If there is a repair that needs to be made to a rental unit, tenants have several options to force their landlords to take action. One such tactic—known as “repair and deduct”—is allowed in many states. As the name suggests, a tenant can hire someone to make the necessary repairs to their unit and then subtract the cost of the repairs from their rent.
However, this opens up the possibility of being sued for eviction for nonpayment of rent. Tenants shouldn't make the decision to repair and deduct lightly.
Not every issue is serious enough to use repair and deduct
There are lots of things that can go wrong in a rental unit—the paint on the walls might start peeling, the ceiling might develop a persistent leak, or the shower might stop draining. But tenants can’t use repair and deduct for every kind of repair. It has to be one where the landlord is legally required to fix it, which could be for two reasons:
- The issue is mentioned in the lease and states it is the landlord’s responsibility to fix it
- The problem violates the implied warranty of habitability
The implied warranty of habitability varies slightly by state, but in general encompasses things like having hot and cold running water and being free of insect or rodent infestations—all things that keep a rental unit habitable. If the issues with a rental are not bad enough to warrant using repair and deduct, the tenant could be evicted for not paying rent.
Issues caused by tenants or guests aren’t covered
If a tenant or their guest, family member, or pet is the one to cause the damage, then the tenant cannot legally repair and deduct.
Some states lay out a strict process for tenants to follow
Some states have very specific rules about using repair and deduct, including limits on how much a tenant can spend on the repair, or what sort of contractors they can hire to make the repair.
Generally, tenants should start the process by informing their landlord that a repair needs to be made. If the landlord doesn't take care of it soon, the tenant should send a letter describing the issue, what needs to be done to fix it, and how much that will cost. They should give the landlord a reasonable period of time to respond—then, if their landlord still hasn't taken action, they can hire someone to make the repair. Tenants should save any receipts associated with the repair costs, and send copies of them to the landlord along with the reduced rent payment.
Not all states allow repair and deduct
That being said, some states don’t allow tenants to repair and deduct at all. Others allow it, but only if certain conditions are met. Tenants should make sure to research the laws in their state before making any repairs themselves.
Even if a state doesn't allow repair and deduct, there's probably another legal option for tenants who are stuck in an unlivable apartment. For instance, tenants may be allowed to break their lease using the legal concept of constructive eviction instead.
If the repair is really major, there's another tactic tenants can use: withholding rent until the landlord finally makes repairs. Learn more about the other options available to tenants if their landlord isn't being responsive to repair requests.
The information provided on this website does not, and is not intended to, constitute legal advice.