If your landlord isn't fixing something that they are definitely required to fix, you can stop paying rent to force them to make the repair. This is called "rent withholding." There are some general guidelines you should understand, but if you're serious about withholding rent, choose your state from the dropdown menu to figure out the specifics in your area. This can be a serious undertaking, since you could get evicted if you don't pay rent, so read up before taking action.
What are the pros of withholding rent?
Withholding rent increases the chances of getting noticed by a negligent landlord and, by extension, getting your problem fixed. It also means you won't have to put in the time hiring a contractor—or even making the repairs yourself—which is important for serious repairs.
What about the cons?
You'll almost certainly have to live with the issue a little longer while you wait for your landlord to notice that you've withheld all or some of your rent. Depending on the problem, that could be uncomfortable—or worse. What's more, withholding rent may upset your landlord. A strained relationship with your landlord can make your life difficult. They might even get so upset that they evict you for non-payment. As long as the problem in your apartment was clearly your landlord's responsibility, the courts are likely to halt any eviction proceedings. But you'd still need to go to court.
Where should I store the withheld rent?
Some states require you to keep withheld rent in an escrow account. But even if your state's laws are less strict, you should keep the money in your bank account—or ask your bank to create a new savings account for you and transfer it. You may need this money if your landlord takes you to court, to prove that you were actually withholding rent rather than simply behind on rent payments.
How much rent should I withhold?
If you decide to go this route, you'll have to decide whether to withhold a portion of your rent, or all of it. You should be able to justify the dollar amount you chose based on the magnitude of the problem in your apartment. California courts offer some of the most specific guidance when it comes to withholding rent. Judges there often use one of two methods to figuring out exactly how much rent should be withheld:
- Percentage reduction: Calculate what percentage of the apartment is affected by the problem, and take that proportion out of your rent check. You could base the percentage on the square footage of the apartment, or how many rooms are uninhabitable.
- Reasonable value: Think about how much someone would pay to rent your apartment with the problems it currently has. If you thought you were getting an apartment with no heat, for instance, how much would you pay per month?
Neither option will give you a completely objective answer, 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 necessary.
Do I have any other options?
Depending on the scope of the repairs you need, you might have other legal options beyond withholding rent. If the repair would cost less than a month of rent, you could potentially hire a repair person yourself and subtract the expense from your next rent check. Or, if the issue is really serious, you could consider leaving the rental altogether and claiming constructive eviction.
The information provided on this website does not, and is not intended to, constitute legal advice.