When can you withhold rent?

Written on May 1, 2018 by

communicationWhen a tenant withholds rent, it’s the last resort in a situation where they feel out of control. In this case, tenants do the only thing they can control: withhold pay.

But this can be a very risky move for tenants: it can result in eviction. There are better alternatives for dealing with a landlord who is ignoring complaints and not making fixes.

Here are the steps tenants can take to deal with a landlord who isn’t doing their job.

1. Make a list

Walk through your unit and make a list of all needed repairs. Break this down into two lists: legally required repairs and other. Legally required repairs would be anything that affects the structural integrity or habitability of the home. For instance, a leaky roof or broken heater affects the habitability. While an off-track closet door—not so much. Send your list to your landlord by mail, email, or text.

Landlord’s perspective:  As a landlord, I require all tenants to conduct their own pre-move-in inspection with pictures. They share the inspection and pictures with me. Now, we both know and agree on the condition of the unit upon move-in, and I become aware of any issues that may have gone unnoticed before.

Related: Record a video of the move-in/move-out inspection

2. Notify the landlord of the repairs needed

Inform your landlord in writing of the needed repairs. If legal action is needed, the first written notice begins the process. In your notice, tell the landlord what repairs are needed and why.

If you have previously asked for the repairs to be done verbally, make sure to note in writing each time you have discussed those repairs. If the needed repairs are cause for concern and make the property uninhabitable, be sure to note this in the letter. Tenants have the right to live in a habitable, safe, and healthy space.

Landlord’s Perspective: Welcome this process. It is best to fix the repairs as quickly as possible (they are also tax deductible). By receiving a list of needed repairs, you can fix them before they become unmanageable. Consider speeding up this process by using Cozy’s maintenance request app.

3.  Review your tenant’s rights by state

Every state has different laws regarding tenants and landlords. Make sure to review your state’s law to legally deal with the situation. Here are two examples:

California: Tenants are legally entitled to housing that is safe, healthy, and structurally sound. Housing also needs to be in good repair. Tenants can legally withhold rent, make repairs themselves and deduct from their rent, call the building inspector, sue the landlord, or move out without notice.

Texas: Tenants only have the option of “repair and deduct.” However, before a tenant can use the “repair and deduct” method they need to review the local laws. Most repairs do not qualify.

Local tenant’s laws also provide information on how long to wait before you can move to the next step.

California: Landlords have 30 days to make the repair (unless it poses danger).

Texas: The tenant needs to wait seven days after the written request before moving to the next step.

Landlord’s perspective: Know landlord/tenant law in your city and state well. This helps you maintain a proper tenant/landlord relationship and ensures you’re running your business legally.

Related: 2 basic renter’s rights included in every lease

4. Review your lease

Your lease might provide you with the information you need. Determine what repairs your landlord is required to make and what they are not.

Tenants should be aware that in most states, withholding rent will result in their eviction. A landlord is not required to make all repairs. What they are required to do is provide a habitable home. If the repair needed makes the home uninhabitable, and the landlord is refusing to fix it, the best course of action is to sue.

Landlord’s perspective: Make sure your lease covers all situations and is legal, using your local landlord/tenant laws. While your lease is there to protect you, it is also there to protect your tenant.

In conclusion

Withholding rent is a last-ditch effort to regain control in a situation where you may feel powerless, where you are living in a home that is not up to par. However, withholding rent is illegal in most states and difficult to walk away from without an eviction and mark on your credit score.

The best course of action is to follow these steps and know your rights. The always-legal option, in lieu of withholding rent, is to sue your landlord for not following through on their obligation: providing a safe, healthy, and habitable house.

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42 CommentsLeave a Comment

  • Alex Ramirez

    After 20 years of living in my apartment, the kitchen sink clogged up. Manager said that if it were my fault, that I would have to pay for repair. I asked the plumber if it was my fault… He responded “I wouldn’t know, I simply unclogged the drain; but more than likely it was due to regular wear and tear’. Then he said the manager told him ‘do the job, and charge tenant regardless of cause/fault”.

    The bill was for $85, I paid then deducted $42.50 from rent, manager is now attempting to evict me. What can or should I do? I’ve lived here for 20 years, always pay rent on time, I feel terrorized by managers actions. Please help! Thank you

    • Donna Gilliam

      I have lived in my apartment for 4 months total and have no add hot water the entire time it will have had hot water but it’s a gas water heater and it smells of rotten eggs the worst smell I’ve ever smelt. What can I do legally in North Carolina

  • Ed willard

    We were asked to leave our apartment on February 4 due to a leak 2 floors above us which created damage in our apartment .we were requested to pay rent for February,march,April,and may so far due to these people not completing the repairs.we have lived in a hotel for this period and paying about $2000 a month. I don’t feel it’s fair to pay for rent for a apartment and hotel .CAn you advise

  • Stephanie

    They won’t fix. My front door lock. Or my front door I can see day light coming in as well as cold sir during winter hot hear during summer, you can kick my door open p r ibanly pretty easy, sence the whole door frame is cracked

  • Rochelle D. Slater

    This may sound petty but I asked the property manager if he would ask the landlord to fix my sun damage and broken blind clips throughout my house. I took pictures of all of them when I moved in and I have no idea how long they were here before I moved in.
    He said that the landlord said they would fix the sun damaged slats but will not fix the broken clips, I don’t know how you can do one without doing the other. I told him I would have someone come and fix them and give him the receipt and take that out of the rent. Please help

  • Jas

    Hi, can I get some advice please. I moved into a flathouse the other day and noticed my door will not lock because the side has been ripped out. It won’t stay shut and because I do not know the other flatmates I fear for my safety every night when I sleep.

    I have told the landlord and they organised a carpenter to come around but he never does. What should I do? Can i hold my rent money till they get someone else to come out and fix it?


  • Jose Sanchez

    I have been renting at a duplex.. I didn’t have a restroom at all the first four months…. Got a shower but didn’t have a toilet for 6 months… Still don’t have a lavatory…. So I have been here for 9 months and still don’t have full use of my apartment… So I held back rent this month now the landlord is trying to evict me… What should I do….

  • mark

    So i moved in april 1st . The dishwasher was full of mold and stagnant water creating an unhealthy and hazardous living space ,let me make this clear that to this day i was never given a lease to sign .so in texas its considered a month to month basis .the dishwasher is completely boken landlord wont fix it ,or replace it even a whole month after i requested a repair because its moldy . landlord says its my responsibility to clean a broken dishwasher in my unit . spent about 20 dollars on chemicals and brushes etc. ive done this 3 times already because mold and stagnant water keeps coming back due to it being connected to my sink . code compliance says its unhealthy and can cause a physical health issue . im holding my rent . is this legal?

  • Tamara

    Can we withhold rent if we have lived in a place for three years and the landlord has not made any repairs, and gives his tenants verbal notice that they have to move because he claims he is selling his house? We live in California. Please help thanks!

  • Charlotte Rivera

    I need advise; I advised my landlord on Saturday, June 1st that the a/c is not blowing cold anymore. He said he would check it out and he came Sunday to do other work on the house without notice. I went to talk to him and told him the house is always at 85 degrees and rising. He “fixed” it and next day happened again. I told him that it stopped working and again and I have 2 kids at home 2 year old and 4month old. Am I able to take $100 a day from rent? He said that he will be coming Tuesday with his brother.

  • Lisa

    My landlord owes me 6000 or more in childsupport.is it legal to withhold rent.

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