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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76 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.

    • 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.


      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

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