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Being a landlord is not an easy job. Underlying your primary job of maintaining your properties and keeping your tenants happy is a whole legal framework that can be as treacherous as walking through a mine field.

One legal question that every landlord will eventually encounter is what to do when a tenant refuses to pay rent in an attempt to get the landlord to make a repair(s) that the tenant believes is necessary.

A landlord in this situation should look very closely at the repair(s) the tenant has requested. If the repair(s) that the tenant has requested falls under Oregon’s habitability statute the landlord should tread lightly. Under Oregon law a landlord is required to maintain their rental property in a habitable condition. But, what does habitable mean?

If you asked most landlords whether their rental properties are habitable almost all landlords would answer emphatically, “yes”. However, is it enough for a landlord to simply tell their tenant, who refuses to pay, that the property is fine and they must pay?

All landlords reading this should be answering this question, “No”.

If a landlord demands that a tenant pay rent and the tenant refuses to pay rent the landlord is left with only one option, forcible-entry-and-unlawful-detainer action (FED) or what is commonly known as eviction. However, once a landlord files an FED action they open the door for a tenant to assert a counterclaim against the landlord for issues of habitability.

In a counterclaim for habitability a tenant can assert numerous different claims of habitability problems with the home. Habitability issues do not have to render the home completely unlivable, the habitability issues may simply diminish the rental value of the property.  If a judge finds that any of the issues claimed in the counterclaim are legitimate a landlord may be obligated to reduce the rent that the tenant owes until the landlord has cured the habitability issues. In severe habitability cases rent may be completely reduced if the landlord has failed to provide several essential services. Additionally, a prevailing tenant may be entitled to attorney’s fees and costs from the landlord.

When faced with this situation it is best that a landlord consult with an attorney who has experience with habitability issues to evaluate the situation and provide legal counsel on how to proceed.