Featured News 2014 When Is it Okay to Withhold Rent?

When Is It Okay to Withhold Rent?

Landlords have the duty to make a tenant's residence livable. In some states, if there is a serious issue that the landlord refuses to fix, a tenant can withhold rent. Of course, there are a good deal of factors that must be in place in order to do this, parameters that are outlined in each state's laws. It is important to consult a local real estate attorney if you want to know if you are able to stop your rent payments in your situation. To get a general overview of where and how withholding rent can take place, read on.

This action is only possible in some states, where rent withholding is explicitly named as a legal course of action under the right circumstances. If rent withholding is not legal in your state, you may have other options, such as repair-and-deduct. Now even in states where withholding rent is legal, this does not always mean that a tenant can simply refuse payment. In many places, a renter must leave the payment with a third party, such as a court or an escrow account with the local court or housing agency. These entities would hold onto the payments until your landlord performs the repairs. Then there are some states where you cannot exactly withhold rent, but if your landlord starts the eviction process because you are not paying, you can fight this with the argument that your landlord is not entitled to rent because the rental unit was unlivable.

How to Withhold Rent

1. Know the rules. Of course, you need to first of all know if local or state law will let you do this, and in states where you can, you still need to ensure that your circumstances match up to the requisite situations outlined in the law. You need to know when withholding rent is allowed, if and how you must notify your landlord, and what you must do with the rent you are holding back.

2. Give your landlord notice. This needs to be in writing, and depending on your area's laws, you may need to give them ten to 30 days' notice. You need to let him or her know what the issues with your residence are and that you plan to stop paying them the rent. Point out and send a copy of the state rules that justify your actions, and give your landlord a reasonable time within which they must address the problems. You should send this notice through certified mail and get a return receipt.

3. Gather your evidence. Right away. There is the chance that instead of doing the repair work, your landlord will try to evict you. In order to be prepared, keep a copy of all correspondences between you and your landlord, take pictures of the problems, or better yet, ask a qualified, neutral contractor to look over your residence and provide you with a signed, written, and dated report of what the issues at your place are and how much they could cost to fix.

4. Ask for the repairs again. If your landlord did not give the right reply to your first notice, give them one more deadline to meet.

5. File with your local court. There are states where you need to get permission from your court before you can withhold rent. This entails telling the court why your residence is uninhabitable, and other processes. You can find out what exactly it is you need to do, and you can get the papers you need, when you go to your court, or to the housing department listed in your state's law regarding rent withholding.

6. Deposit the rent. Depending on your state's laws, you will need to deposit the withheld rent in escrow, depositing the payments with a court, housing agency, or in a new bank account made only for this purpose. Your state law may not tell you to do this, but it is advisable all the same, showing that you aren't simply trying to get out of paying the rent. If a court or housing agency does not have this type of account, a mediation service is another option, as is opening a "trust account" with a real estate attorney.

After the landlord has made the repairs, they will want to be paid the full amount in back rent, and you will have to do so unless you can get a retroactive rent abatement. You might be able to convince your landlord to give this abatement, or you might have to go through court to get it.

To learn more about this process and your rights as a tenant, contact a local real estate lawyer today!

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