Sometimes a tenant will need to repair their apartment. It’s inevitable. Sometimes the repairs are small, like a broken cabinet, and sometimes large, like a broken toilet or heating system. In either case, your landlord is supposed to be the one to fix it. However, your landlord might not always be around, so it’s possible you’ll have to pay out of pocket to have someone fix the issue for you. If this has ever happened to you, you might be familiar with the phrase “Repair and Deduct.”
What is “Repair and Deduct?”
“Repair and Deduct” is the common phrase for people who had to pay out-of-pocket for a home repair and ask their landlord to deduct the repair cost from their monthly rent. Normally, it’s up to your landlord to make these repairs, but there are circumstances where they aren’t available, so it’s reasonable to ask for a reduction in rent. This is, after all, an unexpected cost in your life. Keep in mind tenants usually require landlord approval for any repairs made to their home. If you’ve communicated with your landlord about these repairs, you likely won’t have to worry about repair and deduction issues.
Is My Landlord Required to Accept a Repair and Deduct Request?
The answer to this is tricky and can depend on many factors. According to New York State Law, landlords are required to provide safe, livable housing to tenants. This means a living situation cannot be hazardous or detrimental to one’s life, health, or safety. For example, if something happens to an apartment’s electricity, water, gas, or oil, the landlord is legally required to fix it. If the landlord has made reasonable efforts to make these repairs, but has fallen short, then tenants can hire professionals to make the repairs themselves and have the cost taken out of their monthly rent.
Unfortunately, this is the only situation where landlords are legally obligated to accept a repair and deduct request. If a smaller, non-life-threatening request is made, like hiring a professional to fix a dishwasher, then the landlord can ignore the repair and deduct request and still charge you a full month’s rent. Landlords cannot retaliate against you for making such a request, but there are no laws that say a landlord has to reduce the rent in these scenarios.
Is Making a Repair and Deduct Request Worth It?
This depends on your situation. If you get along with your landlord, and there’s an emergency repair needed in your home, have a conversation with them about it over email. Talking about options with them in writing will protect you if they promise to reduce your rent for an out-of-pocket expense, and they will appreciate that you’re willing to come to the table to negotiate and compromise. This can be a great way to get a repair, and while it takes longer with no guarantee of a rent reduction, it will still get both parties involved in the process, so no one gets blindsided.
If you do not get along with them or don’t know your landlord, reach out to them with a repair request. After a request gets ignored several times, and you have a paper trail to prove it, send another letter saying that you intend to pay out of pocket to make the repair yourself and that you wish to deduct the cost from your rent. This will protect you from your landlord saying repairs weren’t approved since they repeatedly refused repair requests, and it could even get them to deduct your rent for the month, though there’s no guarantee.
If your landlord still refuses to reduce your rent after you’ve paid out-of-pocket for a repair, then you have the option to escalate the conflict and take your landlord to housing court. However, there’s a decent chance you’ll lose, as landlords have no obligation to lower your rent unless the issues make your apartment uninhabitable. After all, no law says a landlord has to deduct rent for a non-emergency. In addition to wasting your time, you’ll end up on the housing court database, which could mean finding a new place to live would be difficult.
It’s up to you to decide if a repair and deduct request is worth your time and effort. In an emergency, it’s worth it, but only after you’ve given the landlord a chance to fix it themselves. In a non-emergency situation, it depends on how amicable your landlord is. It probably won’t be an issue if you get along great and communicate with them. It’ll be a different story, though, if you’ve had issues in the past. Either way, it’s probably best to avoid housing courts in these situations, which usually means you’ll have to accept the repair cost.
Repair and deduct is a practice that is used all over the United States, and some places even have laws that guarantee a tenant’s right to do so. Unfortunately, New York is not one of those states. You are within your rights to make the request, but landlords don’t have to accept it unless it makes the property uninhabitable. This can lead to a sour relationship with your landlord and even a court case if it escalates to that point. It’s not a fair situation, but unless the law changes, that’s the way it is.
At the end of the day, communicating with your landlord, carefully reading your lease, and knowing your legal options is the best way to move forward when it comes to making repairs in a home you’re renting. In the meantime, advocating for laws that make repair and deduct a requirement can help improve the city’s future living situations. Making repairs to your home is never fun, especially if it’s an emergency. However, it’s an inevitable part of life, so knowing your options when these situations occur is important. Knowledge is power.