Fight retaliation over 'repair and deduct'

Rent it Right

Q: I’m having rent hassles with my landlord. When he refused to replace a cracked window, claiming that I broke it, I had it fixed and deducted the cost from the next month’s rent (I think it broke during a recent windstorm). Now he’s shut off my cable TV access, which was part of the deal when I rented the place. Is he allowed to do this? –Hiram B.

A: If your landlord had responded by shutting off the gas, electricity or water, the answer would have been simple: Cutting off utility services in response to a tenant’s exercise of a legal right (such as the right to repair and deduct) is considered illegal retaliation in most states. Even when tenants improperly use "repair and deduct," landlords may not resort to pressure tactics like changing the locks, shutting off gas or electricity, or interrupting other utilities that they control.

The correct response to a tenant’s improper use of repair and deduct is to respond to the short rent check that the tenant thinks is justified. Landlords should send a notice to pay rent or quit, and then file for eviction if the tenant does not leave or pay the entire rent within the time specified in the notice.