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Can I Make Repairs and Deduct the Costs from My Rent?

You have the right to ask the landlord to repair serious habitability problems.  If the landlord refuses, you may make the repairs and deduct the cost from the next month’s rent.  The cost of repairs (labors and materials) cannot exceed one month’s rent.

What Repairs are “Serious”?

The landlord does not have to keep your place in perfect shape.  A few cockroaches or a broken screen may not be enough to allow you to withhold your rent.  The landlord must provide:

  • Working plumbing;
  • Heating;
  • Hot & cold running water;
  • Electricity and lights that work and are safe (no exposed wiring);
  • Roof, walls and windows that do not leak and are not broken; 
  • Enough trash cans to keep trash from overflowing; and
  • Safe floors, stairs and railings.

What Is The Procedure For “Repair and Deduct”?

Before you can do repairs, you must give your landlord a written notice requesting repairs. You must wait a reasonable time - usually 30-days – for the landlord to make the repairs.  This time can be less for emergencies, such as a flooding toilet or a broken heater in the winter.  If the landlord tries to make repairs and you interfere, you may lose your rights.  Withholding your rent can be risky, because your landlord might try to evict you for non-payment of rent.  Remember, the cost of repairs (labors and materials) cannot exceed one month’s rent.  You can only use the “repair and deduct” remedy twice in any 12 month period.  It is a good idea to talk to a lawyer before you proceed.

What Steps Can I Take If The Landlord Does Not Make The Repairs?

If the landlord does not make the repairs in a reasonable time, you can:

  • Have the repairs made yourself and deduct the cost from the next month’s rent. Get 2 or 3 estimates for the job and select the one that is the most reasonable. Once repairs are done and you have paid the bill, deduct that amount from the next month’s rent. Include with your rent a statement of the amount deducted for repairs, as well as copies of all repair receipts. Keep copies for your records.
  • Sue your landlord in Small Claims Court to pay for repairs. Continue to pay your full rent until the court hearing. The court will decide if the repairs were for serious problems and what cost is reasonable. If you win, the court will order the landlord to refund part of your rent to pay the repair costs.
  • If a code enforcement agency ordered the landlord to fix violations and they are not done within the time specified in the report, you may sue in Small Claims Court for a repair order. If you win, the court will order the landlord to do repairs and may stop all rent payments until they are made.

Can the Landlord Try to Evict Me for Enforcing My Right to “Repair and Deduct”?

So long as you follow your duties and obligations under the rental agreement, for 180 days (6 months), the landlord may not retaliate against you by raising the rent, reducing services, or evicting you if you enforce your rights as follows:

  • You give written notice to the landlord to make repairs or you orally complain to the landlord about the condition of the place; or
  • After giving reasonable notice to the landlord to make repairs, you file a complaint with the local code enforcement agency, have the place inspected, and/or a citation is issued as a result; or
  • You file and/or win a court action about the poor conditions.

When Does Repair and Deduct Not Apply?

If you, your roommates or guests damage the property, or you violate your rental agreement, then you may lose your right to “repair and deduct.” For example, you must:

  • Properly dispose of garbage;
  • Properly use electrical systems, gas, plumbing and fixtures, and keep them clean;
  • Prevent anyone on the premises with your permission from doing damage; and
  • Follow your obligations under the rental agreement.

This is general information on the law, which may change.  For specific legal problems, you should consult with a lawyer.