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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23 CommentsLeave a Comment

  • Elaina Wilson

    I rented a house. The landlord told me I had cable hookup. After moving in I found out he mowed over the cable cutting it in half. Now he says he does not have to pay it. What can I do? From Indiana.thsnk you.

  • Joan

    My landlord feels that when anything goes wrong with this place he only has to pay 75.00, no matter what goes wrong!
    This condo was built in 1972 and the appliances have to be at least 10 years old. The dishwasher had water in the bottom and I was afraid to use it due to flooding. I got the water out by bailing it and using towels.
    He expects me to buy a new one. This is the third time I have had to put my money into his condo. I pay 1260.00 a month!
    I had to replanted and repaint 2 wallsin here due to things I did not cause. One was a water problem from next door and the other a bat got into the bedroom and I had to call an exterminator at 10 o’clock at night to have it taken out.

    • Lewis

      The bat has nothing to do with the landlord, but it’s up to the landlord to take care of settling with neighbor’s leaks that seep onto the property. However, painting still may have been on your dime, because the wall was still functioning.
      Dishwasher is not your repair or fault either way, but this slumlord mentality really should be illegal.

  • Mike

    There’s black mold growing on my toilet and mice coming in from holes in the floor.

  • Joe

    My landlord does not want to fix the water leak underneath the floor in my home it is a slab home he told me instead of fixing it he wants me to move out by the end of September on the 30th he also wants me to pay the rent for the month of September I have no hot water for my family and this is what he wants me to do I do not want to pay the rent do I have the right to withhold the rent in the state of Nevada

  • Beau

    Drains around the pool smell like sewage. Landlord likes to do repairs themselves to not spend money. Who can I call to check them out and do I have to tell landlord first?

  • Marsha

    I have structural damage in master bed where my baby & I sleep. Drywall is exposed & cracking/breaking apart in ceiling & wall from water damage. Paint&debris falls on floor all the time.little gnats are coming In from the damage & it’s molding. There has been 3 floods in basement due to sewage problems &the carpeting has never been replaced or fixed professionally & I’ve made them aware multiple times

  • Heather

    We’ve been living at this address for over a year with enormous pseg bills. Pseg finally came to the house to investigate the hook up between the two units in this house and discovered that the gas meters are under my name. I’m being held responsible for the heat, hot water and since there is only one central air unit I supply their air condition in the summer. I have proof of all of this and now my landlord won’t speak to me. What should I do now?

  • Heidi Taylor

    I live in a apartment and the office is trying to make me pay for a tub that cracked a place that was built over 20 years ago and the tube are the same ones also the floor under the carpet has a hole I can put my heal in so there is a foundation problem they put the 2900 on my rent this month then took it off and keeps Threatening me that they’re going to put it back onWhat are my rights can you help

    • Joseph

      If you can, maybe you can visit their office to ask directly? Otherwise I would recommend speaking with a tenants rights organization, because it seems like in your situation something illegal is probably going on. I would google a local group so you can find information that is most relevant for you. Good luck and solidarity!

  • Loretta

    Have no water since October 18 2018. Water hose busted under kitchen sink since October 9 2018. Flooded the bathroom and bedroom. Kitchen cabinet warped due too water hose busted. The only thing that was done gotten the water up from bathroom and bedroom. The board of health has been called. Landlord still have not done anything. What can I do about this because I wanna move.

  • Pam Barron

    I have lived in this town home for 3 years almost 4 and my landlord does not want to fix the necessary repairs for water damage from the rain . He covered up mold spots with some type of spray paint before. There is water damage in my walls inside my bathroom. There is black mold growing in my tub. Every time it rains I have to clean up the water when it comes in the back door. My landlord ignores my calls but when it’s time to pay rent he is there to pick it up.

  • Jamaica Lamey

    lion rope in my son’s bedroom has been leaking for close to eight months now the landlord came out after 7 months or tell him it is fixed and says he fixed it we get snow and it starts speaking again now I’m being told that I need to wait till spring but then he wants me to go and get $950 for back rent that I withheld because why pay for something that’s not being facts is there anything else I can do any advice is completely accepted

  • Marie

    The apartment above me flooded their living room which cause my ceiling to leak. The leak was so severe my couches and carpet got soaked. This happened on a Saturday, they finally came over on Monday to inspect and put blowers now I’m being told that my couches won’t be cleaned till Saturday (a week later!) and my living room is a disaster! All my furniture is in my dining room impossible for my family to eat dinner or even watch TV! And they say I won’t new carpet till Monday over a week later! What rights do I have?

  • Monica

    My landlord signed his middle and last name on the lease. Can he do that??

  • Sherry Lane

    When an apartment building is infested with mice and the land lord is aware of the problem has not taken care of the problem

  • Lillie Davis

    I moved in this house in January .the landlord promised to fix the vent over the stove , power wash the cement in the front yard and put window screens on several windows . Now the air conditioner is not working . He says the compressor is out and he doesn’t have money to fix it . He says when I pay the rent in April , he will get it fixed . What can I do. .

  • nicole

    living in florida. just rented an apartment, paid full security deposit and first and last. when we did the walk through on march 20th, we were told the floor would be put in removed carpet and put in laminate) we were told it would be ready by march 31st which is when i was supposed to be out of my previous rental. we moved in march 31st, and the apartment has not had one change from the initial walk through! it is now april 2nd, the floor still is not complete. he is now saying it will take 4 to 5 days to complete. my boyfriend removed the carpet and flooring in the kitchen himself to speed up the process. no progress has been made. the walls havent been painted like he promised and the unit has still not been clean. help what can we do

  • Yolanda Newton

    I moved in here in May 2018 this apartment is infested with roaches they were supposed to come do something about it I gave several notices and told them they did nothing about me my house was broken in two months after I was here I moved in here in May 2018 this apartment is infested with roaches they were supposed to come do something about it I gave several notices and told them they did nothing about it my apartment was broken into The next Month And they stole my bank account card my credit card my stole my Money That I had in the safe they broke in and it took my bank Six months to give me back my money and they haven’t fixed the sliding patio door yet and the blinds that were torn up and every month he want additional $200 tors a gas bill that they pay water bill pass control maintenance and garbage and he has not ate anything and I got robbed at my door and brought daylight I have police reports and they don’t do anything about that and I’m still scared to be in here

  • Chryssy

    I moved in this house in January 2018 I been here a whole year now different kind of bugs are coming out the little holes in the walls lead paint is on the window seal it has real bad allergies in here when i decided to look up the house the house been sitting for years he just purchased it 2 months before I moved in the sewer is very bad the flooring is bad what can I do and who do I need to call Im in the st clair county area

  • Lou Peters

    I had to move out of my apartment for about 30 days and stay at a nearby hotel because of serious water damage in my bedroom caused by leaks in the roof during the rainy season. It took that long for the roof to dry out and for all the repairs to be made. My ceiling and walls had to be repainted and the carpet had to be replaced. The property manager verbally told me I should be able to get a free month’s rent, but when I insisted on seeing that in writing, nothing happened. Meantime, i have been out of pocket for 6 weeks for the charge card payment I made for my hotel stay. It was a cheap hotel just a mile away. What are my rights? What is the chance of success if I sue the property owner for my hotel costs?

  • Lou Peters

    I had to evacuate my apartment for about 30 days and stay at a nearby hotel because of serious water damage in my bedroom caused by leaks in the roof during the rainy season. It took that long for the roof to dry out and for extensive repairs to be made to my bedroom. The property manager verbally told me I should be able to get a free month’s rent, but when I insisted on seeing that in writing, nothing was received. Meantime, I have been out of pocket for 6 weeks for the charge card payment I made for my hotel stay. It was a cheap hotel just a mile away, not at all exorbitant. What are my rights? What is the chance of success if I sue the property owner for my hotel costs? I have been a tenant in this unit for over 15 years (California).

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