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How Does a Tenant Use Repair and Deduct?

Every landlord must make major repairs to their rental units. When they don't, a tenant can repair and deduct the repair cost from the monthly rent. This is not an automatic right. Anyone considering "repair and deduct" should first consult state law and local ordinances, or they may face eviction proceedings for nonpayment of rent.

This article explores the sources of the repair and deduct remedy and how to use repair and deduct.

Sources of Repair and Deduct

A tenant can only use repair and deduct when the landlord has a legal duty to repair major defects. There are two sources of this duty. The first is the lease or rental agreement. The second is under the implied warranty of habitability.

Lease or Rental Agreement

The lease or rental agreement should contain a clause outlining the landlord's responsibility for necessary repairs. Typical landlord repairs include the following:

  • Broken locks
  • Hot water
  • Running water
  • Smoke detectors
  • Broken heater
  • Structural damage

Landlords are also responsible for maintaining common areas of the rental property, such as stairways, railings, lobby, and laundry facilities.

Tenants are often responsible for minor repairs, such as changing a lightbulb or disposing of lint in a lint tray.

Implied Warranty of Habitability

Every rental unit comes with an implied warranty of habitability. This warranty is often based on local housing or building codes designed to ensure the rental unit is healthy and safe. The building codes will outline all rental properties' health and safety standards. Consider, for example, pest or rodent infestation. The presence of an infestation means the unit is unhealthy and unsafe for human life. The landlord must hire an exterminator to meet the relevant code.

Using Repair and Deduct

Once you are sure the landlord must repair a material defect, inform the landlord of the repair. Check your lease. Most landlords specify how renters should inform them of defects. Moreover, tenants must give their landlord notice of the defect in many states before they can jump to rent withholding.

Notice

To avoid any confusion or delay, consider doing the following:

  • Send your landlord written notice of needed repairs.
  • Send your repair request via certified mail so that you have proof of delivery.
  • Give the landlord a reasonable amount of time to make the repairs.

What is reasonable will depend on the defect, but not more than 30 days.

Escrow Account

If your landlord fails to timely repair the defects, you can explore other options, like "repair and deduct." First, check state and local laws to understand your rights and obligations if you decide to do the repairs. Some states, like Maryland, have strict requirements for using repair and deduct. Failure to follow these requirements could result in an eviction for nonpayment of rent.

In Maryland, if a landlord does not fix defects within 30 days of notice, the tenant may ask the court to open an escrow account. The court holds a hearing, and if the court agrees with the tenant, the court will establish an escrow account for the rent. The tenant will then deposit their next month's rent into this account until the landlord makes the repairs.

In other states, after giving notice and a reasonable amount of time to repair, the tenant may organize the repair and deduct the cost of the repair from the rent.

Get Help

Living with a broken heater or a pest infestation can jeopardize a tenant's health. If your landlord refuses to make necessary repairs, speak to a landlord-tenant attorney. They can help you navigate landlord-tenant laws and give you sound legal advice. Speak to a landlord-tenant attorney today.

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