Under what conditions can a tenant legally withhold rent?

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Under what conditions can a tenant legally withhold rent?

I am currently renting a house and have resided there for the last 1 1/2 years. I’ve recently been dealing with some problems from my landlord not wanting to make repairs (i.e. broken/leaking pipes/roach infestation/constant flooding). I am currently looking for a new house to rent but in the meantime I don’t feel that I need to pay the rent if none of the problems are being taken care of. In fact the problems have caused me to spend more money then what is due from my rent. This is the first month that I haven’t paid, but now she’s leaving me voicemails stating that I have 3 days to leave the property. Under the circumstances, does she have the power to evict me?

Asked on June 24, 2011 under Real Estate Law, Florida

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 10 years ago | Contributor

1) If you don't pay the rent, the landlord may bring an action to evict you.

2) If there were issues affecting habitability--and only habitability; repairs that should be made but do not affect the ability to safely and appropriate use the house as a residence--then you can raise that failure to make the repairs as a defense to eviction. However, it is far from certain that you would win; while a failure to make critical repairs (or deal with significant pest problems) can give the tenant the right to withhold rent to make repairs, generally you have to actually use the withheld money for the repairs and you can't withhold more than is required to do that. You also need to have given the landlord proper written notice.

3) As implied above, withholding rent is "dangerous"--it is very easy to do it wrong and be evicted. You should retain a landlord-tenant attorney and follow his or her advice; it is likely that your best course is to pay the rent due, to avoid eviction, then bring a legal action against the landlord for compensation and/or to compel the repairs, but again, you need a lawyers help to make sure you assert your rights inn the proper way.


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