Implied Warranty of Habitability

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The "implied warranty of habitability" is a fancy way of saying that your property owner is required to provide and maintain a livable premises for you, the tenant, for the duration of your time renting the unit. Some of these very basic requirements include hot water, heat, life safety devices such as carbon monoxide and smoke detectors, a roof free from water leaks, and safe and study floors, doors and windows. 

According to NOLO, Law for All, it means that the property owner must:

  • Keep basic structural elements of the building, including floors, stairs, walls, and roofs, safe and intact
  • Maintain all common areas, such as hallways and stairways, in a safe and clean condition

  • Keep electrical, plumbing, sanitary, heating, ventilating, and air-conditioning systems and elevators operating safely
  • Supply cold and hot water and heat in reasonable amounts at reasonable times

  • Provide trash receptacles and arrange for trash pick-up

  • Manage known environmental toxins such as lead paint dust and asbestos so that they don’t pose a significant danger

  • Provide rental property that is reasonably safe from the threat of foreseeable criminal intrusions, and exterminate infestations of rodents and other vermin.

  • In virtually every state, these rights are yours, no matter what the landlord has asked you to sign or agree to. In other words, the landlord cannot shrug off these responsibilities in a “disclaimer” when the tenancy begins. And he can’t effectively ask you to waive your right to them. (Any so-called waiver will not be upheld by a court.)

What if your basic right to a livable premises is not met?

In situations where the landlord is unresponsive or makes a repair that still fails to appropriately repair the problem, you can request assistance from your local department of inspectional services. Your local inspectional services department can enforce violations of housing codes and mandate landlords to make appropriate repairs.

What is the tenant's responsibility when it comes to repairs and maintenance?

State and local codes generally require tenants to follow the basic norms of cleanliness and behavior. This means that tenants should keep the unit as clean and safe as the space permits. 
  • Tenants should dispose of garbage in a clean and safe manner, following the local ordinances around trash collection. If you have mice in your apartment due to overflowing trash or food left out, it is likely due to the tenant's negligent behavior, rather than caused by the landlord. 
  • Plumbing fixtures should be kept clean to prevent mold and mildew. Mold is typically an issue for the landlord to resolve, unless it is due to negligent behavior such as a failure to clean.
  • Tenants should use electrical, plumbing, heating, and other systems in the manner in which they are designed. For example, plumbing issues caused by flushing objects down the drain is considered the fault of the tenant.
  • Tenants have a responsibility to report maintenance issues to the landlord as quickly as possible. Small leaks, if unaddressed, could become major problems. It is also critical to notify landlords of things such as concerning smells, broken locks, window drafts, or broken life safety detectors, so that they can be repaired before something major happens as a result of their structural failures. 
  • Finally, general damage you cause that impacts the habitability of the unit is your responsibility. For example, if you accidentally break the heater, it would be your responsibility to cover the cost of the repair. Normal wear and tear, however, is always the landlord's responsibility.
For more information, visit NOLO, Law for All.

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