords) to keep their premises free of rats, mice, and other vermin. And there will probably be a fire code that requires a landlord to keep the place free of flammable materials and dangerous wiring.
And finally, don't forget your lease or rental agreement. If the landlord promised to repair or maintain something - even if it is not a "basic" - he must keep his promise. Thus, if the lease requires him to paint the rooms periodically, to clean the swimming pool, or to provide a doorman, he must do this.
If the landlord failed to repair something that is "basic" - like fixing a leaking roof - you might call the city or county housing code inspection agency. It's their job to make sure that landlords obey the local housing code.
If you have rats, mice, or the like, call the city or county health department. Generally, they act quicker than the housing inspector, because they don't want anyone to become sick and they don't want the problem to spread to other dwellings.
There is one problem with using these remedies: you are dependent on government agencies to solve the problem. Some agencies are under-staffed, under-funded, or under-competent (and sometimes even under-honest). You might have to wait a long time for a housing inspector to force the landlord to fix the roof. It would be nice if you have some way to put pressure on the landlord by yourself. In many states, you do, through "repair and deduct" laws and through the "implied warranty of habitability".
Depending on where you live, you might have the right to "repair and deduct." This means that you may pay to have the
repairs made yourself and then deduct the cost from your next rental payment. This might work for minor repairs that don't cost much, but it's not the best way to deal with an expensive project like replacing a roof.
The "implied warranty of habitability"
Many states have adopted a legal doctrine called "the implied warranty of habitability". Under this doctrine, if the landlord fails to provide any of the "basics" required by the housing or health codes, the tenant may simply stop paying rent until the landlord makes the necessary repairs. If the landlord sues to evict the tenant for nonpayment of rent, you may invoke the landlord's breach of the implied warranty as an "affirmative defense". If you prove the breach, the court might set a "reasonable rent" that is lower than the rent you agreed to pay. If you pay that lower rent, then you might defeat the eviction lawsuit.
But be careful before you start a "rent strike". Stopping your rent payments is risky, because if you fail to prove your implied warranty defense, you might be evicted. It might be safer to pay the rent and sue the landlord for breach of the implied warranty.
If you are thinking about using the implied warranty of habitability, the safest course is to get a lawyer's advice. This stuff is tricky, and a wrong move can find you sitting in the street.
For more information on tenant’s rights, lock-out liability, limits on rent, and eviction visit GotTrouble.com