If your landlord isn't fixing something that it is definitely on them to fix, you can stop paying the rent in order to get them to make the repair. This is called rent withholding, and your state probably has specific guidelines for how to do it.
Here are some general things you need to know, but if you're serious about withholding rent then choose your state from the dropdown menu on this page to figure out what's allowed or isn't allowed where you live.
Here's what you need to know regardless of where you live:
Pros and cons of withholding rent
This can be a bit of a serious undertaking, mainly because you could get evicted if you don't pay rent, so read up on it first.
What are the pros of withholding rent?
- No (or less) rent to pay
- Increases the chances of getting noticed by a negligent landlord - and getting your problem fixed
- It means you won't be the one doing the fixing, which is important for serious repairs
What are the cons of withholding rent?
- You will likely end up continuing to live with the problem at least for a little longer while you wait for your landlord to notice. That could be a big bummer.
- Withholding rent may upset your landlord. A strained relationship with your landlord can make your life difficult.
- They might get so upset that they evict you for non-payment. As long as the problem in your apartment was clearly your landlord's responsibility, you'll be100% in the right. But you'd still need to go to court, which isn't exactly pleasant.
Where to put the rent
Not all states require you to put withheld rent into an escrow account. If your state doesn't require it then you can keep it in your bank account or ask your bank to create a savings account for you and transfer it.
Amount of rent to withhold
You can't simply not pay the rent. Instead, you should have a justification for how much you decided to withhold that's based on the magnitude of the problem in your apartment.
California has some of the most specific legal guidance for how to decide how much rent to withhold. Their laws describe two common methods for deciding how much rent should be withheld:
Option 1. Percentage reduction
You can come a reasonable conclusion for how much of the apartment is affected by the problem and take that proportion out of your rent check. This is called the percentage reduction method.
Option 2. Reasonable value
You can think about how much your apartment would get rented for on the open market with the problems. If you thought you were getting an apartment with windows that kept the cold air out, how much would you have paid for it had you known? This is called the reasonable value method.
Clearly, neither of these methods are black and white, but it's important that you use a clear methodology for deciding how much rent to withhold so that you are prepared to present it to a judge if it comes to that.
Having trouble deciding which route you want to take? Start by making sure that the repair you need done in your rental unit is covered by the warranty of habitability. If it is, read up on repairing and deducting or consider evicting yourself.
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