Implied Warranty of Habitability: The Landlord and Tenant Handbook

Rental properties are meant to provide safe, livable housing, and the implied warranty of habitability helps ensure that that's the case. However, not every repair issue falls under this rule. Discover the key areas landlords must address, what lies outside the warranty's scope, and steps tenants can take if landlords fail to make necessary repairs to maintain rental habitability.

By
Nichole Stohler
|
Last Updated
May 31, 2024
Implied Warranty of Habitability: The Landlord and Tenant Handbook

Living in a rental property comes with the expectation that it's fit for habitation. If the heat stops working in the middle of winter or the roof starts leaking during a rainstorm, these are clear violations that impact a tenant's ability to comfortably reside there. Landlords can't simply ignore such issues; they have a legal obligation to maintain livable conditions under the implied warranty of habitability, sometimes referred to as the covenant of habitability.

However, this warranty doesn't cover every single amenity or repair need. For instance, a broken garbage disposal or a leaky faucet might be inconvenient, but they don't necessarily render the property uninhabitable. And, if a tenant's personal belongings get damaged due to something like a plumbing leak, that's usually considered outside the landlord's responsibility.

This article covers what falls under the implied warranty of habitability for residential leases and which issues landlords must address to uphold their end of the bargain. We'll also explain what's not in the warranty's scope. Lastly, if landlords fail to make repairs, we'll share what options tenants have for recourse.

Knowing what the implied warranty of habitability means for you can help prevent disagreements and create a better renting experience for all.

What does implied warranty of habitability mean?

The implied warranty of habitability means landlords must confirm their rental property is habitable. They can't neglect the property, skip critical repairs, or fail to provide essential services like heating and water. This general rule can vary based on local regulations and housing codes, but it universally mandates that landlords provide tenants safe and livable housing.

Components of the warranty of habitability

Specific details of the implied warranty for rental premises where the landlord must meet substantial compliance include:

  • Structural integrity: The property must be structurally sound and safe. This means that the foundation, walls and roof should be in good repair and meet applicable building codes. Issues like large cracks in the walls or sagging floors violate this requirement.
  • Plumbing and water: A rental should have adequate plumbing facilities and access to hot and cold water. Bathrooms must be free from leaks, clogs, and other issues that could disrupt the supply of clean water or the disposal of wastewater.
  • HVAC: Dwelling units must have working heating systems. Some jurisdictions may also require functioning cooling systems, especially in regions with extreme heat.
  • Electrical systems: The property needs functional electrical wiring and outlets. This includes making sure that all electrical systems meet local safety codes. The rental should not have exposed wiring or other hazards that could pose a risk of fire or electric shock.
  • Sanitation: The premises must have clean and sanitary conditions and dispose of waste properly. The dwelling unit shouldn't have a pile up of garbage or other unsanitary conditions that could attract pests or pose health risks. Be aware that it's the landlord's responsibility to provide facilities for garbage collection and disposal, but most leases specify that the tenant is responsible for keeping their rental unit clean.
  • Pest control: The property must be free from infestations of pests and rodents. Landlords are responsible for addressing and preventing the rental unit from having these contaminations. This may involve regularly treating the property for pests and sealing and maintaining it to prevent pest entry.
  • Safety features: Landlords must provide functional locks on doors and windows as well as smoke detectors. Some states also require carbon monoxide detectors. Tenants need to be able to secure their homes against unauthorized entry and alerted to potential fire or gas hazards.
  • Weather protection: The rental unit should provide protection from weather conditions. Issues such as a leaky roof would be considered a violation of the warranty of habitability.

Warranty of habitability exclusions

There are some things that the implied warranty of habitability does not cover:

  • Cosmetic issues: Minor aesthetic problems like peeling paint, worn carpets, or small holes in walls do not affect the livability or safety of the property. Tenants can request repairs, but landlords aren't legally required to address these non-critical issues.
  • Tenant-caused damage: If the tenant or their guests cause damage to the property resulting from negligence or misuse by the tenant or their visitors, the damage isn't covered under this warranty. The rental agreement typically provides language on tenants' responsibilities for repairing damage or covering the cost of repairs.
  • Non-essential amenities: The warranty does not cover non-essential amenities such as swimming pools or gym facilities. These amenities might enhance the quality of life but they are not necessary for basic habitation.
  • Optional appliances: The warranty doesn't cover appliances provided as a convenience, such as dishwashers and garbage disposals. Tenants may need to talk to the landlord about fixing or replacing these appliances, but they aren't required to do so under the habitability warranty.
  • Personal property: The warranty does not cover tenants' personal property or belongings. This means that any damage to or loss of personal items due to issues with the rental property such as leaks, fires, or infestations are not the landlord’s responsibility. To protect their personal property from potential damage, tenants are strongly encouraged to purchase renters insurance.

Breach of the implied warranty of habitability

If your landlord breaches the implied warranty of habitability, tenants have several options to address the situation.

Request repairs

Formally notify the landlord in writing about the issues and request repairs within a reasonable time frame. Check your lease agreement for specific instructions on how to provide this written notice and request maintenance. Keep a copy of all correspondence and include supporting information such as photos of the issue.

Repair and deduct

In some jurisdictions, tenants may pay for repairs themselves and deduct the cost from their rent. Tenants should make sure to have a solid grasp on their local laws and any limits to this option, as there may be specific procedures and caps on repair costs.

If the landlord hasn't responded to your request for repair, use these guidelines to make the repairs yourself:

  • Get estimates/make the repair: Don't start any repairs without getting written estimates from licensed and insured contractors. You want to make sure the repair costs are reasonable and within any legal limits set by your jurisdiction.
  • Deduct the cost: After the contractor completes the repair, deduct the cost from your next rent payment. Provide the landlord with copies of the receipts and a written explanation of the deduction, referencing your previous communications and the lack of response.
  • Consult legal advice: If you are unsure about any step in the process, consult a tenant rights attorney or local legal aid organization. It's important to verify compliance with your local regulations and protect yourself against potential repercussions.

Withhold rent

Tenants may have the option withhold rent until the landlord makes the required repairs. Make sure to proceed with caution and brush up on your local laws when pursuing this option, as missteps could lead to eviction.

If you're withholding rent, place the withheld amount in an escrow account. This shows you plan to pay rent once the landlord completes repairs. Continue to deposit into this account monthly, just as you would normally pay your rent.

Report to authorities

Contact local housing code authorities to report the landlord's failure to maintain the property. These agencies can inspect the property and potentially fine the landlord or require repairs.

Move out

If your rental unit violates local housing codes and is deemed uninhabitable, you may have the right to move out without penalty, even if your lease term hasn't yet ended. This situation is known as a constructive eviction, where the landlord’s failure to maintain the property effectively forces you to leave.

File a lawsuit

Tenants may sue the landlord for damages resulting from a breach of the warranty. To proceed, establish an attorney-client relationship with a law firm specializing in tenant rights. This provides assurance that your case will be handled professionally every step of the way, including gathering evidence, representing you in court, and securing a favorable outcome for you.

The implied warranty of habitability

The implied warranty of habitability establishes standards and local building codes that landlords must meet to be considered livable, including sturdy foundations, functioning utilities, and a pest-free environment. This provides renters with a baseline level of protection, as they deserve housing that provides comfort and safety.

Both tenants and landlords share responsibility in the rental process. Renters must properly use and maintain the property, while property owners must respond promptly to legitimate habitability concerns.

Specifics can vary by locale but the core concept is that landlords have a legal duty to address major issues impacting habitability.

Implied warranty of habitability FAQs

What is the habitability statute in California?

The habitability statute in California is part of the state's Civil Code. It requires landlords to maintain rental properties in a livable condition. This means rental units must be free of health hazards, have adequate plumbing, heating, and electrical systems, and meet safety and structural standards.

What is the habitability law in New York State?

New York State's habitability law is called the Warranty of Habitability. It states that landlords must maintain rental properties in a condition that is safe, clean, and fit for human habitation. This includes providing essential services such as heat, hot water, and functioning plumbing and electrical systems. It also requires the landlord to address any conditions that could endanger or impair the health and safety of tenants.

What is the covenant of habitability in Minnesota?

The covenant of habitability in Minnesota requires landlords to keep rental properties safe and suitable for living. This includes maintaining essential services like heating and plumbing.

Important Note: This post is for informational and educational purposes only. It should not be taken as legal, accounting, or tax advice, nor should it be used as a substitute for such services. Always consult your own legal, accounting, or tax counsel before taking any action based on this information.

Nichole Stohler

Nichole co-founded Gateway Private Equity Group, with a history of investments in single-family and multi-family properties, and now a specialization in hotel real estate investments. She is also the creator of NicsGuide.com, a blog dedicated to real estate investing.

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