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Repair and Deduct

DEFINITION

Repair and deduct is a real estate term that refers to a tenant’s right to make repairs to their rental unit and deduct the cost from their monthly rent, if the landlord has refused to make the repairs, which has made the property uninhabitable.

EXPLANATION

The right to repair and deduct only applies when the landlord has not responded to a tenant’s notice to make the necessary repairs to the rental property in order to meet all health and safety requirements. Once the tenant has identified some necessary repairs that are making their home unsafe and unfit to be occupied, they must first issue a notice stating the need for the repairs, while giving the landlord up to 14 days to respond and make the repairs.

If the landlord does not respond or refuses to make the repairs, the tenant can now choose to either vacate the unit, or to make the repairs and deduct the costs from their monthly rent. However, before making the repairs, the tenants must check local and state regulations to ensure that it is the landlord’s responsibility to make the needed repairs. If it is not the landlord’s duty to make the repairs, then the tenant’s only viable option might be to move out of the unit.

The Implied Warranty of Habitability

The rental properties in most states, except Arkansas, are offered to tenants on the basis of an implied warranty of habitability. This means that the landlord is obliged to keep the rental property in a habitable condition throughout your tenancy in the unit. This principle is the basis of the repair and deduct rights that tenants in many states are allowed to exercise.

Common Landlord Responsibilities

Most states require landlords to maintain their rental properties in order to keep them in habitable conditions for their tenants. This means that all the facilities within the rental property must be properly installed and must be maintained in line with the health and safety regulations of the state. Some of the most common landlord obligations include:

–             Ensuring that the rental unit is entirely waterproof with no leaking roofs, or exterior windows and doors as well as exterior walls.

–             The plumbing and gas installations must meet regulatory standards and must work properly.

–             The heating and electrical equipment and appliances must meet the recommended standards and must function properly.

–             Each state might have additional maintenance obligations that must be handled by the landlord.

Common Violations by Landlords

Some of the most common violations by landlords may result in the rental unit being uninhabitable, hence, they may allow for repair and deduct. The list below includes some of these violations:

–             Lack of safe drinking water, or lack of water entirely.

–             A roof that is leaking profusely.

–             Plumbing that is not working properly, or even leaking.

–             Exposed wires and faulty electrical connections.

–             Peeling lead-based paint in pre-1978 houses.Repair and Deduct Provisions by States

Tenants should keep in mind that not all states allow tenants to repair and deduct the costs with some states such as Alabama explicitly prohibiting tenants from withholding rent regardless of their reasons. In such cases, the tenant may choose to pursue other options such as suing the landlord to force them to make the repairs, or making the repairs and suing the landlord in order to recover the repair costs.

Should You Sue the Landlord for Violating His Obligations?

The question as to whether to sue a landlord for not honoring his obligations to you as a tenant depends on your unique situation as the tenant. I most cases, it only makes sense to sue the landlord if you can realistically continue to live in your current rental unit. For example, you might sue a landlord for a leaking bedroom roof if you have other bedrooms that you can keep using as you wait for the suit to be resolved. However, it might not be prudent to continue staying in a house if the heating unit is broken and it is winter.

Sometimes suing your landlord might be better than rent withholding or repair and deduct as these methods may give the landlord adequate reason to evict you, while you can continue living in your rental property even if you lose your lawsuit. However, by suing you are likely to annoy the landlord who may decide to terminate your lease shortly after the suit is decided. If this happens, you may be protected by your state’s anti-retaliation laws.

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