Want to Use the Repair & Deduct Strategy as a Tenant? Be Sure You Follow the Rules!

The “repair and deduct” strategy is a powerful tool tenants can use when a landlord refuses to pay for necessary repairs to a rental property. While you are well within your rights to repair defects yourself and deduct the cost from the rent, this must be done correctly or it will be you who is in trouble.

Here’s what you should know about the conditions and procedures that must be followed to use the repair and deduct strategy as a tenant in California.

It Must Be an Issue of Habitability

You can’t repair minor problems and deduct the cost from your rent, but you can if the issue affects your safety or health as a tenant. Be sure to consider this before you employ the repair and deduct strategy. You can certainly use the repair and deduct method to deal with issues like:

  • Leaking plumbing
  • Water heater issues
  • Thermostat problems
  • Broken front door lock
  • Broken window

It’s important to note that the conditions do not need to be so bad that they justify withholding rent, which requires a substantial reduction in habitability.

You Must Inform the Landlord

The landlord must be informed of the problems and given a chance to correct them. After all, the “repair and deduct” remedy actually involves spending the landlord’s money against his will and potentially hiring contractors at a greater expense than he could have done. The best way to inform the landlord is to do it in writing and identify the issues, how they affect you, whether they pose a safety or health risk, what needs to be done, and when it should be done. Send the letter by certified mail, keep a copy, and take pictures of the conditions.

The Landlord Needs a Reasonable Amount of Time to Fix the Problem

30 days is presumed to be a reasonable amount of time to correct most habitability issues for a landlord, unless the problem severely affects tenants (such as no working toilet, no electricity, or a broken front door lock) or the problem can be fixed quickly by qualified, available workers.

Take Care in Hiring a Repairman

After you wait a reasonable amount of time for the landlord to fix it, you can call in a repairman. It’s important to note that you cannot charge for your own time, even if you are qualified. Be sure you hire a qualified, licensed contractor to perform the work. Get an estimate for the job, pay out of pocket for the repairs and labor, and use your paid invoice as a receipt. You do not need to choose the cheapest contractor as this is the risk the landlord takes in not fixing the problem when he or she was informed. If the item must be replaced because it cannot be repaired, that is fine but be sure the contractor notes this on the invoice.

Work Cannot Exceed One Month’s Rent

The work done cannot exceed one month’s rent and you can only use this remedy twice in a 12-month time period. It is possible to have several defects repaired at once as long as they do not exceed one month’s rent.

Deduct the Cost from Your Rent

Once the work is done, total up your receipts and write down this amount. Subtract it from your normal rent amount and pay that new amount in rent for the next month. Be sure to note “Repair and deduct – [Month] rent” in the memo on the check. Make copies of your receipts and calculations and include a cover letter for your deductions that explains that you repaired and deducted for items covered by Civil Code 1942. While these steps are not legally required, they can protect you if your landlord attempts to evict you for failure to pay rent.

Finally, it’s important to protect yourself by keeping a log and all documentation, including where the defect is located, photographic evidence of the defect, when and how the landlord was informed, when you took action, how the defect was repaired, and copies of your letter to your landlord, and invoice from the contractor.

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