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Can I take the cost of repairs out of my rent?

You notice your refrigerator is not working well or your window lock is broken. As a responsible renter, you do what you are supposed to: Call your landlord and let him know about the problem. Then you wait. Days, then weeks pass, and the landlord keeps ignoring your calls.

Unfortunately, renters throughout the Los Angeles area can often relate to this scenario. When landlords fail to step up to their responsibilities, tenants want to know if they can repair on their own and then deduct the cost from rent payments.

Rules for repair and deduct

California law does allow tenants to repair and deduct, but only if they comply with a strict set of requirements. First of all, the broken item must affect your ability to live on the premises. Typically, these are items necessary for health, safety and reasonable comfort. Common examples include heaters, air conditioners, windows and locks. Additionally, if you want to deduct repairs, you yourself must not have caused the item to break.

Letting the landlord know

You also have to notify the landlord about the problems before you take additional steps. Some landlords will later deny that you called them on the phone and you may have no way of proving the conversation happened or what you said. Writing a letter listing the conditions, asking for repairs and offering to repair and deduct can help you prove you met the notification requirement. You may also want to take pictures of the broken items.

Allowing reasonable time to fix

After you notify the landlord, you must wait a "reasonable" time for him to fix the problems. Usually, a reasonable time means 30 days. However, if you cannot live for that long without the repairs, this period can end much sooner. For example, no court would expect a tenant to go for 30 days without hot water or electricity.

Using qualified repair people

When you carry out the repairs, you must use licensed contractors. Under no circumstances should you perform the repairs yourself, even if you are a licensed contractor. Make sure you get an estimate, an invoice and a final receipt in writing.

Repairing and deducting may be your only effective and legal option; however, it also comes with risks. If you have a problem with your landlord, speak with a qualified attorney who can protect your rights and help you do things the right way.

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