Implied Warranty of Habitability

In all states, there is an unwritten promise, also known as “implied promise” that that residential property is suitable to live in. This means the landlord must ensure that the home they are renting or leasing out is compliant with all building codes, and he is responsible for making any repairs necessary to keep it in compliance. This implied warranty of habitability is not necessarily written in a lease or rental agreement, but the landlord is still legally responsible for abiding by it.  To explore this concept, consider the following implied warranty of habitability definition.

Definition of Implied Warranty of Habitability

Noun

  1. An implied promise that a landlord makes when he rents out a home. The promise states that the home is livable and complies with specific state building codes.

Basics of Implied Warranty of Habitability

Tenants are entitled to a livable home when they pay rent, no matter the amount of rent charged. Some basics required to be provided and maintained include:

  • A roof to keep out the elements
  • Hot water
  • Heat in some form
  • Constant access to clean water
  • Adequate lighting
  • Wall and floors that are sturdy and not in danger of collapsing
  • The absence of lead, asbestos, and mold
  • Adequate sewage
  • Locks and other protection from criminals intruding into the home
  • Placement of fully operational smoke alarms throughout the home

Intent of the Warranty of Habitability

The purpose of the warranty of habitability is not to place an extreme burden on the landlord, and so does not require meticulous compliance with building codes. Rather, the warranty requires “substantial compliance,” which means that temporary or minor problems do not amount to a breach of warranty. The true purpose of the warranty of habitability is to prevent slumlords from profiting by renting out squalid, rundown, and uninhabitable properties.

Major Habitability Problems vs. Minor Problems

A landlord has a duty to provide fit housing, but tenants should know the difference between major and minor habitability problems. Most commonly, major problems include those that are a concern for a person’s health or safety, while minor problems are more of an inconvenience.

Major Problems

  • Roof leak that results in wet floors or walls
  • Mold or mildew
  • Faulty hot water heater
  • Faulty wiring
  • Broken furnace
  • Entry doors that do not lock

Minor Problems

  • A small leak in the roof that leaves a slight stain on a ceiling
  • A hot water heater that heats to a few degrees less that state requirements
  • A furnace that is noisy
  • A screen door that does not have a lock
  • A broken heater during the summer months

Checking State Codes

If a tenant is unsure of the requirements imposed on their landlord to make the home habitable, they can contact a building inspector, their local health department, or the landlord tenant statues in their state. Some habitability requirements are federal rather than the state, including the presence of lead-based paint or asbestos fibers, as the presence of either can make a home a health hazard, violating the implied warranty of habitability.

Remedies

When a home’s condition fails to meet the required building codes, tenants should take the following steps:

  1. Notify the Landlord – outline the specific problems and request the necessary repairs in writing
  2. Report Uncooperative Landlord – if the landlord fails to respond to a request for repairs, the tenant should report him to the local building inspector
  3. Withholding Rent – if a landlord refuses to make repairs necessary to habitability, the tenant may be able to withhold rent for the purpose of paying for the repairs. Each state has specific requirements for a tenant to withhold rent. For example, in some states, the tenant must provide a written request and wait a certain number of days for the landlord to make the repairs. If the landlord fails to do so, the tenant can use rent money to make the repairs as long as the tenant provides a receipt to the landlord.
  4. Breaking the Lease – if a tenant can prove a breach of implied warranty of habitability, he may legally break the lease and move out before its termination date. Failure to provide a habitable residence is considered “constructive eviction.” Not only can the tenant to break the lease, but he may also be able to sue for damages in a civil lawsuit.

Eviction

It is important for tenants to carefully document all habitability issues, have the problems inspected by a professional, and keep records such as receipts and photos. If a landlord attempts to evict a tenant who has failed to pay rent under breach of warranty of habitability, or has only made partial payments for the purpose of making necessary repairs, the tenant should consult an attorney.

Related Legal Terms and Issues

  • Compliance – agree to, or obey the rules or the laws.
  • Evict – expel someone from a home or property.
  • Constructive Eviction – a situation in which a landlord either takes an action, or fails to take action, that makes the property inhabitable, thus forcing the tenant to move out.
  • Civil Suit – a lawsuit filed by one party against another for a civil wrong, such as breach of contract.
  • Substantial – a considerable amount or portion of something.
  • Uninhabitable – a place that is not suitable for living or inhabiting by humans.

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