Hopefully, letting your landlord know that repairs are needed will be enough to get them done. But, we all know that sometimes things don’t happen the way they're supposed to. That's why we hope for the best, but plan for the worst!
With that in mind, it's a good idea to start getting together anything that you might be able to use as evidence in court if it comes to that.
Here are some things you may want to consider:
Pictures or video of the problems you are having can be very useful.
Cell phones can take very good pictures or video, but make sure that the lighting is good and that the pictures clearly show what the problems are.
Take lots of pictures. Sometimes pictures don’t look as good once they’re printed out (and you’ll need to print copies to give to the judge).
Videos can be useful for things like leaking pipes or roofs or when there are electrical problems like the lights flickering. You’ll have to figure out a way to copy the video onto a disc to be able to use it in court, so you may want to look into that sooner rather than later.
You might want to call code enforcement or the building inspector.
Most cities and counties have code enforcement or building inspection departments and some will send out an inspector if a tenant makes a complaint. Usually, these departments have the power to fine the landlord or condemn the property if things are bad enough.
If you end up going to court, you may be able to get the building inspector to testify as a witness in your case. This can be very helpful if they found serious problems for a couple of reasons. First, they often have training or experience which allows them to give their opinion in court. Second, a judge may see them as more believable because they are not a party to the case.
But, there are some things you should think about before calling code enforcement. If the problems with your home are very serious and your health or safety may be in danger, code enforcement may decide that they need to condemn the home. If a home is condemned, no one can legally live there and you may end up having to move on short notice. Code enforcement will often work with people in this situation, but their job is to make sure that people are not living in unsafe homes. You probably still have legal claims against your landlord if this happens, but it is something to consider. You may want to call and talk with code enforcement about how the process works if they find serious problems before you have them out to inspect.
Pictures sometimes make the best witnesses, but there are times when you need someone to come and testify about the problems with the home. For example, sometimes you can’t get good pictures of a problem or you weren’t there to see the problem, but someone else was.
You (and anyone you want to have testify for you) should know that you generally can’t use a written statement in court, even if it’s notarized. You will need to bring the witness with you to testify, so it’s a good idea to talk with them about that possibility early on.
Your friends or family can be witnesses, but a witness that’s very close to you might be seen as being biased in your favor. Try to make sure that any witnesses you want to bring can speak well and clearly about what happened. Most importantly, make sure they know they have to tell the truth!