Most states allow a tenant to repair and deduct if a landlord fails to make timely repairs. A significant minority of states do not allow this remedy. When repairing and deducting, most jurisdictions require professional, licensed repair work.
What Can a Tenant Repair and Deduct?
A tenant can repair and deduct from the rent in most states when a landlord fails to repair within the allowed time after proper notice. There usually is a maximum amount the tenant gets to deduct.
Sometimes the initial repair request must specify the tenant’s intent to deduct if repairs aren’t finished. Utah is an example of such a jurisdiction.
The maximum deductible amount varies. Most often, as in Arizona, it’s up to half the monthly rent. In some other places, it’s a set amount. Most repairs in Rhode Island, for example, can’t deduct more than $125 from the rent.
Things a Tenant Can’t Repair and Deduct
Tenants can’t deduct from the rent for all conceivable repairs. They can only do so after the landlord fails in his legal responsibility to fix something. In general, this is restricted to health and safety issues about which the landlord is properly notified.
Tenants must fix damage they cause themselves, and damage to their own personal property. They also can’t deduct for most minor issues that don’t threaten health and safety, like worn carpet, a scratched wall, or a blown light bulb.
Unusual State Standards for Repairing and Deducting
Most states allow a tenant to deduct for any repairs up to the allowed amount. Only a few states currently have unusual standards.
|Standard(s) for Repairing and Deducting
|Tenants may only deduct rent in order to restore essential services the landlord fails to provide.
|District of Columbia
|No clear case law. Tenants may withhold up to the full amount of rent, but courts haven’t ruled on how they can spend it on repairs (if at all).
|Tenants may only deduct rent to put smoke detectors in working order at the beginning of a tenancy.
Consequences for Improper Repairing and Deducting
The consequences for improper repairing and deducting depend on what the tenant did wrong.
If there wasn’t a legal duty to repair, or a proper opportunity for the landlord to do so, then deducting is often treated the same as a default on rent. This often lets the landlord evict. The same often holds when the tenant contracts for repairs that aren’t up to a professional standard.
Sometimes the landlord did fail to repair, but the tenant deducted too much. This makes the situation more complex. In these cases, the tenant usually is liable for the overcharge, but the landlord lacks cause to evict.
Professional Versus Amateur Repairs
Landlords have to make repairs to a professional standard of quality. The law puts this same expectation on tenants when they repair and deduct.
Many states, like Colorado, specifically require repairs by licensed professionals. This isn’t universal. Some places, like Washington, don’t require a professional for all repairs, as long as repairs are done to a quality standard.
Even when professional repairs aren’t a legal requirement, it’s risky for tenants to self-help or hire an amateur. Landlords can often evict if a tenant deducts rent without making professional-quality repairs.