I strongly suggest you contact legal counsil because they know the state laws for whatever state you live in regarding "slum lord" type landloards. I found a website that may shed some light until you can contact an attorney: http://www.tenant.net/Other_Areas/Calif/misc/tenant.html
(It's for california, but I don't forsee much difference in the laws)
4. IF REPAIRS ARE NEEDED, WHAT SHOULD I DO?
An important court decision states that in each rental agreement
there is an implied warranty of "habitability" (i.e., a landlord must
put a building unto a condition fit for human occupancy). You cannot
sign away your right to this warranty of habitability. (Green v.
Superior Court (1974) 111 Cal Reptr. 704)
A landlord must repair all problems which fall under his/her
minimum obligations, unless the damages were caused by your lack
of care. A landlord's minimum obligations include that:
1. There are no leaks when it rains, and no broken doors or
2. The plumbing has to work, including hot and cold water, and
there must be a working sewer or septic tank connection.
3. The heater has to work and be safe.
4. The lights and wiring have to work and be safe.
5. Floors, stairways and railings have to be in good repair.
6. When it's rented, the place has to be clean, with no piles of
trash or garbage and no rats, mice, roaches or other pests.
7. The landlord has to provide enough cans or bins with covers
for the garbage. (Sec. 1941 of CC)
If you have problems with any of the above, the law says that
you should take each of the following steps:
1. Inform your landlord about the needed repairs, making sure
your landlord knows exactly what is wrong. You may do this
orally or in writing, but written notice will offer you better
2. Wait a reasonable amount of time for the repairs to be
made. "Reasonable" depends on the circumstances. If you
don't have heat in a cold month, you only have to wait a few
days. The law says that 30 days is "presumed" to be
reasonable. This means that if you wait fewer than 30 days
and the case goes to court, you must prove the shorter wait
3. If the repairs are not made by the landlord within a
reasonable time, you make have the made yourself. Keep a
record of the costs and then deduct them from your next
rental payment. Or you may move out and not be responsible
for paying any more rent.
If you make the repairs on your own, the cost you deduct can't be
more than one month's rent, and you can't use this right more than
two times in any 12-month period. (Sec. 1942 of CC) You cannot give
up your legal right to repair and offset (deduct the cost) unless your
rent was lowered because you agreed to do things your landlord
normally is required to do. But if you made such an agreement
under pressure in order to get your place, the agreement is not
You may try another approach to get your landlord to fix the
problem. If your place does not meet the required standards of
habitability, you also could stop paying rent until the needed repairs
are made. If your landlord takes you to court, you can argue that
you have the right to withhold some rent to get the landlord to make
repairs. However, you should talk to a lawyer before withholding
rent because this is a complicated process. If you withhold some of
the rent, you probably should also deposit it into a special "escrow"
account, to show that you are willing to pay the rent if the landlord
makes the repairs. A special savings account or an account set up by
the court are examples of a special account.