LAURENE H. YOUNG, (B) MPM, RMP, REALTOR
Young Hawaii Homes, Inc.
2011 President, Oahu Chapter
National Association of Residential Property Managers
Q. I live in a duplex. The landlord has failed to maintain the roof and, as a result, the ceiling in one corner of my bedroom leaks when it rains. The landlord says he can’t do anything because the owner of the other side of the duplex refuses to fix the roof and he can’t just do half the roof. What can I do?
A. When duplex (or condominium) owners purchase their units, they normally have agreements that are made part of their deeds. These agreements spell out their responsibilities when repairs to shared elements (like the roof or driveway) are required.
They should also detail the percentage that each owner must pay. If one owner fails to abide by these agreements, it can be very costly for the other owner. It could lead to lost rent and further damage to their property. Owners should speak with their attorneys to discuss their options to get the problems resolved.
Roof leaks can be very tricky. Even if they re-roof your half of the house, roofers cannot guarantee that this will solve the problem and that the leak will not recur somewhere else. As a result, they will usually not do that job. However, landlords are still required to keep the premises in a habitable condition.
There are a couple of things you can do if the landlord cannot fix the roof. You could just live with it, if you love your home, and the leak is very minor and causes you no problems. This may give the landlord a little more time to deal with the other owner. Perhaps they need time to come up with the money to do the roof repair.
If the leak is more major, Section 521-65 of the Landlord Tenant Code gives the tenant more remedies. The tenant may “Immediately quit the premises and notify the landlord of the tenant’s election to quit within one week after quitting, in which case the rental agreement shall terminate as of the date of quitting, but if the tenant fails to notify the landlord of the tenant’s election to quit, the tenant shall be liable for rent accruing to the date of the landlord’s actual knowledge of the tenant’s quitting or impossibility of further occupancy…” So, say there is a huge rainstorm on the 7th and the leak caused your bedroom to flood and you decide to vacate the unit on the 8th, you only have to pay rent until the 8th. However, if you didn’t notify your landlord until the 17th, you would have to pay rent until the 17th or until the landlord had actual knowledge that you left or that the house was uninhabitable.
Another remedy might depend on the size of your home and the severity of the leak and/or any mold issues. Section 521-65 (2) says “If continued occupancy is otherwise lawful, tenant may vacate any part of the premises rendered unusable by the fire or other casualty, in which case the tenant’s liability for rent shall be no more than the fair rental value of that part of the premises which the tenant continues to use and occupy.” So, as long as the house is still safe and you are comfortable without the use of that additional room, you could renegotiate the rent and still stay in your home. But, I would monitor the room constantly to check that the leak does not get any worse and any mold issues do not get out of control.
Hopefully you have renters’ insurance that will help pay part or all of your losses due to the leak. Not only will it cover the damages to your belongings, it will help with living expenses if your unit is deemed uninhabitable. All tenants should speak with their insurance agent and read their policy carefully before moving into their rental unit.