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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89 CommentsLeave a Comment

  • Jake

    I have 2 rooms that flood when it rains and the landlord refuses to repair or communicate. What can i do? Its been 5 months now

    • Angela

      I would not give him another dollar until he fixes it and sue him as well.

      • GABRIEL ARIAS

        My landlord is saying that I’m harrassed her because of something since i move here need to be fix and she never fix . Its legal to use my deposit and leave after i use my deposit to cover the rent.
        Its legal sue her for threatened me by her brother and

        • Ben Maurer

          No, your deposit cannot be used as unpaid rent. It is a deposit for damages and nothing more. I can tell that you are most likely the problem from the way you write.

    • Clementine Mathews

      My apartment is horrible. Moved in after shown a picture. False advertisement. Had head of owners come by and took pictures. Floors coming up. Electrical problems. Appliance problems. Bedroom doors won’t close and numerous other problems. He made a list and said would fix my cabinets, floors walls, electrical, and numerous other problems That was 3 years ago this Noverber and nothing has been fixed. I live on limited income and cannot afford expense of moving. So what can I legally do

      • Jane Heyman

        I Have had no use of my kitchen due to no stove range or oven that is in working condition they are fire hazards with rotted wires and the electrician told me not to use it September 4 I’ve had no use of my kitchen since September 4 and it’s now Alexa what day is today September 22 I have an auto immune disease called lupus I need to eat a plant-based diet the non-use of my kitchen is creating a worse health condition for me I can’t afford to keep ordering food out from restaurants as it’s expensive and they can’t accommodate my plant-based diet to help control Lupus which is an auto immune disease do I have any recourse to takeoff rent for the non-use of the kitchen since September 4 which means I pay almost 2000 a month rent do I get to take off the use of one room since I haven’t been able to cook babe Or do anything in my kitchen I am I allowed to deduct the use of one room that’s a hazard and fire and fire danger

  • Kelly

    We are renting rooms of a home. Landlord does not live in the home. Landlord enters “common areas” at will and moves things around. She also insist that ALL closet and storage space is for her belongings regardless of what is stated in lease. Appliances are not in proper working order. Large open holes exposing pipes and foundation over sleeping quarters. House was built in 1927 so unsure of asbestos exposure. Inground pool has dark, moldy, algae covered stagnant water which looks to be a breading ground for mosquitoes and other unwanted flying insects.
    She continues to harass the lease holder pushing him into severe PTSD episodes. Lots more I could say and many photos I could show. Help, we need advice.

  • Irene Bickerto

    I have informed and shown the landloard for the past 2 years that the concrete walkway leading to my basement suite has lifted and dropped at least 4 inches. The house is build on the side of a hill. I have recently had both knees replaced and it is a serious tripping hazard..he has said he was going to fix it but to date with anoher rent increase handed to me he has done nothing…what can I do? I can’t afford to move.

  • Kemon D Lewis sr

    Do you suppose to pay rent if the landlord don’t fix nothing

  • Tracy M Langley

    I have 4 kids and have been exposed to mold.The property manager sent their service people over and the painted over the mold.They did not clean it before painting and now 3 weeks later the mold is back and this time black mold.

    • MONICA L WINGERTER

      Are you in a house or mobile home because we are having the same situation at a mobile home park in Louisiana they have been notified of the mold and how severe it is the walls are soft to the touch like water damage and the floors are the same way the mobile home has such a strong oder of mold they haven’t fixed it and wont let us move to a different unit

      • Tracy L

        Yes I am in a house in the city of Rochester..We are on a lease and can not leave until December.I have court this week and plan to take all evidence of the mold..It has spread since as well..My children complain of headaches and my 7year old is having nose bleeds almost every other night..

  • J. Bruce

    Rent a home, 24 yrs now. Purchased water heaters, carpets, paint, light fixtures, plumbing parts as well as installed all of these parts. Perform maintenance when needed. Never bothered the landlord, also a friend living a couple hundred miles away. Never charged the landlord as well. I am a commercial fisherman and have paid on a seasonal schedule since day one. Has never been a problem until recently when landlord lost a full time job. The owner has a serious problem with stealing personal things when visiting. Now insists on having a key for access anytime including when I’m out fishing. What can I do to protect myself?

  • Kathryn J Davis

    My granddaughters rented an apartment November 2018. When they were looking at it, they were told new flooring had been put down. After living there a short time, they noticed mold growing just about everywhere, including their belongings. When the landlord was told she blamed the girls for the mold. My daughter went in and they cleaned with vinegar and bleach. It came back. Just recently, after dealing numerous times with the landlord, who was hateful each time, she got a company to check the apartment. His report says the apartment has to undergo demo. Their options were move out and be out of the year lease, or move into a different apartment on same property. Girls don’t want to deal with the woman any longer. What can they do ? Thanks

  • henrietta Wright

    This is a on going for the past 2 months.
    We have no water. The well needs to be fixed. And our landlord says that she does not have the money to get it done.
    The roads are also real bad. Our windows
    lick. The floors are not level. And we are talking about not paying rent. Can we do that?

  • Margaret Cannon

    I have No lease with my live in landlord who I have had many problems with . The biggest problem is I’m thee ONLY one paying rent and it’s not fair . There are a few people who live here .what if I decide to not pay rent also can I get evicted for not paying rent even though no one is ?

  • Amy L

    Our house used to be one house and divided into 2. There is only one well and we are constantly running out of water when our neighbor does wash or shower. This has been going on for 6years with no solution and I’ve had it. I work at a hospital and have to worry that I’ll be able to shower before work. We’re ready to with hold rent and was looking for some direction.

  • AC

    Placed (4) work orders for a non-working dryer SINCE JANUARY; it’s Oct & still not working! Completed surveys abt those “completed” work orders & explained STILL not working!

    Meanwhile, they increased rent AND “upgraded” doors & added tile backsplash. Can I withold rent?

  • Lydia Rich

    We have lived here 3 years and they talked me into signing for the next year and a half . If, I chose to break the lease , will I have to pay the penalty ? I have not had a working dishwasher for 3 months and the entire community was promised a pool through the summer in Texas . We have had the pool open 1 day this year . Can I break the lease or withhold the amount I am paying for pool upkeep and dishwasher . Please respond

  • Lr

    I am renting a house in upstate NY my landlord had previous tenants that left a lot to be fixed the landlord stated she would fix them but still has not, she stated since I only paid 1/2 the security deposit she will not fix anything until the other 1/2is paid, none of these issues are due to me they are all due to the previous tenant I pay 1450 a month in rent, the upstairs bedroom has electricity problems the upstairs toilet leaks, the screen in the downstairs bathroom is still broke, there are windows that are cracked and the microwave that is built in above the stove is still broken. Can she kick me out if I refuse to pay the other half of the security deposit it will be a year in November since I moved in, so much more to Wrong

  • Lalia Bailey

    I have been renting the property going on 3 years now earlier this year we had a letter posted to the door stating the home is in default for non payment asked the landlord was there something for me to be concerned about she stated the rental agency that previously managed the property had held on to some payments for repairs didn’t understand why but I trusted the landlord so we continued to pay rent months pass a second letter gets posted this time on the mailbox the property is in default for non payment so at this time we decided to withhold the rent due to the rent not going towards the mortgage. Five days later the landlord shows up at the door with an eviction letter she typed up wanting to terminate the lease please help need advic

  • Bianca

    Can I with hold rent to hight water bill sure to leak under house water was turn off when I move in are water bill been 1200 each month told my landlord she came to cheek it out there no sight of leak I can pay went due to pay my hight water bill and the swear water is coming up and she don’t want to fix anything just want the rent money now she eviction us because I haven’t pay rent what can I do

  • Dawn Falkenheimer

    i have section8.my old landlord sold the building.to another tenant.i been paying him rent.from 7/2016 to 1//2019.i stop giving him the money because of the repairs he refuses to fix.he wants to evict .i been living 20 plus years.i still have his rent..from 2/2019 to 11/2019.iam looking for another apartment.but its hard .iam taking him to court and he is taking me to court to get me out.iam a quiet tenant i dont bother anyone.there’s only two units in both buildings.i was with out gas and heat for 8 months.i called 311.on him everytime there was a problem.now i have my gas heat .he still refuse to fix other repairs.

  • Shonyell

    I live in Arizona in a apartment complex that was just purchased by a new company. Utilities (lights, water, basic cable) are included in the rent. We can not control the ac but we can turn it off if it gets too cold. The first of this month they turned it off without notice, and would not have said anything if people hadn’t start to complain. They said that people complained about it being too cold when the temps dropped last week, why not just turn the air off in your unit? They are supposed to be renovating at the end of December, and until then, we will have no ac. I think this is a tactic to save money for their renovations, but in the meantime they’re expecting their rent December 1st, while we suffer. What are my rights? I want ou

  • Lupe

    So my brother rents a house with other tenants and during a storm last month the electricity transformer on the house was damaged, well they notified the landlord many times and still to this day this problem isnt resolved, what rights do the tenants have as far as paying rent when all but my brother left the house to stay in a hotel or with family due to no electricity and its freezing outside.. whst numbers can we call to put fire under the landlords butt? also the landlord has had many electricians come to the house to fix the problem but he refused to pay the price the electrician asked for

  • Anonymous

    I have been renting this property for about 9 years, and have always had issues getting repairs done. My roof has been leaking for about 3 years now, even though last year, i was promised a new roof. The landlord could never keep workers, due to him trying to always short change them. My foundation has been in even worst position, almost to the point that the converted garage my sister sleeps in, u can literally push her wall to the outside. I have a woodrat problem since i have lived here, yet they wont fix the holes around the house. I have had to hire people from outside and still wont take it our my rent. Now im getting threatened with eviction every month, although we made a payment plan just September. Yet nothing has been repaired.

  • L Milagros

    11/13/19 I live in a “70/30” (tax credit) apt w/FREE WiFi. Ive lived here 2 yrs .. the WiFi goes out A LOT. B/c my no frills Charter/Spectrum bill was $183…I took a chance a “cut the cord.” My only access to TV now is via Hulu,Prime,Acorn,CBS All Access – 2/3 LESS than my former Charter bill! The WiFi in this poorly managed place went out for 8 long miserable days. I am basically bedridden/homebound. My only access to the outside world & affordable entertainment is TV. (I have no access to music & can no longer read). I had no choice but to buy a DVD player … for $41.00. I deducted this from my rent w/ full explanation. I was promptly given AN EVICTION NOTICE. (BTW, mgmt wont disclose WHO their WiFi provider is. ??) ..My chances?

  • Sharon

    This is the second winter my heater does not work. I told the management two months ago I need it to work this winter,so far nothing has been done.

    • Andrea Boyce

      I had no air in our very hot desert summer & now no heat for the winter. There have been many things my landlord has not done. As a senior I feel the cold worse than most. Landlord says he can’t fix it now but it’s very cold. Can I withhold rent or just freeze? I have a very large place for me & mydig. He’s a service dog so he can’t tell me not to keep my dog. What’s my recourse?

  • Db

    My daughters apartment has a leak from a rainstorm last week…and more rain is expected. Complex was notified immediately and haven’t fixed it yet-5 days later. They supposedly have someone coming in the next week or so, but rent is due on December 1. Do we need to pay it? Or can we withhold it until the leak is fixed? It’s dripping sludgy water into her shower and toilet, she can’t really use either one.

  • Vienna Hernandez

    In Los Angeles, Cali, renting a home that has had mold for over three months. I have my children with me. I told my landlord and she has yet to fix it. I decided to withhold the rent and received a 3 day notice to pay or vacant. What do I do now? Should I pay her and report her to the health department?

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