If there is a problem with your rental unit that makes it uninhabitable and your landlord won't fix it in a timely fashion—or at all—you can make the repair yourself and subtract the cost from your rent. This process is known as “repair and deduct.”
The benefits of fixing a problem yourself are obvious: it reduces the amount of time you have to spend in a less-than-ideal living situation. The downside is that it’s more work for you—and if you don’t follow state laws closely, there’s a chance your landlord may try to evict you for not paying your rent in full. For more specifics about how to repair and deduct where you rent, choose your state from the drop down menu at the top of this page.
What repairs can I deduct for?
The first thing to understand about using repair and deduct is that it doesn’t apply to every single thing that could go wrong in your apartment. The problem you’re dealing with needs to be serious—something that makes it unsafe or unhealthy to keep living there. In legal terms, the issue has to be a breach of the “warranty of habitability.” Although what exactly that means differs between states, in general these are major issues: like a lack of heat, electricity, or running water, pest infestations, or broken windows or doors.
Also, dust off your lease and take another look! If the repair is your landlord’s responsibility according the lease, then you’re allowed to repair and deduct—even if it’s not a breach of your state’s warranty.
One big caveat: If you—or your guests or pets—caused the damage to your rental, then you can’t repair and deduct.
How much can I spend on the repair?
Although the exact number depends on where you live, generally you can’t deduct more than a month’s rent on a repair. If the problem with your rental would cost more than that, you could withhold rent until your landlord fixes it, or you could leave via constructive eviction.
Do I have to hire a professional to make the repair?
It depends on where you live! Some states allow you to make the repair yourself and deduct the cost of materials from your rent. Others require any repairs to be completed by a professional, licensed repair person. Also, a lot of states specify that this person can’t be a friend or family member—so even if your aunt is a plumber, it’s probably best to find someone else to fix your broken toilet.
What process should I follow to repair and deduct?
The exact process varies from state to state, but the basic steps are as follows:
- Inform your landlord in writing that repairs are needed.
- Give your landlord a "reasonable" amount of time to make the repair.
- Make the repairs yourself, or hire someone to do it for you. Keep all the receipts.
- Deduct the cost of the repairs from your next rent payment. Include a written notice that explains why you didn’t pay the full amount of rent.
Remember: document everything. If your landlord ends up taking you to court, you want to present the judge with a rock-solid case that proves you deducted a fair amount of rent. Take before and after pictures of the area of the apartment that was repaired; keep copies of any letters or emails you send to your landlord; and hold on to all the receipts from the repair work.
What's a "reasonable" amount of time to wait for a repair?
This depends on your state. Some, like California, give landlords up to a month to respond. Others, like Texas, only give landlords a week. And, of course, it also depends on what you’re hoping to get repaired. If you toilet is gushing water, you could make a case that the repair needed to be made ASAP; same for a broken front door lock. If garbage is piling up in the common areas, a judge might expect you to put up with the smell for a few days.
Are there any risks to deducting the cost of repairs from my rent?
Short answer: yes. Your landlord might sue you to get back the missing rent. Or they could file an eviction notice based on nonpayment of rent. If the problems with your apartment weren't serious enough to justify using the "repair and deduct" remedy—or if you didn't give the landlord enough notice or a reasonable amount of time to make repairs—the court will likely rule that you have to pay the full rent, or even that the eviction process can continue.
It's always a good idea to talk to a lawyer or a tenant's rights association before trying to repair and deduct.
Do I have any other options?
As a tenant, you have several options if your landlord has breached the warranty of habitability. If the repair would cost more than is allowed in your state, you may be able to stop paying some (or all) of your rent until your landlord makes repairs. This is known as “rent withholding,” but do your research first—it’s not legal in every state. Your final resort as a tenant is claiming constructive eviction and abandoning your rental entirely.
The information provided on this website does not, and is not intended to, constitute legal advice.