Rent Credit for Tenant Repairs

Rent Credit for Tenant Repairs

A common notion is held that a tenant should be given rent credit for tenant repairs made to the home. Some tenants assume this should happen and mistakenly take it for granted. Some landlords work with tenants to allow rent credit, thereby contributing to this common conception. Some landlords expressly prohibit giving rent credits to tenants in the lease agreement to avoid a tenant’s claim to this effect. In fact, the issue of rent credit can be confusing and create legal problems for both the landlord and tenant if not handled properly.

Even with a written lease provision to the contrary, a landlord may face a valid tenant claim for “rent credit” if his actions constitute a waiver of that lease provision, and with some lease provisions, a tenant is entitled to rent abatement or reduction under certain circumstances. A Florida county court decision in Cobb v. Pittman, 2018CC3251, Bay County, Florida demonstrates some rent-credit issues.

In Cobb, the landlord was suing the tenant for non-payment of rent. The tenant, however, believed that he should be credited the rent because he paid money to repair an electrical panel damaged by a storm and the landlord had given him rent credit for making others repairs in the past. This time, however, the landlord did not give him rent credit, and he filed an eviction when the tenant did not pay the rent demanded in a 3 day notice to pay or vacate.

The tenant filed a motion to determine rent pursuant to Florida Statute 83.60(2), whereby he asked the court to give him credit for the repair monies he spent, in light of the past arrangements of the landlord to give him credit. Ultimately, the court did not give the tenant credit for the repair. Here's why.

The court noted that the lease agreement provided that any alterations to the property require the tenant to get the landlord’s permission prior to the alteration and in writing. While the tenant did not get prior, written permission for rent credit, the court did not appear to rest his ruling on this fact alone, though it may have had a bearing.

Instead, the court found that the landlord had given the tenant rent credit for other repairs he made in the past, but the prior arrangements were such that the tenant received permission for rent credit before he expended money on a repair. Since the tenant did not get the landlord’s prior permission for rent credit, the court did not give the tenant rent credit at the rent determination hearing.

Notably, the court seemed to give credibility to the tenant’s argument that tenant repairs could constitute rent payment when the prior actions of the landlord demonstrated a rent-credit agreement; and the court’s order further demonstrates how a landlord or tenant may, by his actions, waive or alter a written lease provision where the other party reasonably relies on the other's actions or promises.

The following are lessons both landlord and tenant should learn from this “rent credit” case.

Landlords:

1) Prepare your legal notices correctly and with the advice of counsel. A defective notice provides defenses to the tenants.

2) Do not act contrary to the lease agreement. Your actions may be taken as a waiver of a lease provision.

3) For any agreements outside of the lease agreement, put them in writing and signed by the parties.

4) Maintain the premises as required by FS 83.51 and the lease agreement. If you do not, the tenant has remedies to either withhold rent or terminate the lease where the violations are material and the tenant gives proper notice.

5) Where the premises have been damaged by a disaster, hire a licensed professional or contractor to inspect and repair the damage. Do not leave such matters to the tenant or non-professionals. You may incur more damages and risk greater liability.

6) If you allow rent credits in exchange for tenant repairs, detail the terms and conditions in writing, signed by the parties, which allow you to enforce the agreement if the tenant breaches it.

Tenants:

1) If your landlord makes an agreement with you, put it in writing and get the landlord to sign the terms and conditions in writing.

2) If your landlord gives you rent credit for improvements to the property, have the landlord sign receipt of the rent credit: identify the amount of credit, the month of rent for which it is applied, and any balance of rent owed after the credit is given.

3) If the property is damaged, especially rendering the home uninhabitable, give the landlord written notice of the damage and specify the damages to the best of your ability.

4) If the damages are such that the landlord is obligated to remedy under FS 83.51, provide the landlord with a written 7 day notice to cure stating the defects in detail, stating that the failure to cure the defect will result in the tenant withholding rent or terminating the lease.

5) Do not attempt to perform repairs to a home that requires a license and code compliance. You may cause damages to the home or injuring persons if you do.

If you are a landlord or tenant, contact The Virga Law Firm for all your landlord-tenant needs and ask for attorney Tim Baldwin, who is our attorney who specializes in residential landlord-tenant law. Call us at (850) 972-8610.