Monday, July 27, 2015 | 2 a.m.
You scoured apartment guides and drove circles around the city trying to find the perfect place to call home.
Finally, you found it, signed on the dotted line and locked yourself into a year lease.
It seemed perfect — until the band of cockroaches appeared. Or you found mold behind the toilet. Or the air conditioning went out amid a heat wave.
Ah, the joys of being a renter. But take a deep breath. As a tenant, you have rights.
By law, your apartment or rental home must be kept safe and in a condition that provides reasonable comfort for the average person, meaning it has running water, working toilets and bathing facilities, heating, electricity and other requirements. Rental properties that violate housing and health codes are not considered habitable, and your landlord must make repairs.
How do you go about getting him or her to do so? The Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada suggests following these steps.
1. Determine if your problem is essential or nonessential.
Problems considered essential include not having heat, air conditioning, running water, hot water, electricity, gas or a functioning door lock. Nevada law requires landlords to fix these issues or make satisfactory progress toward doing so within 48 hours, not including weekends or legal holidays.
If your problem is nonessential, such as an infestation, mold or general maintenance issue, your landlord has 14 days to fix the problem or make satisfactory progress.
Tenants have no right to take action against a landlord, either for essential or nonessential repairs, if the problem was caused deliberately or negligently by the tenant, a member of the tenant’s household or someone else on the property with the tenant’s consent.
2. Give your landlord written notice of the problem.
Telling your landlord about a problem or submitting a work order is not enough. Instead, tenants should give the landlord written notice of the problem because it creates proof you asked for something to be repaired; otherwise, you might not be able to assert your rights under Nevada law.
Keep a copy of the notice and send it by certified mail with a return receipt requested.
3. Be patient. Give your landlord time to make the repairs in the time required.
If it's essential, your landlord has 48 hours to properly address the problem.
4. If the required time frame has passed and your landlord hasn’t made the repairs or tried to make the repairs, it’s time to assert your rights.
Depending on whether the problem is considered essential or nonessential, you have different options.
■ Hire someone yourself to fix the problem and deduct the cost from the rent.
■ Withhold rent without incurring late fees or other charges.
Note: If you were not up to date on rent payments prior to submitting written notice, you cannot withhold rent.
■ Find other housing and stop paying rent until the problem is fixed.
■ Sue the landlord for cost of repairs.
■ Terminate the lease and move out.
■ Withhold rent and pay it into a court escrow account.
■ Pay for the repairs and deduct the amount from rent.
Note: The maximum amount that can be deducted is one month’s rent. The landlord must be provided an itemized statement.
■ Sue the landlord for money or request a court order requiring the repairs.
5. See how your landlord reacts to the steps you’ve taken.
If the landlord makes the repairs, celebrate. Your problem is solved!
Your landlord might give you an eviction notice based on your actions.
Note: Landlords cannot raise rent, refuse to renew a lease or evict you because you complained about a habitability problem. That would be considered illegal retaliation under Nevada law.
If you receive an eviction notice, you must file an answer or affidavit with the court in response. It will tell the judge you took legal actions because your landlord failed to fix an essential problem or maintain the property in a habitable manner.
Once you’ve filed your paperwork, the judge will rule whether the eviction is legal.
County hotline offers free advice
Clark County landlord/tenant hotline 702-759-0697
When disgruntled tenants call the Clark County landlord/tenant hotline, their top complaints are about mold, maintenance issues, cockroaches, bed bugs and heating or air conditioning failures.
“Generally, very few will say they are the cause of the problem,” said Mackenzie Burns, the hotline’s program manager.
The Southern Nevada Health District started the hotline in 2011, but UNLV researchers took over management of it two years ago after receiving a federal grant to study its effectiveness. The Health District and UNLV don’t have jurisdiction over rental properties, so the hotline is merely a way for landlords and tenants to get advice about problems.
Of the 10 to 20 calls the hotline receives each day, about half are considered legitimate problems, Burns said.
“We advise them about current Nevada laws and what to do to proceed,” she said.
Hotline staff also contact tenants and landlords a month or two after the initial call to see if progress was made.
The UNLV researchers expect to finish their study of the hotline in May 2016.