Almost every state has its own version of something called the “implied warranty of habitability”—in simpler terms, a tenant’s right to live in a safe and comfortable home. This is the legal concept that guarantees a rental unit will remain livable throughout a tenant’s lease term. It prevents landlords from renting out an apartment that lacks essential services, such as electricity, heat, plumbing, a roof and windows, and a lockable door.
An “implied” warranty exists even if it’s not mentioned in the lease
Warranties are legal promises, and they can be either explicit or implied. When you buy a car, the warranty is explicit: the manufacturer or dealer of the car promises in a written contract that the car will work in the way it’s supposed to work. Other warranties are implied: when you buy eggs, the supermarket is promising that those eggs are safe to eat, even though you and the cashier never signed a contract saying that’s the case.
In most states in America, rental housing also comes with an implied warranty. In order for a landlord to rent a unit to a tenant, he or she must “warrant,” or promise, certain things about the condition of the unit. This promise doesn’t have to be explicit. Even if a lease doesn’t actually mention a warranty of habitability, one is still in place. That is true for both verbal and written leases.
Exact requirements for a "habitable" rental differ across states
Each state in the U.S. has its own version of the warranty of habitability. Some are enshrined in laws passed by the legislature; others have been created by court decisions passed down through the years. Although the exact requirements for rental units may vary between state, generally the warranty gives every renter the right to:
- A building that meets all code requirements
- A home free from pest infestation
- Locking doors and windows
- Functioning electricity and plumbing
- Functioning smoke detectors
- Heat when it’s cold
- Hot water and clean drinking water
Choose your state from the drop-down menu at the top of the page for more information about the warranty of habitability where you live.
Tenants have several legal options if the warranty is breached
If a landlord is ignoring or refusing a request for repairs, causing a rental unit to become uninhabitable, there are steps a tenant can take to fix the situation:
- Repair and deduct: Most states allow tenants to make the necessary repair themselves and subtract the cost from their rent.
- Withhold rent: Fewer states allow this, but in some places tenants can stop paying rent altogether until their landlord makes repairs.
If all else fails, a tenant can also sue their landlord or property manager for damages—or abandon the rental entirely and claim constructive eviction.
Also, don’t forget—the warranty of habitability goes both ways! The tenant is also responsible for maintaining the unit. If it is unlivable because of something the tenant did, then it’s no longer a landlord’s responsibility to repair.
The information provided on this website does not, and is not intended to, constitute legal advice.
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