How to Ask Landlord for Rental Repairs and Maintenance

Part of Tenant Right's Handbook

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How to Request a Repair Paying Rent During Repair Process Request Modifications for A Disability For Victims of Domestic Violence or Sexual Assault If Landlord Won't Make Repairs.... Common Questions

Your landlord and/or property manager is required to make repairs to your rental unit.

Everything supplied with the unit—including appliances such as a stove or refrigerator, toilets, showers, doors, windows, and other items—must work properly. 

Your landlord must also keep the unit free of unsafe conditions that pose an immediate danger to the health or safety of tenants. This includes operable locks, infestations, heating, and mold. 

Note that tenants are responsible for using due care in your use of the unit including appliances, toilets, and sinks. You will have to replace batteries in the smoke detector and the carbon monoxide detector. In general, your landlord may charge you reasonable costs for fixing anything that you, one of your guests, or a member of your household breaks.

How to Request a Repair

Notify the owner or property manager immediately if something doesn’t work or if it’s unsafe. 

Get it in writing

  • It’s best to make request in writing and to keep a copy for your records. 
  • Make sure to clearly explain the problem in your note to the landlord and follow it up as quickly as you can with a phone call.
  • Until the owner or landlord is notified of the problem, he or she is generally not responsible for fixing it.

Make sure to document

  • Make a note for your records of each time you contacted the owner or manager about the problem, what you said, and what they said. If there is a dispute later, having a written record of what happened will be valuable.

Allow for a "reasonable amount of time"

  • You need to allow the owner a reasonable amount of time to make the needed repair, except for emergency conditions.
  • The landlord must fix any of the “imminently dangerous” conditions also within a reasonable amount of time once they know of the condition. (What is considered a reasonable amount of time will depend on how bad it is.)
  • If repair isn't made in a reasonable amount of time you can call code enforcement, file a lawsuit or take other action. Learn more

Sample Repair Request Form 

Use this sample form to request a repair for your rental unit from your landlord or property owner. 

Paying Rent During Repair Process

If you do not make rental payments due under your lease, your landlord can declare you in violation of the lease and then seek to enforce his rights. If, however, he or she uses a legal eviction action—called “summary ejectment”—you may present the problems with the unit as part of your defense. 

Apply for Rent Rebate
The problems which he or she did not repair make the unit less valuable and you need to ask at the court hearing for a refund— called a “rent rebate”—for any rent that you have paid beyond what the unit was worth with its problems. 

What it was worth will be different in every case—based on how serious the problems are the size of the unit and other factors. You are entitled to explain to the Magistrate at the court hearing how much you think the unit was actually worth with its problems.

You may also: 

  • Claim reimbursement for any costs you have paid related to the repairs.
  • Ask the Magistrate to rule that the landlord’s failure to repair the unit was an “unfair and deceptive trade practice”—which would increase the value of your claim against the landlord.

Request Modifications for A Disability

If you or a member of your household has a disability that makes it impossible or very difficult for you to live at your unit, you may make reasonable modifications to the unit or to common areas.

To do so, however, you must first notify the owner of what you would like to change and, if the landlord requests it, you may be required to undo the modifications inside your unit after you move out. 

Some landlords or community groups will help you make modifications, such as a ramp over steps or grab bars in a bathroom. If you live in public or subsidized housing, modifications are to be made without charge to you.

For more information on your rights or to file a complaint about the landlord’s actions, you may contact the North Carolina Human Relations Commission or the Fair Housing Project of Legal Aid of North Carolina.

For Victims of Domestic Violence or Sexual Assault

You can request your landlord to change your locks. 

If the perpetrator lives with you: You must give your landlord a copy of your domestic violence protective order or other order that restrains the perpetrator from staying at the unit. The landlord then has 72 hours to change the locks or tell you that you may do so. If the landlord does neither of these things, you may then legally change the locks yourself after the 72 hour period has expired.

If the perpetrator does not live with you: You can request that the locks be changed and you do not have to supply any other documentation to the landlord. They are supposed to change the locks within 48 hours after receiving the request. If they don’t, then you may change the locks on your own. You must pay the costs of the lock change yourself and provide a key to the new locks to your landlord within 48 hours.


If Landlord Won't Make Repairs....

If a reasonable time has passed and the landlord has not made the repairs, you may need to consider:

  1. Calling City of Raleigh’s Code Enforcement Division of the Housing and Neighborhoods Department, who will determine if the landlord has violated the City’s minimum housing code. If so, the owner will receive a notice to make repairs. 
  2. Filing a lawsuit asking a court to require that the landlord make the repairs, or 
  3. Paying for the repairs yourself. If you pay for the repairs, get written proof of what was done, when and by whom (invoices are the best), copies of any permits, and receipts for any money you paid including payments to contractors or for supplies). Keep the originals, but submit a copy of these bills to the owner or manager and ask them to pay you back in cash or give you a credit on next month’s rent. You may also report the problems to the City of Raleigh’s Code Enforcement Division of the Housing and Neighborhoods Department.

File A Claim

You may choose to take the landlord to court for his or her failure to make needed repairs in a reasonable time frame. In a case you file against them, you can ask for the same things—reimbursement for rent you have paid beyond the actual rental value and repair costs. 

The easiest way to file an action against your landlord is to sue him or her in Wake County Small Claims Court. In Small Claims Court, monetary damages as high as $10,000 may be awarded. 

Step 1: To file such an action, go to the office of the Wake County Clerk of Superior Court, Civil Division, at the Wake County Courthouse.

Step 2:  Ask for and fill out three copies of these forms, which are provided, free of charge:

  • Summons;
  • Complaint for Money Owed; and 
  • Petition to Sue/Appeal as an Indigent. If the court clerk approves the request made on your Petition form, you will not need to pay any court filing fee, which is currently $96, or the service fee, which is currently $30.

Step 3: Once these forms are filled out, you will then give the copies to the court clerk who will give you a date for your court hearing. 

If you need additional advice, you may contact your local Legal Aid office. Be sure to bring as much proof as you can—witnesses, photographs, an inspection report if you have one, and repair receipts—to the court hearing so the magistrate can understand what happened.

Common Questions

Below, are some replies to common questions about requesting a repair to your rental unit. 

Can I be evicted for complaining?

No, you cannot. North Carolina law protects your right as a tenant to complain about conditions at your unit—to your landlord or to a government agency. If your landlord tries to evict you for making a complaint, explain to the magistrate at the eviction hearing that this eviction is in “retaliation” for your complaint, and ask them to dismiss the eviction.

What does the City’s Housing Inspector do when you file a repair complaint against a landlord?

The City will send a Housing Inspector to your unit, and they will determine if the landlord has violated the City’s minimum housing code. If they have, the inspector will send the landlord a notice to make the repairs.

The inspector is required to allow the property owner a period of time to make the repair and to provide the property owner due process. If the repairs can be made at a reasonable cost (50% or less), the owner can choose to make the repairs or vacate and close the property; if the repairs cannot be made at a cost of 50% or less, the owner can make the repairs or demolish the property.

No person may live in a house that has been determined to be Unfit or Unsafe. If this happens, you will need to move, but you cannot be held legally liable for any rent after the date the unit has been ordered closed. You will not be able to move back to the property until there is a “Certificate of Compliance” issued saying it is safe. Finally, consider prosecuting your own legal action against the landlord, by seeking a “rent rebate.”

What is considered a “fit and habitable unit”?

The unit you rent must be a sanitary and safe place to live according to state and local definitions.

Among these requirements are:

  • having a properly working toilet; 
  • safe electrical wiring; 
  • a smoke detector;
  • a carbon monoxide detector (required for units having a fossil-fuel burning heater or appliance, fireplace, or an attached garage);
  • stair rails; and 
  • heating facilities capable of heating living areas to 65 degrees Fahrenheit when it is 20 degrees Fahrenheit outside from November 1 through March 31, and other requirements. 

Find out more from the City of Raleigh’s Code Enforcement Division of the Housing and Neighborhoods Department. 

Housing and Neighborhoods
Service Categories:
Affordable Housing
Board, Commission or Committee:
Fair Housing Hearing Board
Related Services:
Tenants' Rights Handbook