Can an Alabama Tenant Withhold Rent?
Landlord Tenant Law for Withholding Rent in Alabama
Landlords and tenants in Alabama have certain responsibilities based on landlord tenant law. If a landlord is not meeting the obligations to keep the rental property up to these health and safety standards, the tenant has certain rights. Learn the rights a tenant has in the state and if the tenant is allowed to withhold rent until these repairs are made.
Landlord’s Responsibility to Maintain Unit in Alabama
Under Alabama Code, Section 35-9A-204, a landlord has the responsibility of maintaining the premises.
These obligations are meant to keep the property in a safe and habitable condition.
The six main obligations of the landlord are:
- Follow all building and housing codes relating to health and safety issues.
- Make all repairs necessary to keep or bring the property into a habitable condition.
- Maintain all common areas of the property in a clean and safe condition.
- Keep all plumbing, electrical, heating, cooling, appliances or other facilities required to be supplied by the landlord in “good and safe working order.”
- Provide trash receptacles for the removal of garbage and other waste and arrange for their proper removal.
- Supply running water and reasonable amount of hot water and heat. If heat and hot water are under the exclusive control of the tenant, the landlord is not required to supply these utilities.
Mutually Agreed-Upon Tenant Responsibilities in Alabama
A landlord and tenant of a single family rental home can mutually agree that the tenant will be responsible for certain maintenance issues.
This agreement must be made in writing. The tenant can be responsible for garbage collection and removal, as well as their own utilities. The landlord and tenant may also agree that the tenant can be responsible for certain repairs, maintenance or remodeling.
A landlord and a tenant of a multifamily home can mutually agree that the tenant will be responsible for certain repairs, maintenance or remodeling if the following three conditions are met:
1. The agreement is made in a separate written statement that is signed by both parties.
2. The tenant cannot be responsible for any repairs, maintenance or alterations that would fix any existing building, health or safety code violations.
3. The agreement between the landlord and tenant cannot affect the obligations the landlord has to any other tenants in the property.
Can an Alabama Tenant Withhold Rent for Repairs?
No. Under Alabama Code Section 35-9A-164, a tenant’s first duty is to pay his or her rent when it is due. A tenant cannot withhold rent while he or she is living in the property in an attempt to get a landlord to perform a repair or maintenance request. Once the rent is paid, a tenant can take action if a repair or maintenance issue is not being addressed.
Tenants who are facing eviction may pay rent into an escrow account with the court instead of paying it directly to the landlord. The court will then decide if the tenant’s claim that the landlord has not made necessary repairs has merit or the court will rule in the landlord’s favor and the landlord can recover reasonable attorney’s fees from the tenant.
Tenant’s Remedy for Noncompliance by Landlord
If a landlord has materially breached the lease agreement or has failed to perform any of the maintenance required under Alabama landlord tenant code, the tenant can take action.
- Step 1: Identify the Breach
The tenant must first identify how the landlord has breached the lease agreement, failed to maintain the property according to health and safety standards or failed to supply agreed upon utilities, such as electricity or gas.
- Step 2: Provide Written Notice
The tenant must notify the landlord in writing of the breach.
- Step 3: 14 Days to Remedy
In the written notice, the tenant will give the landlord 14 days from receiving the notice to remedy the breach.
- Step 4a: Terminate Rental Agreement
If the breach is not remedied within 14 days of the landlord receiving the notice, the tenant has the right to terminate the rental agreement. The 14 day window is only valid if the breach is able to be remedied by repair, supplying of utilities or payment of damages. The landlord would also be responsible for returning the portion of the tenant’s security deposit that is owed back to the tenant, plus any prepaid rent.
- Step 4b: Recover Damages
This step is only valid in cases where the landlord has failed to supply necessary utilities. Instead of terminating the rental agreement, the tenant can recover damages based on the decrease in the fair market value of the unit due to lack of necessary utilities.
- Court Order:
The tenant could be awarded actual damages, plus reasonable attorney’s fees by a court of law. The tenant may also be granted injunctive relief against the landlord for noncompliance.
If a repair or maintenance issue has occurred because of the negligence or omission of the tenant, a member of the tenant’s family or any other person the tenant allowed into the property, the landlord is not financially responsible for fixing the issue and the tenant cannot terminate the rental agreement citing this issue. If the landlord does remedy the issue, he or she will pass the cost of remedying the issue onto the tenant.
Alabama’s Law on Withholding Rent
To view the text of Alabama’s code regarding withholding rent for repairs, please consult Alabama’s Uniform Residential Landlord and Tenant Act §§ Section 35-9A-164, Section 35-9A-204, Section 35-9A-401, Section 35-9A-404 and Section 35-9A-405.