When is a Rental Considered Uninhabitable?

All tenants have the legal right to habitable living conditions, and it’s the landlord’s responsibility to provide them.

Uninhabitable living conditions can negatively impact a tenant’s everyday life and their well-being. But, when is a rental unit considered uninhabitable?

Although tenants should inform landlords of any repairs that need to be made, if a landlord fails to comply, they have every right to leave or withhold rent. Leaving a unit in uninhabitable conditions will not only affect the tenant, but it will affect your rental business too. Tenants have an implied warranty of habitability, so landlords should always be aware of their properties’ conditions.

General Housing Codes

There are many ways a rental can be uninhabitable, such as a missing roof or serious pest infestation. State laws and local housing codes outline specific obligations for a landlord requiring living conditions. Typically, a landlord is required to:

  • Keep basic structural elements (such as roofs and walls) working, safe, and intact.
  • Ensure common areas, like stairways and elevators, are secure and sanitary at all times.
  • Maintain water, electrical, plumbing, and other essential utilities in a safe and working manner.
  • Comply with general housing rules and building codes, such as fire codes, occupancy limits, and other laws regarding issues like sewage and trash disposal, pest infestations, mold, and illegal activity.

Health Issues

When the environment in a unit becomes hazardous to one’s health, the rental is considered to be uninhabitable. Pest infestations, for instance, can be very dangerous, considering the great health risks they pose. Pests like cockroaches tend to carry enormous amounts of bacteria and are known to spread infectious diseases. Other health risks such as mold and asbestos can make a unit uninhabitable, by causing respiratory problems and serious illnesses.

Keep in mind that tenants may also have certain allergies that can make these conditions worse. Although a landlord is not responsible for every little nuisance, such as allergy flare-ups, they should always strive to accommodate a tenant’s wishes. Remember, at the end of the day, a happy tenant is a good tenant.

Appliances and Utilities

Appliances and utilities should always be in working order. A broken appliance or utility can be extremely dangerous to tenants and the property. If you have certain appliances or utilities included in the rental unit, it is your responsibility as the landlord to maintain them. When tenants make maintenance requests, you should always complete them in a timely manner to avoid further issues.

For instance, stoves and refrigerators need to be up and running at all times in order for a tenant to cook and preserve food. If a tenant is not able to prepare food in their home, it means it’s uninhabitable. Broken plumbing or lack of running water would also make a rental unit uninhabitable. Another example would be failure to provide proper heating and air conditioning during extreme weather. Landlords have specific responsibilities when it comes to air conditioning, so it’s important to be aware of them.

Living Environment

Besides appliances and utilities, landlords are responsible for providing a safe living environment. This means being prepared for emergencies and ensuring the unit is secure, with proper locks, gates, etc. A broken window or a door without a lock could jeopardize tenants’ safety; severe criminal activity (burglaries, gang violence, drugs, etc.) in the neighborhood may also make a rental uninhabitable.

Identifying the difference between minor and major repairs is crucial to habitable living as well. A tenant may threaten to withhold rent or break the lease for an unjustified repair. For instance, a roof leak that has caused major wall damage and mildew to form is much more severe and urgent than a leak that has caused a small stain on the ceiling.

What Tenants Can Do

If a living environment is truly uninhabitable, a tenant may retaliate in a number of ways. Here are some examples of how tenants can deal with uninhabitable living conditions:

  • Withholding rent
  • Reporting the condition to the local housing authority
  • Suing the landlord