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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12 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.

  • 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.

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