If you are renting a home or apartment, you have likely had problems and issues with your landlord before. If the property you are renting has repair issues or you believe is unsafe, this legal guide will help explain your legal rights and options under North Carolina law. If you need help with landlord-tenant issues or just have a question, do not hesitate to contact us to schedule an initial consultation (don’t worry - it’s free).

What you are required to do as a renter (tenant)

  • Keep your unit clean and safe

  • Throw out trash and garbage

  • Repair damage that you cause

  • Pay rent on time

What your landlord is required to do

  • Make repairs and keep your unit in a “habitable condition” (see below)

  • Keep the common areas clean and safe

  • Keep all the electrical, plumbing, heating, air conditioning, and appliances working

  • Provide working smoke detectors

What does “habitable condition” mean?

There are certain things that your landlord must repair/fix/replace in a reasonable period of time once they learn about it, even if your lease says the landlord isn’t responsible for it. Landlords include terms and language like that in leases to trick renters into thinking these aren’t the landlord’s responsibility. They are, and if any of these are present, you have rights as a tenant to get them repaired or take other action (see the next section):

  • Working heat from November 1st through March 31st

  • Unsafe wiring

  • Unsafe flooring or steps

  • Unsafe ceiling or roofs

  • Lack of drinkable water

  • Broken locks on outside doors

  • Broken windows or locks on first floor windows

  • Broken toilet

  • Broken bathtub/shower

  • Rat/bug/pest infestation (as long as you aren’t the cause of it)

  • Plumbing leaks/drainage problems that cause standing water

What Should I Do if there are problems with my unit?

If you are having problems in your unit or there are needed repairs, 1) contact your landlord (call/email/text/meet in person) to explain the problem and 2) then send your landlord a signed and dated letter. The most important advice is to ALWAYS GET EVERYTHING IN WRITING and keep a copy as proof it happened. That is not just a rule of thumb; in many cases, the law requires written notice before the landlord has to do anything. Click here for a sample letter you can send to your landlord.

What If My Landlord refuses to make repairs?

If you landlord refuses to make repairs after you’ve notified them of the problems and sent a signed and dated letter, you have two choices: 1) sue your landlord in small claims court or 2) notify your landlord in writing of your intent to move out. Neither process is easy, and we recommend talking to a lawyer before trying them. If you want to sue your landlord over repairs, click here for a step-by-step guide.

When Can I Withhold or Not Pay Rent?

Never. It does not matter what your friends did that one time or what you think you saw on the internet. In North Carolina, you can’t withhold your rent except in two very specific scenarios: 1) if you landlord agrees you can not pay rent in writing or 2) if a judge or civil magistrate after a court hearing enters a written order that you do not have to pay rent. Your landlord knows this rule, and if they agree to it, you should demand it in writing (even if just a handwritten note with a date and signature).

Do I Need a Lawyer?

Issues between you and your landlord are serious. It affects your housing, your security, and most other parts of your life. The rules and laws of North Carolina have very specific requirements of what you can and can’t do as a tenant if problems come up in your unit. If you have questions or concerns, please contact our experienced landlord-tenant lawyers to see if we can help.

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