In North Carolina, the Residential Rental Agreements Act is codified in North Carolina General Statute 42-42. Until 1977, the state had very few laws protecting tenants against their landlords. In 1977, the North Carolina General Assembly passed the North Carolina Residential Agreements Act of 1977. The act governs the respective duties and rights between landlords and their tenants.
The North Carolina Residential Agreements Act of 1977 requires landlords to comply with state and local building codes, and they have an ongoing duty to keep their rentals in habitable and working condition. They must maintain their common areas in safe and clean condition and provide working electrical, heating, air conditioning, sanitation and ventilation systems. Landlords have a duty to supply each tenant with a working smoke detector certified by the Underwriters’ Laboratories, Inc., or an equivalent certifying company. Tenants have the right to expect a repair of their smoke detectors within 15 days of providing their landlords with written notification of a necessary repair. Landlords have duties to place new batteries in them at the start of each tenancy.
Tenants have legal remedies against their landlords who breach their lease agreements after they obtain permission from a North Carolina court to use their right to equitable relief against noncompliant landlords. Note, however, that North Carolina specifically disallows the use of rent escrow or rent repair and deduct as a legal remedy without obtaining express permission to do so from court or through written agreements with their landlords. Many other states allow their tenants to utilize a repair and deduct remedy to force their landlords into compliance. Repair and deduct or rent escrow allows tenants to withhold reasonable repair costs from their rent if their landlords do not provide necessary repairs.
Tenants have a right to file a small claims suit against their landlords who breach their legal lease obligations. They can request rent abatement from the small claims court. Rent abatement allows tenants to file a lawsuit against their landlords and withhold rent to cover their repair costs. North Carolina courts will not grant permission to withhold rent or use rent abatement unless tenants can show their landlords had a duty to provide these services. Tenants must prove that they entered into a written or verbal lease agreement; that the landlord had a duty to repair under the North Carolina Residential Rental Agreements Act, under local building ordinance or under the lease; and that the tenant provided the landlord with a written notice to repair and reasonable opportunity to repair. However, tenants do not have to provide reasonable opportunity for emergency repairs. What is “reasonable” and considered an “emergency repair” is subject to judicial interpretation.
Tenants’ Rights to Rent Recoupment
Tenants can file a lawsuit against their landlords for a return of all rent paid during the months of noncompliance and nonrepair. Tenants must prove that they had a lease agreement with their landlords, that the landlord had a legal duty to repair and that they provided their landlords with notice and opportunity to cure any nonemergency defects. Additionally, to prevail in a rent recoupment suit, a tenant must be able to prove how much his cause of action was worth. In other words, the tenant’s rent damage must be based on actual costs or diminished rental value.
Since state laws can frequently change, do not use this information as a substitute for legal advice. Seek advice through an attorney licensed to practice law in your state.
Jill Stimson has worked in various property management positions in Maryland and Delaware. Stimson worked for the top three property management companies in the commercial industry and focuses her career on property building logistics and tenant relationships. She holds a Juris Doctor and a Bachelor of Science in psychology.