Can tenant withhold rent?

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Can tenant withhold rent?

My client has a skin allergy that requires her to use a water softener when she showers. It was agreed in the lease contract that the landlord would install the softener and the tenant would maintain it. The landlord is now refusing the install it even though it is in the contract. Can my client have installed and withhold the installation amount from the rent?

Asked on December 4, 2017 under Real Estate Law, Alaska

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 3 years ago | Contributor

Legally, the landlord's breach of this term does most likely entitle the tenant to pay for the installation and deduct the cost from her rent. (I say "most likely" because it is not impossible that a judge would interpret the situation that the tenant should sue landlord for the money she has to spend rather than simply deduct from the rent, unless the lease stated she could deduct--I believe that would not be the proper or most likely ruling, but it is possible.)
However, your client needs to bear in mind is that while based on what you write, the situation is legally in her favor, if the landlord is unwilling to accept the deduction in rent, he may choose to try to evict her for nonpayment of rent. While it appears that she would have a good defense to that action, she would still be forced to go to the time and effort of defending the matter; and if for some reason she missed her day in court to defend herself, she could be evicted by "default" (defaulting is like forfetiting a ball game by not showing up). I do not know the cost of a water softener, but if it is inexpensive, she may wish to simply absorb this cost herself rather than taking action that could result in having to defend (even if sucessfully) an eviction action.


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