What rights do you have to do something about unsafe
levels of lead or some other household danger? While laws vary greatly from place
to place, in general you have the right to a safe, healthy place to live. Federal,
state and local governments have laws intended to protect this right. Below are
some Healthy Homes Basics that are usually covered in law.
Healthy Home Basics
No unsafe levels of hazards: natural gas,
radon, carbon monoxide, mold, etc. (usually in local housing or health codes).
Lead warning: to be told, in advance,
if the property contains dangerous amounts of lead (under Federal law).
Basic electricity: including no hanging
wires (local housing codes)
Temperature control: at safe levels, working
furnace, fan/AC, ventilation, etc. (local housing codes).
Plumbing: working sinks, hot water, and
pipes that do not leak (local housing codes).
No rats or roaches (local housing or health
Trash removal (local housing or health
Weather protection: walls, floors and
ceilings without holes, leaks, cracks, or peeling paint (local housing codes)
Police protection: from neighbors or other
tenants who violate the law (fighting, noise, etc.)
Home security: smoke detectors, fire escapes,
locks, peepholes, etc. (local housing or fire codes)
No unlawful entry: including landlord
(landlord-tenant law or common law)
Speedy repair: of violations (landlord-tenant
law or common law)In many communities, you may have additional rights under
state or local tenant-landlord law, including remedies for bad conditions, privacy
protections, protection from landlord retaliation, protection for the right
to organize and/or protection from exorbitant rent increases.
In some areas, especially lower-income communities, these
rights may not clearly exist or are not easily enforced. The following is a
general list of steps to take to exercise the rights you do have and get your
housing problems addressed. (Note that variation in laws from place to place
may enhance or limit your ability to do some of these things. Become familiar
with your local laws.)
1. Find out if there is a violation. If
you have used the hazard
detection tools, you should have evidence of any violations. The
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) website also has information on testing
for various hazards, available in the individual sections of the site on each
hazard (for example, there are some notes on testing
for lead within the EPA's main lead
2. Notify the landlord of the problem.
Call or meet with the landlord.
Ask for repairs in a letter (keep a copy). (See the
Tenants Union of Washington State's collection of sample letters here;
scroll to the end of the page.)
5. Other options. In cases where the property
owner refuses to fix the problem, these are some further options to consider
(again, consult a lawyer):
Withhold rent (if local laws permit).
Repair the problem and deduct the cost from your rent (if local laws permit).
Break the lease and leave (if local laws permit).
Take it to court. Ask a tenant rights group or legal aid organization for
legal advice on going to court to seek repair orders against your landlord.
See “Tenant Defenders” below.
Seek a receivership (or administrator). If violations are serious and extensive
and if local laws permit, ask the court to appoint a receiver or administrator
to take day-to-day control of the property temporarily. Receivers usually
are given control of the rental income and sometimes may tap other resources
to make repairs.
You don’t have to fight for your safety alone. You
have the right to get help, and the good news is that there is probably a group
working for tenants rights in your area.
Find a group in your state. If you are not sure whom to contact, you can
call the Tenant’s
Union of Washington State; if they don’t have an answer,
they probably know whom to call.