I have a tenant who has not paid all of his back rent. He says he shouldn’t have to since there was a month when his apartment bathroom needed repairs. Those repairs have now been made. What should I do?
Landlord and tenant rights are not always black and white, even with a strong lease to support them. And in the case of repairs, state laws typically specify tenant rights and landlord responsibilities when it comes to habitability problems, such as defective bathroom plumbing.
Assuming your tenant did not cause the plumbing problem and he gave you a reasonable time to fix it, your tenant may have been entitled to withold the rent until you made the necessary repairs. You'll need to check your state rules for details on tenant rights when it comes to rent withholding.The details of your situation (the severity of the plumbing problem, how long it took for you make to repairs, and the like) will also be key factors.
Even if your state law does not have specific rules regarding tenant rent withholding, it's worth negotiating with your tenant--especially if you believe you’re dealing with a good tenant you’d like to keep. You might consider offering your tenant a percentage discount on the month when the bathroom plumbing was in disrepair. You might also agree to reimburse your tenant for related expenses (for example, if the tenant had to stay in a hotel while you finished making the repairs).
If you believe you made all of the plumbing repairs in a timely fashion or if the tenant had a second working bathroom, then perhaps you should be less generous. But keep in mind that the costs of settling this dispute will probably be less than getting into a legal battle with the tenant (should it come to that).