When a landlord rents out a dwelling, it is under the condition that there is an implied warranty of habitability. But what does this term actually mean, and how can landlords be sure that their properties meets the criteria?
In its simplest definition, an implied warranty of habitability means that your rental property is a safe dwelling for human beings. But there are many factors that determine habitability.
- Are there any known hazards with your property?When you rent your property, you are implictly certifying that it is safe to live there. If this is not true, and you have failed to disclose known hazards to your tenants, they may have grounds to file a breach of implied warranty of habitability.
If your property contains lead paint and you have not provided proper disclosure or notice of this problem, you may be liable. Other common examples include a furnace that is known to have a carbon monoxide leak, a dangerously hot water heater, or recurring issues with plumbing.
- Do the fixtures work properly? In most states, you are required to provide working restroom facilities in a rental dwelling. This may extend to properly working fixtures, such as sinks and bathtubs. If you have a known issue with your property and you have not disclosed the issue or fixed it, your dwelling may not be considered fit for occupancy.
- Is the building structurally sound? If your property has had a problem with termites or has other substantial structural damage, it may not be considered habitable. If a dwelling has holes in the exterior walls, damaged ceilings, damaged floors, improper protection from the elements, or a faulty roof, it may not be considered habitable.
- Does your property have any recurring problems? If your plumbing frequently goes on the fritz, resulting in an inoperable restroom or a health hazard, this may be considered as a breach of your implied warranty of habitability. If you are having frequent problems with a specific area of your property, a prompt repair or replacement is usually your best course of action. It may even save you money in the long run.
Although these restrictions can be burdensome to some landlords, they have been put in place to protect tenants from disreputable landlords. In many cases, people have been forced to live in properties operated by slumlords that should have been condemned. Whether their financial situation prevented them from moving or they were unable to find somewhere else to live, thousands of people have been victims of inhabitable dwellings.
Even reputable landlords need to know about all the implications of an implied warranty of habitability. One way to protect yourself against frivolous claims of habitability violations is to thoroughly examine your property before a new tenant moves in. That way you can thoroughly examine and document the condition of the property, taking pictures of and making notes about any existing problems.
However, you may be best served by hiring an inspector who will go through the dwelling with a critical eye and may catch problems that are lurking beneath the surface. Although this step does require you to spend extra money on the inspection and possibly require a great deal of money to fix a problem, it is better than forcing a tenant to live in substandard living conditions and opening yourself up to the possibility of litigation.