What Makes a Rental Unit Inhabitable?

Posted by Janet A. on 22nd Jun 2023

Damaged House

One cold Thanksgiving morning a few years ago, I awoke early in our rental to get the turkey started. We lived in a 100-year-old farmhouse that I dearly loved. In short order, I learned that the sump pump had failed overnight, flooded the basement and rendered the furnace inoperable. Even though it was 4:30 AM on a holiday, I called my landlord immediately to apprise him of the situation, and he began making emergency repair arrangements.

While I am certain that my landlord would have preferred to go back to sleep that morning, he quickly recognized that this was an issue that affected the habitability of the home and was a major repair issue.

What Constitutes a Major or a Minor Repair Issue for Landlords?

Roof Leak
Roof Leak

Tenant complaints come in all shapes and sizes. As a rental property manager, you must be able to quickly diagnose each complaint and categorize it as major or minor repair.

Minor repairs are those that do not impact the home's habitability. Generally, these are items that a qualified handyman could take care of such as an annoying, dripping faucet or a loose handrail. These should be addressed by a conscientious landlord, but they do not constitute major emergencies nor are they items that impact the building being up to code. A minor repair may constitute a major expense, such as replacing worn flooring, but it doesn't impact the home's habitability.

Major repairs are those that if left unattended, make the home unfit for human habitation. When I lived in a triplex, there was a small water stain on my living room ceiling from a leak upstairs. When the pipe finally broke, the ceiling drywall fell in one evening with water cascading down my wall. It became a major emergency repair. No reasonable person would choose to live in that situation.

The difference between major and minor repairs truly comes down to habitability. Is the property inhabitable or not? Is the rental property manager living up to the requirements of the implied warranty of habitability?

What Is the Implied Warranty of Habitability?

Person That Is Cold
Person That Is Cold

No matter what clauses are included in the rental contract, every landlord has a legal obligation to provide a dwelling that is safe and fit to live in. Beyond basements filled with water and ceilings that are caving in, what does this include? Every landlord must:

  • ensure that the home's mechanical systems are in working order: HVAC, plumbing, electrical, sanitary, and any elevators must be in good repair at all times
  • provide adequate amounts of hot and cold running water for the tenant's needs
  • eliminate pests such as vermin and insects to prevent infestation
  • provide receptacles for trash pick up
  • provide adequate protection against criminal intrusion – windows and doors should have working locks and be sturdy enough to keep intruders out
  • ensure that the building is structurally sound

In situations where these basic habitability conditions are not being met by the landlord, the tenant is able to withhold rent or even move out of the property with no notice and no financial penalty.

As a rental property manager, you know that emergency situations can and will arise periodically. Our Pro Program can help you save money while facing the challenges of property management head-on.

About The Author

Janet A. excels at writing articles on a wide variety of topics. Some of her favorites are about food, home living, health and wellness, education, and family. She has written blog posts for a wide range of clients.

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