What Can a Tenant Do if a Landlord Refuses to Make Repairs?

Last Updated: September 14, 2023 by Roberto Valenzuela

If a landlord doesn’t make timely repairs after proper notice, most tenants have a variety of options. These include suing the landlord, breaking the lease, repairing and deducting, and withholding rent.

Can a Tenant Withhold Rent if Timely Repairs Aren’t Made?

Many states let a tenant withhold rent, but usually only by court order. It’s rare for a state to allow unilateral rent withholding from a tenant.

In the typical state, the law sets up a court escrow or similar government account. To withhold rent, tenants pay rent into this account instead of to the landlord. The rent stays in escrow until the case gets decided.

Withholding rent is a risky remedy. Even where unilateral withholding is legal, judges don’t allow it often. If withholding is improper in amount, or process, the landlord often can evict.

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Can a Tenant Repair and Deduct if Timely Repairs Aren’t Made?

In most states, tenants can do some repairs themselves and deduct from the rent. This remedy is available after the landlord fails to make tenant-requested repairs. The maximum deductible amount varies. It is often a percentage of the monthly rent (usually up to half).

Repairs must be up to a professional standard. This a legal responsibility for both tenant and landlord repairs. Many states intensify this requirement for repairing and deducting, and allow only tenant repairs that are done by licensed professionals.

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Can a Tenant Break Their Lease if Timely Repairs Aren’t Made?

Tenants can break their leases if timely repairs aren’t made, in almost all states. The typical process makes the tenant request repairs (usually in writing) and wait for a prescribed period of time. If the landlord hasn’t fixed the issue, the tenant can then move out and end the lease.

About one-third of states usually make the tenant go to court to break a lease. However, most states have a statutory process for breaking a lease unilaterally.

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Can a Tenant Sue a Landlord if Timely Repairs Aren’t Made?