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Tenant withholding rent, lease poss not enforceable

On Aug 1st 2008, I had two tenants (roommates) move in to my property in Nashville. Only one of them provided references and had agreed to be on the lease but had asked if it was ok if she had a roommate. This was ok with me as long as she understood that the lease was her responsibility. Deposits were not paid in full with them claiming to have made some repairs. Receipts for this were never sent in spite of several requests. Lease was corrected by hand and signed by both against my wishes. Although I have sent them notices and requested proper references and a proper lease be signed, this never happened. In that lease I had agreed to pay up to $200 a month in utilities. Now they paid half of rent for Nov, no rent for Dec and have been running utilities really high. They are withholding rent on the basis that they would like a discount on rent for having heaters instead of the gas unit being on.  they claim that they are under signed lease.

Some states permit "withhold and repair", which is when a tenant is permitted to with-hold rent and use the money for repairs. This is usually only permitted when warnings are given to the landlord. In some states, a tenant may with-hold rent but must put it in an escrow account. If the landlord objects and a court hearing is required, the judge would ask for proof of the account. In some states it is not permitted to with-hold rent at all. This is a complicated issue. I think I personally would get a attorney's advice.
They can only withhold rent if they put it in writing because the place was 'uninhabitable' meaning they had to make repairs inorder to live there.  Like if the roof was leaking water on their heads at night, and they got if fixed because you wouldn't, so now they are getting reimbursed by not paying the full rent.  Just because they want to use elec instead of gas for heat is not grounds for withholding rent.  The only thing that is happening here is that they have not paid the rent, and you should act on that.  I did a 3 day notice to my tenant (roommate) because in CA it could take between 30 to 70 days to evict someone, with no guarantee of ever seeing you money even if the judge rules in your favro.
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