What are my rights regarding a roof leak and offsetting my rent?

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What are my rights regarding a roof leak and offsetting my rent?

I’ve refused to pay rent for the last 4 months. I’ve contacted the city for repair help. The roofing is leaking and sagging in several spots. My front door is ready to split. The landlord is making no effort to make repairs. What should I do next? I like my location but don’t feel that I should be paying to live in such conditions.

Asked on June 15, 2015 under Real Estate Law, Washington

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 5 years ago | Contributor

There is no good way to vindicate your right to a decent, habitable place to live. The 1st problem is that the law only gives you to the ;legal (as opposed to moral or human) right to a habitable space--not an attractive space, not a decent space, not a space worth what you are paying, etc. So if the leak is not affecting habitability--your ability to safely live there--the law does not offer you any recourse. Landlords do not have to keep up their rental space so long as it is habitable.

Second, even if habitability is impaired, your option is to what you have been doing--withholdign rent. Then, if the landlord tries to evict you for unpaid rent, you raise breach of the "implied warranty of habitability" as a defense in court. The judge may then, if he/she agrees with you, order the landlord to make repairs and/or give you a rent credit or abatement. But this requires you to withhold rent and wait for the landord to try to evict you to be vindicated. And if the judge feels that that the condition did impair habitability, he may order you to pay the full amount of withheld rent immediately.


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