It is your right as a tenant to have a livable, safe and sanitary apartment. If you need repairs tell your landlord and ask when the repairs will be done (if it’s an emergency, notify your landlord immediately!). If the landlord doesn’t keep his word or doesn’t take care of the repairs quickly, send the landlord a letter, asking him to make the repairs. It is a good idea to mail this request A return receipt requested and, of course, keep a copy of the request for your records. If your landlord still refuses to fix the problem, you must decide if it is serious enough to fight about. If it is, you should try and talk to a lawyer before you take any of the next steps. Otherwise, you may pay to repair something and not be entitled to have the money returned.
One action you can take is to make the repair yourself and take the amount you spend out of the next month’s rent. This is called repair and deduct. It is a good idea to get written estimates before making repairs and to write the landlord that you plan to make the repairs if he doesn’t.
When your landlord sees that you spent part of your rent on repairs, he may try to evict you. The judge will decide in court whether it was okay for you to repair and deduct.
In emergencies, you may make necessary repairs and deduct the repair costs from the rent. For example, if your landlord has been notified that your door lock is broken and doesn’t repair it, you may hire a locksmith and deduct the cost from the rent. It is very important to save all receipts for the repair.
Another way to get your landlord to make repairs is not to pay the rent until he fixes the problem. This is called rent withholding.
Rent withholding is a serious step to take. You should only withhold the rent if there are bad health or safety problems in your home. Talk to a lawyer before you withhold your rent. Your landlord may try to evict you for not paying your rent if you withhold rent.
Before you withhold rent, or repair and deduct, make sure that you have written your landlord about the problem and given him a chance to fix it. Contact the Town’s Building Inspector (also called a Code Enforcement Inspector), the Fire Marshall or the County’s Department of Health (for things like no heat, cesspool backup, and lead paint issues) to look at the problem.
Remember, your landlord may try to evict you if you withhold your rent. You must be prepared to go to court and prove that your home has serious problems and your landlord won’t fix them. You must take the right steps to protect yourself. Follow these steps carefully:
Talk to a lawyer to see if the problem is serious enough to withhold rent. Find out if you have done everything you need to, such as writing letters to the landlord telling him about the problem.
Write a letter to the landlord saying that you are going to withhold the rent and why. Keep a copy of the letter.
Do not spend the rent money. A lawyer (if you have one) can put the money in a special bank account called an escrow account. If you do not have a lawyer, get a money order or bank check for the amount of the rent. Send a copy of it to the landlord to show that you have the rent, but are not going to give it to him until the repairs are made. But, DO NOT SPEND THE RENT MONEY. Take photographs of the problems that can be photographed.
Your landlord may make the repairs if you withhold the rent. Or he may take you to court to try to evict you for not paying the rent.
If your landlord takes you to court be ready to show the judge that:
-There is a serious health or safety problem in your home
-You let the landlord know about it, but he did not make the repairs.
-You have the rent money
Bring to court copies of the letters to your landlord, inspector’s reports, pictures, witnesses to prove your side of the story and the rent money.
The judge will decide if the problem was serious enough to withhold the rent. The judge may say that you do not owe all the rent money because your home had serious problems.