My boyfriend and I are currently renting a room from a friend. The friends is the only one on the lease, and the house is in very bad shape. There has been a plumbing issue for years, but instead of fixing the problem to begin with, the owners and/or property managers have elected to patch over the problem several times. Now, there is raw sewage in out back yard, and it occasionally errors from our shower drains. The owners specifically told my roommate they would not fix it. The property managers have sent a plumber a few times, and he even said he will not be the one to fix it if they decided to, bc it was such a big job that should have been fine years ago. The tile floor in half the house is breaking bc the floor is dining where there in basically a pit of sewage under the house. My boyfriend's father was a plumber so he had some experience with plumbing, and he is shocked and appalled that they even rented this house to anyone. It's a very old house that could have been amazing but instead is dining into a cesspool. He went into the attic to check out the insulation and it's cooler up there than in the rest of the house. Our power bill is over 400$ every month. I know it is not legal to just stop paying rent, but I also know if this place we inspected it would be concerned. Since we aren't in the lease, my boyfriend and I can't do much about the situation, not that we're aware of. My roommate is timid and send scared to say anything else to property manager. Should we call a lawyer? The county health department? What rights do we/ does she have as a renter?
It primarily depends on whether you are legally subletting a room, or is this just something that your friend let you get away with without the landlord knowing. To claim legal protection as a tenant, you have to be a legal tenant, meaning that this subletting arrangement must be consistent with the terms of the lease and local law – most likely requiring permission of the landlord. It sounds like you are not a legal tenant, but if the landlord collects rent from you, you are a tenant. (Who do you pay rent to?)
If you are actually a legal tenant, then give your representation of sewage in the shower, this constitutes an "uninhabitability" problem that landlords are required to remedy. There is little question that sewage backing up into the shower constitutes a habilitability problem, which the landlord is obligated to remedy. One remedy is to report the violation to the authorities, and this does not require being a tenant. The hard part is identifying who "the authorities" are, but "Health Department" is a good first bet. The legal tenant has additional avenues of recourse: they could sue the landlord, or they could withhold rent (depending on applicable state law). Apparently this is not a realistic option. You should therefore think about whether you want to take action contrary to your friend's wishes: but legally, you can report the violation and let the friend deal with the consequences. However, it is also a general rule that a landlord cannot take action against a tenant for reporting a health code violation. On the other hand, illegal subletting could be a legal cause for eviction.
Suboptimal insulation does not render a dwelling uninhabitable.