Some renters who run into issues or disputes with their landlord might consider withholding rent in an effort to address these issues. For example, withholding rent could be a tactic used to force the landlord to make needed repairs, such as fixing a water leak or a problem with the furnace. This most commonly happens if delaying these repairs is affecting the renter's quality of life, or if they are legally required.
If regular phone calls or written requests to the landlord are not getting a response, withholding rent could be a viable course of action. However, laws can vary from state to state, and there are some rules and guidelines that should be followed in order to do this in a way that is in compliance with the law.
Here are some things to consider if you feel that withholding rent is the best course of action in your situation:
Start by reading up on your state's statutes and laws regarding landlord/renter issues, including the specific terms, requirements and conditions that govern rent withholding in your state. Find out how much notice you legally have to give your landlord, where the rent money has to go and which types of violations justify rent withholding from a landlord.
Document the Issue(s)
If you are considering withholding rent in order to get your landlord or management company to make repairs or fix a problem, take detailed notes about the issues and document it through photography as well. Be sure to photograph it from all angles, both wide shots and up-close detail shots.
Notify the Landlord
If you receive no response to your initial calls and requests, inform the landlord in writing using certified mail. (You'll receive a return receipt that you should save as proof of communication). In the letter, express clearly what the issues are and that you are planning to withhold rent unless the repair issues are addressed. Along with the letter, include a copy of the statute or law that shows rent withholding procedures for your state. Give the landlord an appropriate deadline in which to respond. Keep a copy of the letter for your records.
Wait for a Reply
Wait until your response deadline to see if the landlord responds to your requests.
Set a Repair Deadline
If you receive no reply from the landlord by your deadline, send another certified letter imposing a repair deadline.
Acquire the Necessary Paperwork
If there is still no response, visit the appropriate courthouse for your area and acquire the paperwork necessary to be able to legally withhold rent from your landlord.
File with the Courts
Withholding rent most often means depositing the money with the court -- not just refusing to write or send the rent check and keeping it. In most cases you'll have to deposit the money in an escrow account that is maintained by the court. Even in states where this is not required, it is wise to do this; it will make you and your case look more professional if the money is in the hands of a neutral third party.
Having to withhold rent is not an ideal scenario, but sometimes it is necessary to get fair and compliant results from a landlord. If you ever find yourself in such a situation, these steps can help you to navigate the process.