By Jedidiah McKeehan
I often get phone calls from tenants who will start the conversation talking about how terrible their landlord is and how the landlord will fix nothing and they are living in the worst living situation there ever was. Then they get to where they tell me that, oh we are getting evicted because we stopped paying rent.
Unfortunately, you don’t get to just stop paying rent because the landlord will not fix what you think they should. What can you actually do if the landlord does not fix what they are supposed to fix?
Tennessee Code Annotated section 66-28-502 states that if a landlord deliberately or negligently fails to supply essential services, the tenant shall give written notice to the landlord specifying the breach and may do one of the following:
(A) Procure essential services during the period of the landlord’s noncompliance and deduct their actual and reasonable costs from the rent;
(B) Recover damages based upon the diminution in the fair rental value of the dwelling unit, provided tenant continues to occupy premises; or
(C) Procure reasonable substitute housing during the period of the landlord’s noncompliance, in which case the tenant is excused from paying rent for the period of the landlord’s noncompliance.
Nowhere in there does it say you can simply withhold rent payments while staying in the property.
Further, the landlord is only required to supply “essential services.” What are considered essential services? Under the statute, essential services are utility services, including gas, heat, electricity, and any other obligations imposed upon the landlord which materially affect the health and safety of the tenant.
First, unless the issue that the landlord is not fixing something that materially affects the health and safety of the tenant, then the landlord need not fix the issue the tenant is complaining about.
Next, if the tenant believes that the landlord is not fixing what they are supposed to fix, the solution is not to just stop paying rent.
The options are: the tenant can fix the issue themselves and deduct the repair costs from their rent; sue for the loss in rental value to the property, or secure substitute housing until the landlord makes the required repairs.
Jedidiah McKeehan is an attorney practicing in Knox County and surrounding counties. He works in many areas, including personal injury, divorce and custody, criminal and landlord-tenant law. Visit attorney-knoxville.com for more information about this legal issue and other legal issues.