013 – The Renter’s Remedy
Imagine this: you are renting a house for you and your family to live in and constantly have issues such as septic tank flooding, leaks, roof damage, or appliance problems. You call the landlord, but seem to get nowhere with them because they promise to come fix the problem, but somehow it never gets done. You could fix the problem yourself, so you decide you will just fix it and subtract your costs from your next rent check and send in a copy of the receipts from your purchases and a bill for your time to fix the problem showing the difference in your lease rent amount and the check you are mailing. Sounds reasonable right?
Well, under a lease, a tenant has certain rights and responsibilities. Primarily, the tenant has the responsibility of paying his rent on time and in addition, must keep the unit reasonably safe and clean, have garbage picked up and other wastes disposed of in a safe manner, keep all plumbing fixtures clean, use all fixtures in a safe manner, do not deliberately destroy the property or allow someone else to do so, do not disturb other tenants, and to comply with other rules included in the lease or tenancy agreement.
Let’s say you are doing all of those things and the landlord is still not addressing your problems. What is your remedy? Typically, you have a few options: first, you can send written notice to your landlord of the problems and if they are of a serious nature you may be able to end your lease. In addition to leaving the lease early or having the problems repaired, you may also seek actual damages incurred by the landlord’s failure to keep the unit healthy and safe and in some circumstances may be entitled to obtain a recovery of legal fees.
In cases where landlords have failed to provide essential services such as heat or water, you are generally allowed to procure reasonable amounts of the essential service and deduct those costs from your rent. But, this only applies to essential services.
Under no circumstance may a tenant make repairs to the property and try to deduct that from the rent without the landlord’s consent.