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Q. My furnace doesn’t work/window doesn’t open/faucet leaks. How can I get my landlord to fix it?

A. There’s no simple answer to this question. Pennsylvania common law requires the landlord to provide you with a “habitable” place to live and to make needed repairs in a “reasonable” amount of time. Clearly the landlord must remedy, in a timely manner, conditions that adversely affect your health and safety. If the furnace doesn’t work and it’s the middle of winter, it’s pretty obvious that the landlord is required to remedy the problem as soon as possible. However, getting the landlord to repair a leaky faucet is another matter.

When you rent a new apartment, you should inspect it with your landlord (or landlord’s agent) and note everything that needs to be repaired. Put the list in writing, along with a statement that the landlord will make the repairs, and have your landlord (or agent) sign it. This will provide evidence that the landlord promised to make the repairs and also prevent the landlord from blaming you for damage caused by the previous tenant.

The first thing you should do if you have a problem is to notify your landlord and ask him to fix it. Keep a record of your request in case you have problems later on. If your landlord doesn’t respond, write a letter asking him to fix it within a certain period of time.

Allegheny County Health Department. If you have a serious problem such as a furnace that doesn’t work, leaking sewage, rodent infestation, or something similar, and the landlord does not fix it in a reasonable amount of time, you can enlist the help of the Allegheny County Health Department (412-350-4046). This is the government agency that enforces the local housing code. They can inspect your apartment to determine if there are any health code violations and order you landlord to fix such violations, if necessary. You can also utilize their Rent Withholding Program, a program that allows you to deposit your rental payments into an escrow account, instead of paying the landlord, in an effort to force the landlord to fix the problem.

Allegheny County Health Department Regulations

Although people may advise you to make the needed repairs and deduct the amount from your rent, or to withhold your rent and place it in an escrow account, you should consult an attorney before doing so, unless you are withholding rent in conjunction with the Allegheny County Health Department Rent Withholding Program. If you can't afford an attorney, you can obtain low-cost legal assistance from the: Allegheny County Bar Association Lawyer Referral Service