Is Withholding Rent the Right Thing To Do?
The Bucks County Office of Consumer Protection advises a Levittown resident on witholding rent because of ignored repair requests.
Q. I have been living in my apartment for six years now. It has been a good arrangement up until about a year ago. I have asked my landlord many times recently to repair things in my apartment and each time my requests were ignored.
I am considering withholding my March rent payment until he does fix the problems. What do you think?
A. Withholding rent may be appropriate for you but only if your repairs would cost more than one month of your rent or if the issues in the apartment are so serious that your home is uninhabitable. But be careful; this is not often the wisest choice because the landlord could possibly start eviction proceedings.
In addition while you are withholding the rent, you should be preparing yourself by looking for another place to live.
Examples of what would not be appropriate problems for withholding rent are worn carpeting, leaky faucets, toilets that won’t stop running, cracked walls, or a normal amount of bugs.
Examples of what might be appropriate reasons to do so would be lack of hot water, no heat in the winter, dangerous conditions in the structure of the home, a seriously malfunctioning sewage system, or an extreme rodent or other type of infestation.
The safest way to withhold rent in the attempt to get the landlord to improve conditions is to put the rent money into a bank account separate from your other funds. This way, if your landlord tries to evict you or sue you for the money, you can prove to the court that you were not using the money for any other purpose.
The first step in this process would be to write to your landlord via certified mail, telling him about your problems and asking him to fix it. It must be done in writing even if you’ve already told him verbally about the problems.
Be as detailed as possible outlining the problems; explain how seriously it affects your family’s home, life, health, safety, cleanliness, etc. Always keep a copy of any correspondence between you and your landlord.
Make sure you give your landlord a reasonable amount of time to do the repairs. If he doesn’t fix the problem, you should write to him again via certified mail. Inform him that, because he has not fixed your home's problems, your home is uninhabitable, and therefore you intend to withhold your rent. Tell him that you will begin paying rent again after he fulfills his obligations as a landlord.
A less extreme measure, if the issues are less than one month’s rent, would be after sending the letters to your landlord, to hire someone to do the repairs, then sending a copy of the receipt and whatever monies remaining that would make up for the next month’s rent with a letter explaining your actions.
Consumers who are interested in viewing the Landlord/Tenant Act can go online at www.buckscounty.org and click on Consumer Protection under the heading to the right of the page titled "Quick links."