News 2 I-Team: Understanding renters’ rights

After her husband’s death, Lesa Chisolm was forced to find a new apartment. But moving into a new place has come with challenges she didn’t expect. Paint is chipping off the walls.  The carpet is dirty.  The counter top is separating from the bathroom wall.

“When will I be able to grieve,” she asked aloud while speaking to the News 2 I-Team about her rental troubles.

Since contacting the complex office, the carpet in her living room has been replaced. But there is still old, dirty carpet in the hall and bedroom of her home.  Frustrated after living with the problems from two months, Chisolm called the News 2 I-Team.

It's one of the questions The I-Team gets most often: What are my rights as a renter?

A "fit and habitable" condition

“Landlords and tenants are protected under state law,” Patrick Arnold, Charleston Trident Realtor's Association, says.  The law requires homes to be habitable, but he cautions renters to manager their expectations of what that means.

“They may not be required to fix things that are cosmetic in nature,” he explained.

Under state law, landlords must provide running, hot water and heat. Electric, gas, plumbing, sanitation, and ventilation are also requirements in a rental unit.  Appliances, including elevators must also be kept in working condition. Air conditioning is only required if there is a system already in place.

Under the law, landlords must make all repairs and do whatever is reasonably necessary to put and keep the premises in a "fit and habitable" condition.

As for what "fit and habitable" actually means, local attorney John Harrell told the I-Team the case law on the topic is surprising unclear, and there is no real statutory definition. However, he said units must meet building and fire codes.

Repairs must start within two weeks of the request.

For Chisolm, who’s paying her rent on time, that’s too long.

“They are working on their time. I need them working on my time,” she said.

Seeking a resolution

In some cases renters can work out a deal with a landlord to fix the problems themselves and deduct the cost from rent, but those terms must be agreed to ahead of any work being performed.

Your best bet for getting something fixed is documenting the problem with pictures or video, and you should contact your landlord in writing.

If you can't get a resolution that way, you can file a complaint with the Department of Consumer Affairs, HUD, or even your local code enforcement office.    The Charleston Trident Urban League will also help investigate and resolve rental problems.

The I-Team reached out to the apartment complex multiple times. They haven't responded to requests for an interview or statement.  They have been in contact with Chisolm about addressing her complaints.

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