Alabama tenants are legally entitled to rental property that meets basic structural, health, and safety standards and is in good repair. When a landlord fails to take care of important maintenance, such as a leaky roof or a broken heater, the tenant can demand that the landlord take action.
Despite popular opinion, Alabama tenants can not withhold rent or use "repair and deduct" when landlords fail to make important repairs that are necessary to keep the rental fit and habitable. (Ala. Code § 35-9A-164.) Tenants should put their requests in writing and deliver the notice to the landlord, giving the landlord 14 days to accomplish the repair (or less, if it's an emergency). If the landlord does not make the repairs, tenants can move out without responsibility for future rent. Alternatively, tenants can remain in the rental and sue the landlord for damages, which would be the difference between the stated rent and the value of the rental in view of its uninhabitable state. Judges can also direct landlords to make repairs.
Tenants in Alabama who are evicted for failure to pay rent can raise, as a counterclaim, the landlord's failure to make needed repairs. But this does not mean that tenants can withhold rent. When tenants properly file a counterclaim in an eviction lawsuit, they must pay all rent due into the court, and the court will then hear the counterclaim. If the judge decides that the counterclaim is frivolous, the landlord might be able to obtain attorneys' fees from the tenant. (Ala. Code § 35-9A-405.)
For an overview of Alabama landlord-tenant law, including your rights to habitability and how to get your landlord to make repairs, see Nolo's article, Overview of Landlord-Tenant Laws in Alabama. AlabamaLegalHelp.org also has a lot of helpful information about Alabama landlord-tenant law.
Nolo's Laws and Legal Research section has lots of advice on finding and reading statutes and court decisions.
Also, check your local housing ordinances for any city or county rules that cover tenant rights when it comes to repairs. Contact your local building or housing authority. To find yours, call your mayor or city manager's office or check your city's or county's website.