How to Report a Landlord for Unsafe Living Conditions

Last Updated: March 4, 2024 by Roberto Valenzuela

See how to report unsafe living conditions in each state, including verifying the issue, requesting repairs, identifying the proper authorities, and submitting the complaint with proper documentation.

Verify the Issue

Before reporting, the tenant must verify the issue qualifies for a report. Many lesser problems with a property do not qualify. The tenant must resolve these lesser issues through the terms of the lease, or even in small claims court.

Only major health and safety issues qualify as conditions to report. In general, to report a problem, it has to violate the state or local warranty of habitability. These common issues almost always qualify for a report:

  • Rodent or insect infestation
  • Exterior doors that can’t properly be secured or locked
  • Exposed wiring
  • Mold or other severe sanitation issues
  • Lead paint hazards
  • Essential utilities which don’t work (electricity, plumbing, heating)
  • Structural issues which create a safety hazard (collapsing ceiling, holes in stairs, etc.)
  • Other issues considered essential by a state or local housing code
Tenants are almost always responsible for issues they cause, either directly or through lack of care. Even when the law requires the landlord to repair issues caused by tenants, tenants will be liable for all costs.

Request Repairs

Government authorities won’t act before the landlord has a proper chance to fix the issue. In about two-thirds of U.S. states, only written notice on paper triggers the landlord’s legal requirement to act, even if a landlord may respond to a call or email.

Even where written notice isn’t a legal requirement, it is still the gold standard in terms of proving a request later on. This map shows which states do and do not require written notice for a repair request:

An effective repair request will contain at least the following information:

  • Tenant’s name and property address
  • Detailed description of the issue (ideally including photographs)
  • Explanation of why the issue is a problem for health or safety
  • A specific proposal for a solution (e.g., a change of locks, a replacement of a fixture, etc.)
  • A request for action within the specific legally allowed amount of time (usually 1-4 weeks)

After delivering a repair request and retaining a copy for personal records, the tenant must wait for the required time. If the landlord hasn’t fixed the issue, the tenant can then file a report.

In a few states, landlords can in limited cases refuse to make necessary repairs.

Determine the Correct Local Authority

Reports about unsafe living conditions must go to the proper local authority. In most cases, this is the code compliance / enforcement division or health department. Large cities often also allow reporting through the local 311 service. Smaller cities may instead use the building inspector or (in very small cities) the city hall.

A call to the city hall’s reception or information desk will direct a tenant, in case of uncertainty.

Submit a Report with Proper Documentation

The tenant must file a report after determining the correct authority for the issue. The report must describe the problem well enough to justify action. This means a detailed description with proper documentation, in most cases.

Reporting online often is possible, which will specify requirements for a report in that particular system. Online or not, a report will require the following minimum information:

  • Tenant’s name and contact information
  • The address of the premises (ideally including contact information for the landlord)
  • A detailed written description of the issue
When filing a report, always make a copy for personal use, and consider notifying the landlord.

The following information often isn’t required, but enables a faster and more effective response:

  • Timeline of when the problem began and how it has persisted
  • Details of the repair request and the landlord’s response (if any)
  • Photographic evidence of the issue
  • Documents related to the problem (e.g., reports or estimates from a pest control company, etc.)
  • Current date and tenant’s signature (if submitting a report on paper)

After Reporting

After receiving a complaint, the local authority will send an officer to inspect. The officer will cite the landlord for any health and safety violations. The landlord must fix cited issues within the specified time or face a fine. In severe cases, the local government might condemn the property.

Landlords often react negatively to being reported. Almost all states protect tenants against landlord retaliation related to filing a report.

A renter’s rights to repairs are not limited to filing a report, depending on the jurisdiction and the issue. If a landlord fails or refuses to make repairs, a tenant may have one or more of the following options: