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Can you legally withhold rent?

When you rent a home or apartment in North Carolina, you expect it to be and remain in safe and habitable condition. You also expect your landlord to fix any problems that arise with the furnace, air conditioner, plumbing, wiring or appliances. But do you have the right to withhold rent if your landlord refuses to make the needed repairs or makes inadequate repairs?

The short answer is no. The North Carolina Consumers Council explains that under state law, you can withhold rent under two circumstances only: if your landlord consents to such action in writing or if a judge or magistrate gives you a court order letting you do so.

Your rights as a tenant

Just because you cannot withhold rent except under these two circumstances does not mean that you have no rights as a tenant. You do. First and foremost, you have the right to fair housing. What this means is that under both the Federal Fair Housing Act and the North Carolina Fair Housing Act, neither your landlord nor any prospective landlord can discriminate against you based on any of the following:

  • Your race or color
  • Your national origin
  • Your religion
  • Your sex
  • Your familial status
  • Your disability should you have one

In addition, you have the right to live in a building that meets all applicable building and housing codes and is safe and fit for human habitation.

Your responsibilities as a tenant

Be aware that you also have responsibilities as well as rights when you rent or lease property, including the following:

  • You must pay rent when due under the terms of your lease or rental agreement.
  • You must keep your home and its fixtures clean and safe.
  • You must dispose of all your trash, rubbish, garbage, etc.
  • You must notify your landlord in writing if (s)he needs to repair or replace any appliances or anything else for which (s)he bears responsibility.
  • You must not deliberately destroy or damage the premises.
  • You must pay for any damage you cause, which usually means your landlord can withhold the amount of any such damage from your security deposit when you move out.

Living in rental property should be a mutually good experience for both you and your landlord. Should a dispute arise, your best strategy is to remain calm, reasonable, and willing to resolve it as quickly and amicably as possible.

This is educational information and not intended as legal advice.

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