Not all tenancies run smoothly, sometimes things can go wrong.
You may think about withholding rent in order to force your landlord to do something, such as repairs. You may think that withholding rent is justified if you feel you have been unfairly treated.
Whatever the circumstance and however you feel, withholding rent is always a risky option.
Tenant and landlord responsibilities
A fundamental part of the tenancy agreement is the tenant’s obligation to pay rent to live in the property. The landlord has a responsibility to make sure that the property is habitable to a decent standard.
If problems occur during your tenancy you should report them as soon as possible. You should report any repairs needed in writing and keep a record too. A landlord has a legal obligation to make sure that a property meets ‘the repairing standard’ and carries out repairs within a reasonable time after they are reported.
What is ‘reasonable’ will depend on the issue. Something like a boiler repair, particularly in winter, will be considered an urgent repair and should be treated immediately.
What is the repairing standard?
A privately rented property must meet ‘the repairing standard’. The Scottish Government defines the standard as:
• the property must be wind and water tight and in all other respects reasonably fit for people to live in
• the structure and exterior (including drains, gutters and external pipes) must be in a reasonable state of repair and in proper working order
• installations for supplying water, gas and electricity and for sanitation, space heating and heating water must be in a reasonable state of repair and in proper working order
• any fixtures, fittings and appliances that the landlord provides under the tenancy must be in a reasonable state of repair and in proper working order
• any furnishings that the landlord provides under the tenancy must be capable of being used safely for the purpose for which they are designed
• the property must have a satisfactory way of detecting fires and for giving warning in the event of a fire or suspected fire
• the property must have satisfactory provision for giving warning if carbon monoxide is present in a concentration that is hazardous to health.
Visit the Scottish Government’s website for further details.
The First-tier Tribunal for Scotland (Housing and Property Chamber)
If the landlord is not meeting their legal requirements or is breaking the terms of your tenancy agreement, you should write to them. You should keep a copy of this letter. If they fail to respond to the problem, you can take action against the landlord in the First-tier Tribunal for Scotland (Housing and Property Chamber). The Tribunal can order a landlord to comply with the repairing standard.
If things go wrong during your tenancy
Withholding rent to try and force your landlord to do something can put your tenancy at risk.
As a tenant you need to fulfil your obligations to the tenancy agreement as much as your landlord has to fulfil theirs.
If there is a problem during your tenancy you need to report it as soon as possible and keep a record of all communication. If the landlord does not meet their obligations the First Tier Tribunal is the correct path if the landlord is breaking the tenancy agreement. It may seem like an attractive way to remedy a difficult situation but withholding rent could lead to eviction and losing some or all of your deposit.