Can a tenant withhold rent for repairs performed by the tenant? As of November 1st, 2022, a residential tenant in Oklahoma can deduct up to one month’s rent for self-help repairs within certain parameters. But many tenants make the mistake of ceasing to pay rent altogether. It is criticial to understand the requirements for self-help repairs, as explained below.
In the past, tenants were allowed to deduct up to $100 for certain self-help repairs when the landlord had failed to perform them. However, the Oklahoma legislature recently raised the limit for self-help tenant repairs. Oklahoma HB- 3409 was signed into law with an effective date of November 1st, 2022. This bill amends 41 Okla. Stat. Section 121 of the Oklahoma Residential Landlord Tenant Act.
Under the new law, a tenant can potentially withhold up to one full month’s rent for a self-help repair. But it’s not just any repair! Many tenants make the mistake of withholding an entire rent check (or multiple rent checks) without following the strict statutory process for self-help repairs. This could lead to a default of the underlying lease and subsequent eviction.
For that reason, it’s important for both landlords and tenants to understand the exact process and scope of the self-help repair provision. Under the new version of Section 121:
“Except as otherwise provided in this act, if there is a material noncompliance by the landlord with any of the terms of the rental agreement or any of the provisions of Section 118 of this title which noncompliance materially affects health and the breach is remediable by repairs, the reasonable cost of which is equal to or less than one month’s rent, the tenant may notify the landlord in writing of his or her intention to correct the condition at the landlord’s expense after the expiration of fourteen (14) days. If the landlord fails to comply within said fourteen (14) days, or as promptly as conditions require in the case of an emergency, the tenant may thereafter cause the work to be done in a workmanlike manner and, after submitting to the landlord an itemized statement, deduct from his or her rent the actual and reasonable cost or the fair and reasonable value of the work, not exceeding the amount specified in this subsection, in which event the rental agreement shall not terminate by reason of that breach.”41 Okla. Stat. Section 121, as modified by HB 3409
When approached correctly by both landlords and tenants, this provision could benefit both parties by dealing with relatively minor but urgent repairs.
However, tenants must pay close attention to the procedural requirements of the law. Here are a few of the most critical and overlooked features of the self-help repair allowance:
- Pre-Repair Notice. A clear and detailed notice must be sent to the landlord at least 14 days before the tenant performs the repair. The notice should be sent in compliance with any notice provisions in the lease agreement, and it should give the landlord a clear picture of what needs to be fixed and why it “materially affects health.” Only if the landlord fails to conduct the repair 14 days after the notice should the tenant proceed with the repair (except in the case of an emergency).
- Itemized Statement. Furthermore, tenants should not overlook the final requirement: submitting an itemized statement to the landlord, showing the nature and amount of the repair. Ideally, this itemized statement should include any contractor invoices and provide as much detail as possible to justify the necessity and reasonableness of the work. In most cases, the itemized statement should be submitted along with the reduced rental check (at the same time the tenant would normally pay rent).
- Materially Affects Health. The law only allows tenant repairs to fix a situation that “materially affects health.” But what does that mean? The definitions section of the Act does not define that term. This leaves room for disagreement between landlords and tenants over what materially affects health. No law can address all possible situations, so the parties should exercise reasonable judgment on this issue, trying to be as objective and fair as possible.
- Landlord’s Obligation. To qualify for rent reduction, the repair must be one that the landlord was obligated to perform under the lease agreement or the Act. If the repair was related to maintenance duties properly allocated to the tenant in the lease agreement, then the tenant cannot reduce rent for performing that repair.
If in doubt, both landlords and tenants can contact a real estate attorney for a situational opinion on how to properly follow the procedures of the new self-help tenant repair provision.