Tenant Rights: What is the Implied Warranty of Habitability? 

Lilly Milman

By Lilly Milman

May 16, 2024

As a renter, you know when something is off in your apartment — whether your landlord hasn’t responded to your maintenance request, you moved into a space not knowing that there was a pest problem, or your heater seems to not be turning on in the winter. You’ve checked your lease, but you don’t know what your rights are in these situations. Don’t worry — we’re here to help you decipher the legalese.

In addition to providing you a place to live, your landlord has extra responsibilities to make sure that this rental property is safe and habitable — even if this isn’t explicitly outlined in your residential lease agreement. This is called the implied warranty of habitability. In this guide, we cover what the implied warranty of habitability is, what situations it covers, what your rights are when you think your landlord is in breach of them, and how to find out what your area’s state and local laws are.

What is the implied warranty of habitability?

While the “implied warranty of habitability” seems like a confusing term, it’s really just a way of saying that landlords are required to provide their tenants with a safe home — even this isn’t a term outlined in the lease. This means that a property owner’s rental unit or building must meet local building code standards and that landlords or property management companies must respond to issues within a reasonable amount of time.

What must landlords provide tenants under the implied warranty of habitability?  

In addition to meeting the standards set by local building codes, under the implied warranty of habitability, a landlord must generally also provide tenants:

  • Hot water and running water
  • Heat in the winter
  • Electricity
  • A roof that keeps out rain and snow
  • A home free of vermin or unsafe substances like mold
  • Locks on the front and back doors and potentially window guards
  • A bathroom in working order

Different states and cities will have different requirements outlined in their landlord-tenant laws, however. For example, in Boston, MA, landlords are required to remove ice and snow from egresses that are shared by tenants in an apartment building. Meanwhile, in Nevada, air conditioning is considered an essential service — and thus is the responsibility of the landlord to provide and upkeep. In many states, smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors are also considered essential and the lack of them constitutes a habitability issue.

Not every disturbance falls under the implied warranty of habitability and justifies taking action like the non-payment of rent money. A constantly barking dog in a neighboring apartment may feel like it is making a living situation inhabitable, but this won’t be legally the case in every city and state. Cosmetic damage to the apartment that would require minor repairs also is not grounds for legal action, as it does not preclude human habitation in a space.

What do I do if my landlord is in breach of the warranty of habitability?

If you believe that an issue in your apartment is making it inhabitable, then it is important you reach out to your landlord with a written notice for a resolution as soon as possible. If there’s a leak, broken appliance, or a lack of heat, water, or electricity, submit a detailed maintenance request to your landlord or property management. Take photos and videos to send to your landlord as well. 

The exact time period in which they must respond to these requests will vary on state and local laws as well as your lease terms, but in general, they should respond to emergency repair requests within a week and non-emergency requests within a month. If a necessary repair takes much longer than anticipated, then your landlord may even offer you a rent abatement for that time period.

If you have not heard back from your landlord about your maintenance request and it’s been more than 30 days, you may have legal standing to withhold rent until they resolve the request. In this situation, you’d put your rent payments into an escrow account and save them there until the situation is resolved — once it is, you resume paying rent, including paying all back rent due. In some states, tenants are also allowed to pay for necessary repairs themselves and deduct the cost of repairs from their next month’s rent. If you have ensured that this is legal in your state, make sure to keep detailed photos and files of all invoices and receipts. 

Another option is to try to break the lease, though you should do this with the help of legal services if you feel it is your best course of action. Unlawfully breaking the lease could result in you being on the hook for the rent of the entire original tenancy period.

If you believe your landlord is threatening to retaliate against you for submitting maintenance requests or legally withholding rent by beginning eviction proceedings, then consider seeking legal advice. When a landlord breaches habitability laws or has properties that are found to have code violations, they are not allowed to retaliate against any tenants that made these discoveries as a way of avoiding making repairs.

Do I have to pay for repairs in my apartment if the maintenance issue makes my space inhabitable?

Even if you know your landlord is in breach of the implied warranty of habitability and they are responsible for resolving an issue, that doesn’t necessarily mean that they are on the hook to pay for it. In some situations, a tenant will be responsible for payment even if their landlord handles the logistics of resolving the maintenance request. One such case could be a rodent infestation that the landlord has deemed is the tenant’s fault — like if they habitually left food and crumbs out, which over time attracted mice to their living space. In these cases, it’s still important to call your landlord to have them handle the removal of the pest infestation, despite the fact that you may have to cover the bill. Check your rental agreement to find any terms that outline who is responsible for payment in the case of maintenance issues in the dwelling unit.

If you believe you are being wrongfully charged for a bill that isn’t your fault or responsibility, then you can seek legal guidance, who can help you better understand what you legally owe.

Where do I find local laws on the implied warranty of habitability?

It’s important to know that all states recognize the implied warranty of habitability, though to different degrees. To find out what essentials are covered under your area’s laws, you will need to do a search for your specific state online. Note that implied warranty of habitability laws are always changing and adapting, so look for the most up-to-date information you can find. If you are unclear on what your state’s laws are and are struggling with an online search, this is another situation where a legal consultation may be helpful.

The Bottom Line

Every state recognizes the implied warranty of habitability, which outlines a landlord’s responsibilities to provide their tenants with a safe dwelling that covers basic essentials during their occupancy. For the most part, this includes: heat, hot water, safety from criminal intrusion, and the right to a pest- and mold- and asbestos-free home. However, each state has different local laws. If you feel that your landlord has breached the implied warranty of habitability, then you may have legal standing to take action. Start by learning your state and city’s local housing codes for residential properties, seeking legal guidance, and speaking with your landlord.

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