OSPIRG's Renters Handbook:
The landlord has a responsibility to take care of all repairs that are
not made necessary by the tenant, or the tenant's guests or pets.
A. Landlord Rights & Responsibilities
The landlord must keep the rental habitable at all times. (90.320(1))
weatherproof and waterproof exterior, roof, walls, doors, and windows;
plumbing facilities in good working order;
and cold running water from an approved water supply connected to an
approved sewage system, and maintained in good working order;
drinking water if the water is under the landlord's control;
and approved heating facilities in good working order;
lighting, wiring, and equipment, approved and in good working order;
and sanitary buildings and grounds, free from accumulation of debris,
filth, rubbish, garbage, rodents and vermin, and safe for normal and
reasonable uses (these obligations only apply to common areas after the
tenant moves in)
garbage receptacles. It may be the tenant's responsibility to pay for
garbage collection if specified in the rental agreement.
Portland has strict rules on who must pay for garbage service and
recycling. (See Garbage/Recycling, page 27)
walls, ceilings, stairs and railings in good repair;
provided, ventilation or air conditioning, elevators, or other
facilities and appliances (washers, dryers, stoves, refrigerators,
etc.), in good working order;
from fire hazards;
smoke detectors with working batteries provided only at the beginning
of the tenancy (the tenant is responsible for testing the device inside
the unit, and the landlord is responsible for testing in common areas);
locks for all outside doors except doors to common areas, and keys to
locks that require keys;
latches for all windows that open (except common areas), unless fire or
safety regulations prohibit them.
Salem, Springfield, and Keizer have additional habitability standards.
Notify the Landlord of Needed Repairs
If something needs to be repaired, the tenant should first notify the
landlord. Although not required, it is a good idea to call the
landlord, and then follow-up with a request in writing.
In the letter, the tenant should specify what repair(s) needs to be
done and when would be a good time for the landlord to access the
premises to make the repair(s).
If the tenant requests repairs in writing, the landlord may enter the
unit without further notice. Unless the tenant's notice specifies
times, the landlord may enter at any reasonable time for up to 7 days
after the tenant's request to make the repairs. (90.322(c)) If someone
other than the landlord does the repairs, the person must provide the
tenant, upon the tenant's request, with written authority from the
landlord to make the repairs. (See Access, below)
A landlord may enter the tenant's dwelling to:
necessary or agreed repairs,decorations, alterations, or improvements;
necessary or agreed-upon services; or
the dwelling unit to prospective or actual purchasers, mortgagors,
tenants, workers, or contractors. (90.322)
Unless the landlord and the tenant agree otherwise, the landlord must
give the tenant at least 24 hours' written or verbal notice of intent
to enter the premises. This notice is required, except for emergencies,
for all repairs and maintenance work initiated by the landlord. He may
then enter at a reasonable time as agreed to by the tenant and the
The tenant may deny consent to entry. To do so, the tenant must give
written or verbal notice to the landlord denying entrance, or post it
on the front door of the dwelling. The tenant must, however, provide
reasonable access to the landlord. (See "Abuse of Access," page 32)
Legal Entry without Consent
The landlord may enter the rental without notice or consent in the
emergency, which includes a repair problem which must be repaired
immediately to avoid serious damage;
The landlord must provide written or verbal notice within 24 hours of
an emergency entry.
the tenant has requested repairs in writing;
the tenant has been absent for more than 7 days and entry is reasonably
to a legal order;
the tenant has abandoned or surrendered the premises; or
come onto the property in
order to serve a notice.
landlord shall not abuse the right to access or use it to harass the
tenant, nor shall the tenant unreasonably deny access to the landlord.
Abuse of Access
If the landlord makes an unlawful entry, a lawful entry in an
unreasonable manner, or an unlawful demand which harasses the tenant,
the tenant may obtain a court order or end the rental agreement. The
tenant can recover damages amounting to no less than one month's rent.
If the tenant unreasonably withholds access, the landlord may obtain an
injunction or terminate the rental agreement. The landlord may also
recover actual damages. (90.322(6))
D. Tenant Remedies for Lack of General Repairs (90.360)
The statute separates general maintenance into two categories: general
services and essential services.
If the landlord fails to repair a problem, the tenant may fall back on
the general remedies section of the Act. The general remedies provided
by 90.360 are damages and relief through a legal order (injunction)
which can be asserted by suing the landlord or defending against an
eviction. The tenant can also end the tenancy under this section.
Note: The Act's general provision for habitability remedies applies to
all material violations of the rental agreement (90.360(2)) as well as
to violations of the landlord's habitability obligations. However, the
tenant must prove that the landlord knew or should have known of the
problem(s) in the counterclaim. (90.370)
Tenants can choose to enforce either general remedies or essential
remedies, but not both. Choose the one which seems best given the
desired outcome, the risks being taken, and the strength of the case.
In many cases, reaching an agreement with the landlord will best solve
The three options available to tenants are:
"Fix or I Quit" - Tenant Termination for Cause
This remedy is applicable for breaking a long-term agreement before the
term is up. (90.360) Month-to-month tenants may terminate on 30-days
notice with or without a reason. (See Regular Terminations,
If the landlord has failed to live up to her part of the contract or
has violated the Landlord Obligations in a way that substantially
affects the value of the tenancy to the tenant, the tenant may:
deliver a written notice listing any and all breaches of the contract;
the notice may state that if the breaches are not cured within 30 days
(7 days in the case of essential services), then the
agreement will terminate at the end of that 30 days.
If the breach is fixed (by repair, payment of damages, etc.) before the
date specified in the notice, the agreement is not terminated.
If the same general problem recurs within 6 months, the tenant may
terminate the agreement upon 14 days written notice. The notice must
again specify the problem and the date of termination of the rental
Return of Deposits after Termination
If the agreement is terminated due to the landlord's breach, the tenant
is entitled to the return of all prepaid rent and deposits except for
the amount necessary to cover damages caused by the tenant.
Additionally, the tenant may sue to recover any damages (i.e., the
expense of moving, etc.).
2. Suits Against the Landlord
The tenant may recover damages and get a legal order (injunction) to
fix the problem.
Warning: Court costs and attorney fees may be charged to the losing
party, which could be the tenant initiating the claim.
This remedy may be the best tactic if the tenant can find a lawyer and
if the other remedies don t fit the case.
Often, the landlord will negotiate a settlement rather than face an
expensive court battle.
Typically, the case would include a detailed statement of everything
that is wrong with the rental situation (habitability, poor management,
etc.) and would ask for:
court order requiring the landlord to make repairs and fix the problems
according to a strict schedule;
which could include part or all of the rent which has already been
paid, the cost of repairs, any penalty provided by the Act, as well as
damages suffered by the tenant(s) for living under such conditions;
court order forbidding any evictions for any reason, unless the
eviction is approved by the court where the case is pending.
Defending Against An Eviction Action
The tenant's right to damages under 90.360 can be used as a defense
against an eviction action based upon nonpayment of rent. However, the
tenant must prove that the landlord knew of the habitability violations
before the eviction (i.e., a copy of a letter listing the violations
that is certified by the post office to have been sent). (90.370(1)(a))
The tenant may then counter-claim in an eviction action for damages and
injunctive relief for repairs.
If the tenant counterclaims, the court may require the tenant to pay
rent into court. The amount of the counter- claim is limited to the
jurisdictional limit of the court (i.e., $10,000 in District Court).
Tenants should have access to an attorney before taking steps in this
E. Tenant Remedies for Lack of Essential Services
The Act has special rules and remedies for getting repairs done for
essential services. However, the general remedies above may also be
applied to get essential services repaired.
Warning: Use these remedies with extreme caution and preferably with
the help of an attorney. Some attorneys say that the general remedies
are almost always a better choice because of the complexity and
limitations of the essential services remedies. You can't use both
remedies! A tenant who adopts one of these essential service remedies
cannot also end the rental agreement for that breach as under the
General Remedies (fix or I quit). (90.365(4))
The Essential Services
Originally, essential services were defined as:
the Act leaves the definition of "any essential service" (90.365(1))
fairly vague, and virtually any violation of the Landlord's Obligations
could be viewed as a lack of essential services. (See Landlord
Rights & Responsibilities, page 30)
For example, an ugly, unpainted stairway would not be an essential
service violation, but a dangerous or broken stair could be. What
qualifies is resolved case by case by the court.
Notify the Landlord
Tenants must notify the landlord in writing. Notice can be delivered
personally or sent by first class mail. In an emergency such as no heat
in the middle of winter, the statute would be satisfied by an attempted
telephone notice followed by written notice as soon as is possible.
Always write a letter to notify the landlord, even if you have already
Under the essential services remedies, the tenant must give the
landlord "reasonable notice" to enable the landlord to provide the
essential service. What qualifies as reasonable depends on the
For example, in the case of a faulty cooking appliance or refrigerator
supplied by the landlord, "reasonable notice" for one burner not
working would be much greater than reasonable notice for the whole
appliance not working. (90.365(3)(c))
Note: Under the essential services remedies, a tenant's rights do not
take effect until the tenant has notified the landlord, or has made a
serious attempt to do so in the case of an emergency.
The tenant loses his rights if he caused the damages. This could be
tricky in a case like frozen pipes. However, it does not relieve the
landlord from the responsibility of repairing the problem.
Prepare Some Proof
If you notify the landlord and he doesn't respond, call the housing,
fire and/or health inspectors when in doubt: anything they report could
be considered essential. However, not all code violations violate the
Act. For more information, try calling the city or county inspectors.
Write down everything that is wrong as it happens. You will need this
information for your letter to the landlord. Get it verified by a
friend, or better yet, by a housing or fire inspector. The inspector's
report will be sent to the landlord, but you must ask for a copy for
yourself. Other forms of evidence that you might use include photos,
repair estimates, receipts, and names of any repair persons involved.
If the landlord chooses to contest your claim that it was an essential
service or that she was negligent, this proof will be important. If
your problem is a real disaster and things happen too fast for you to
establish proof from the beginning, write down everything that happened
as soon as you can.
The remedies vary depending on whether the landlord is negligent,
grossly negligent, or willfully refusing to provide essential services.
Negligence -- Repair and Deduct
Negligence is the easiest to prove because the landlord has a duty to
maintain the premises. If the landlord negligently fails to repair any
cooking appliance or refrigerator that has been supplied; or fails to
supply any other essential service, the tenant may give notice and then
may have the necessary repairs made.
With the submission of receipts, the tenant may deduct the cost of
repairs, up to $500, from the rent.
The landlord may specify the party who is to do the work and the land-
lord and tenant may agree to a repair more costly than $500, but this
should be recorded in writing. ((90.365(3), and (7))
Gross Negligence or Deliberate Refusal
These could be difficult to prove without witnesses or documents
showing that the landlord knew of the problem but refused to do
anything. If written notice has been given and the landlord has failed
to fix the problem, the tenant has the following options:
temporary alternative forms of heat, water, electricity, or other
essential services and deduct the cost from the rent;
damages based on the reduced value of the rent;
into reasonable substitute housing and not pay rent on the original
dwelling until the services are restored. A tenant may also sue for the
cost of a comparably substitute housing, but not in excess of the rent
of the old unit; or
the work and submit
receipts up to $500.
Refusing to Provide Essential Services and Unlawful Ouster
If the landlord unlawfully locks out the tenant or willfully cuts off
any essential service, the tenant may recover up to two months rent or
twice the actual damages, whichever is greater. (90.375)
The tenant may also terminate the rental agreement at which time the
landlord must return all deposits and prepaid rent.
Note: Physical injury and emotional distress damages are also "actual
damages," and may be doubled when ORS 90.375 applies (See
<I>Damages for Physical & Emotional Distress,</I> page
Withholding Rent - Things to Consider
If you withhold rent, you risk being taken to court and evicted. It is
A landlord's violation of repair obligations may provide a tenant a
defense to the payment of rent or to an eviction based on nonpayment of
rent. (90.100(1), 90.125(2), 90.360(2), (90.370), 105.115(3)). This
means that a tenant can legally withhold rent as a part of enforcing
one of the above remedies (or enforcing a general provision -- see
The Agreement Can Include..., page 13, and The
Agreement Can't Include..., page 16.)
Warning: Withholding rent is not a frivolous step. The chance of ending
up in court is great, and an attorney should be consulted before
Step back from your case for a moment and objectively (from the
perspective of a property owner or a judge) decide if you look
credible. Ask yourself the following questions:
you acted in good faith, with honesty in fact in the conduct of the
it be clear to an outsider that justice is on your side?
do you need to do to show that you are not simply trying to
cheat the landlord?
If the landlord sues for the money deducted from the rent by the
tenant, then the tenant may counterclaim for any amount up to the limit
of the court in which the action is brought. (90.370) The counterclaim
is in addition to defending the action for rent or possession on the
same basis as outlined above.
OSPIRG Renter's Handbook Table of