All tenants have the right to a habitable and safe residence according to uniform building code laws established by the International Building Code. When health code violations become an issue, regardless of the type of rental unit or terms of the lease, the tenant may pursue their protected rights by taking several steps to address the problems.
The New York City Department of Housing uses a typical method of officially responding to health code violations. According to the Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) website, apartment tenants can report emergency violations to the HPD code enforcement office, which in turn sends an investigator to inspect the property in question. If there are health code violations, the office will cite the owner of the building and instruct them to make necessary repairs. If the repairs are not made, the city will make the repairs at the owner's expense. Non-emergency violations will require the tenants to initiate legal action to obtain a court order for repairs.
Specific Health Code Violations
There are many environmental conditions that fall under the category of health code violations. The State Sanitary Code of Massachusetts specifies a list of health standards that must be met by property management. These requirements include providing heat during cold months, a pest-free environment, hot (running) water of sufficient temperature and pressure, adequate cooking facilities, snow removal for safe egress, and structural integrity against storm conditions and moisture intrusion.
Landlord Obligations to Comply
Building codes that apply to multiple-tenant housing require property management to provide trash removal, hire contractors to maintain water and electrical systems along with pest control and HVAC maintenance, and make structural repairs to ensure tenants of a safe and sanitary residence. Health code violations are in this category, and a landlord can be cited as a result of tenant complaints regarding unsanitary living conditions.
Although the regulations involving tenant rights to remedy are not uniform in every state, health code violations can be reported to authorities by filing official complaints to a state housing authority or the code enforcement office within that jurisdiction. They will require documentation, such as photographic evidence, repair requests or repair contractor estimates, medical records of the effects of the violation in question, and any other record of reported health hazards or complaints with appropriate authorities.
Key Obligations for Filing Tenant Complaints
Tenants who submit official complaints, or who seek avenues of relief through legal action in civil court, are obligated to know the deadlines for filing causes and the procedures for doing so. Magistrate courts and justice courts mandate certain timelines for either the filing process or the procedures for trying the case, including court appearance schedules and paying all filing fees or submitting inability-to-pay affidavits in a timely manner.