(WSPA) – In the Carolinas and across the country, apartment vacancies are at historic lows, fueling rising rent.
As if that weren’t the only problem facing tenants, 7NEWS has been getting a number of complaints into our newsroom about landlords who fail to make timely repairs.
Therefore we looked into what you need to know in this 7NEWS Consumer Exclusive: Renters do have rights.
Jalesa Peeler in Spartanburg said an ongoing ceiling leak forced her to send her daughter to live with her mother months ago.
“My box spring was flooded with water, so I had to throw that out. It’s been so much stuff that I have had to throw out of my house just because of water leaks like it’s terrible in here,” Peeler said.
Peeler showed us the email she sent in February to property managers asking for help. You may think that is proper notice.
WHY CALLS AND EMAILS MAY NOT WORK
But 7NEWS learned renters must notify the landlord in the exact way specified in the lease.
In section 30 of her lease, it said notice must be via “certified mail.”
Since Peeler never did that, 7NEWS is not naming her apartment complex, but her story shows the importance of knowing your rights as a renter.
By state law, tenants cannot pay for repairs and deduct that from rent. However, that doesn’t mean they don’t have any alternative.
KNOW YOUR RIGHTS
Attorney James Craven said under the South Carolina Landlord Tenant Act, renters have a right to essential services like plumbing, electricity and hot water. Craven said the key to exercising those rights is documentation.
“If you can’t track down a paper trail it’s hard to prove you did the right thing,” Craven said.
HOW TO PROPERLY REPORT PROBLEMS
Renters should follow these steps:
- take pictures and a written log of the problem
- provide notice in the manner detailed in your lease
- give your landlord at least two weeks to a month to make repairs
STILL NO RESPONSE? HERE ARE THREE OPTIONS
If nothing is done within a reasonable time, you have the right to choose several actions.
- First, you can take your landlord to magistrate court.
You do not need an attorney. It costs around $80 to file and your county office can often help you with the paperwork.
By law, landlords cannot retaliate against a renter for doing what is within their rights, like requesting a repair.
That means a landlord cannot evict you, increase your rent mid-lease or refuse to make the repair.
- Second, you could move out and sue your landlord for expenses.
“If you’ve got to get a new place and charge them for it, you have that right,” Craven said.
He said under those circumstances you could sue the landlord for not just moving expenses, but your rent and your safety deposit.
“It’s a very extreme remedy and it might not always be granted, but it is one that’s available,” Craven said.
- However, let’s say you want to stay, like Gladys Hutchinson, across town.
Hutchinson said she told her apartment management about her broken toilet, but three weeks went by with no fix.
“I would leave my house and try to make it to the Beacon or make it to the QT. Sometimes I made it and sometimes I didn’t,” Hutchinson said.
She got on the phone determined to find help and was directed to the Spartanburg Fire Marshall.
That’s one of several agencies, including Housing Services, Building Officials and Environmental Services, that can step in to help, as long as you’ve already taken the proper steps to notify.
“I don’t know what he said to the people in the rent office, in 5 minutes, the lady that calls herself the manager came and unstopped my bathroom, sure did,” Hutchinson said.
Meanwhile, Peeler is still waiting for her roof to get repaired. Her hope now is to find a new place as quickly as possible.