A non-working toilet can be an extremely frustrating experience.
Over even a short period of time this can turn into a serious issue, especially if you don’t have access to another toilet in your home.
So it’s a completely legitimate question to ask how long your landlord has to fix your broken toilet.
In this article, I am going to answer that question.
I will also cover the legal landscape around this issue, some examples of how certain state and local laws have addressed it, and tips on what you can do if your landlord is not being responsive.
If you have don’t have the time to read through it all, here’s a short answer to the question:
Toilets are considered a key element of habitability, so landlords are generally obligated to fix them promptly. Most repairs need to happen within 30 days, but that timeframe can be as short as 3 to 7 days, depending on state and local laws, your specific lease terms, and the severity of the issue.
Ok, we’ve got a lot to cover, so let’s get into it.
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Is a Landlord Responsible For Fixing Toilets?
Before you even get into the question of how long a landlord has to fix a broken toilet, you must answer the more basic question of whether they are obligated to repair a malfunctioning toilet at all.
The good news is that landlords are usually responsible for repairing toilets because they are typically included as part of maintaining a habitable premises. This general obligation is outlined in the implied warranty of habitability, which we’ll cover in more detail below.
Implied Warranty of Habitability
What exactly is an implied warranty of habitability?
It sounds like a super fancy legal term, but simply stated, it’s your landlord’s promise that the rental property will be livable and safe, even if the lease agreement does not state so.
At a minimum, that means that the property must meet housing codes. Source.
As mentioned above, working toilets are commonly acknowledged as covered under the implied warranty of habitability because most housing codes require toilets that work. This means that landlords need to fix them if they stop working properly.
Note: I want to emphasize that there is an important exception to this general rule. A landlord may not be obligated to fix a toilet if the issue was due to a tenant’s improper actions.
So if they were improperly flushing or disposing of items which then caused the malfunction, the tenant will likely be held responsible for unclogging the toilet and putting it back in working condition.
Ok, so we know the basic underpinnings of why a landlord has a general obligation to fix the toilet, let’s turn to some of the key areas you need to look at to see what requirements apply in your specific situation.
Check Your Lease Agreement First
Whenever you have questions about your tenancy, it’s a good idea to consult your lease agreement first. It is after all, the main document governing your rental arrangement.
Indeed, your lease agreement may cover this specific scenario, so check it to see what it says. However, if it remains silent on the subject or does not appear to deal with the situation in a reasonable manner, you should also review your state and local laws.
This is because these laws can override conflicting provisions in your lease agreement. Furthermore, each state interprets the implied warranty of habitability differently (and some may not adopt it at all).
Your state and local laws are likely to be one of the most important factors in determining your landlord’s obligation to repair broken toilets, so you may want to do some research (or get a lawyer to help) to determine what applies in your situation.
For your convenience, here’s our 50 state reference table (including D.C.) that will link you to the official landlord tenant laws of your state.
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How Long Does a Landlord Have to Fix Sewage Backup?
Ok, here’s where the rubber meets the road.
Many states impose on landlords a responsibility to make needed repairs within a “reasonable amount of time”.
A reasonable amount of time varies depending on where you live, but it’s usually around 30 days, with many states emphasizing that a reasonable time may vary depending on specific circumstances.
Furthermore, depending on the severity of the issue, some states and municipalities use different timeframes. New York City, for example, has Class A, Class B, and Class C violations, each with a different repair period based on how dangerous the condition is to human health. Source.
Some states, such as Texas, presume that 7 days is reasonable for fixing issues like this (i.e., that affect a tenant’s health and safety), though a landlord can challenge that presumption based on factors such as the severity and nature of the condition, as well as the reasonable availability of materials, labor, and utilities from a utility company. Source.
Some of the factors that may come into play when determining severity include whether reasonably alternative toilet options are available (or have been provided by the landlord) and the nature of the malfunction.
For example, a toilet that is not working at all or (one that involves a sewage back up situation) is far more serious than a toilet that has weak flow and requires multiple flushes to work or requires some jiggering around with the handle or other part to make it operate.
What Can I Do If My Landlord is Not Responding Promptly?
The first thing you want to do is contact your landlord to find out the cause of the delay. Maybe they are working diligently to fix it, but there are plumber availability issues or other legitimate reasons for the delay.
If you have contacted your landlord in writing, described the problem, and requested a prompt fix, but they have simply ignored you (or they are not working diligently to fix the issue), then you have a number of options you can pursue.
Report the Violation to Your Local Housing Authority
When there are concerns about habitability, your local housing authority can investigate and order the landlord to repair the toilet.
If you don’t want to file a lawsuit or hire a lawyer, this may be a good option. Furthermore, they provide a public service, so you are not required to pay for their assistance.
Get Help From Your Local Tenants’ Rights Organization
Many tenants’ rights organizations are experts at assisting tenants with these types of issues and are likely to be familiar with the laws in your state and locality. If you don’t know where to begin, contacting them may be a good idea.
Repair and Deduct
Repair and deduct is a tenant law concept in which a tenant pays for repairs to essential facilities in the rental property and then deducts the cost from their monthly rent.
However, there are legal requirements that must be met before you can repair a rental property, and not every state allows it, so check your laws to see if it is available and, if so, what is required to do so.
You may also be able to withhold rent if your landlord fails to make necessary repairs involving habitability or similar conditions. Again, some states will permit this, while others may not.
You must first confirm that your state allows you to use any of these remedies, or you may face eviction for nonpayment of rent.
Abandon the Property
A tenant may also choose to abandon a rental unit if the problem is severe enough. Again, check your applicable laws to see if this is something you can do.
It’s a pretty dramatic response, though, so you should think carefully before you do this.
So there you have it – a comprehensive look at how long your landlord has to fix a broken toilet and some tips to help you respond to a landlord that is not taking this repair obligations seriously. Hope this has been helpful and happy renting!