West Virginia Landlord Responsibilities for Habitability
August 19, 2023
Most places, including West Virginia, make a landlord responsible for the “habitability” of rental property. This means rental properties must be kept in proper condition to use for their intended purpose. Habitability is an important right for renters, but can be complicated because of details and differences in habitability requirements.
West Virginia Implied Warranty of Habitability
In West Virginia, the implied warranty of habitability means that a landlord must provide and maintain safe and habitable rental property. “Implied” means the requirement applies whether or not the lease agreement specifically says so and even if the lease tries to waive the obligation.
Examples of clear habitability violations include:
Exposed electrical wiring.
A pipe leaking human waste.
A broken front doorknob that won’t lock.
However, the implied warranty of habitability does not guarantee that anything at the property will be pretty, clean, new or issue-free, so it doesn’t cover things like stained carpet or dents in a wall. It only guarantees basic health and safety.
Landlord Responsibilities in West Virginia
Note: Check local city/county laws and ordinances, as well as the terms of the rental agreement, for additional requirements.
Landlord Responsibilities for Heating & Air Conditioning in West Virginia
West Virginia landlords mustprovide heating between October 1 and April 30of every year for rental properties. They don’t have to provide air conditioning, but they do have to keep it in good working order if it’s provided.
Are Landlords Required to Provide Air Filter Replacements in West Virginia?
West Virginia landlordsdon’t have to replace things like air filters,unless required heating or ventilating equipment won’t work otherwise.
Landlord Responsibilities for Plumbing in West Virginia
West Virginia landlords mustkeep plumbing in reasonable working condition,although the renter is usually equally responsible for using the plumbing in a reasonable and sanitary way that doesn’t cause damage.
Are Landlords Required To Provide Hot Water in West Virginia?
West Virginia landlords mustprovide and maintain running heated waterfor rental properties.
Are Landlords Responsible for Fixing Clogged Drains & Toilets in West Virginia?
West Virginia landlords mustfix clogs that keep the plumbing from being in reasonable working condition.
Are Landlords in West Virginia Responsible for Fixing Leaks?
West Virginia landlords mustfix leaks that keep the plumbing from being in reasonable working condition.
Landlord Responsibilities for Kitchen Appliances in West Virginia
West Virginia landlordsdon’t have to provide or maintain kitchen appliancessuch as a dishwasher, stove, oven, microwave, or refrigerator. However, if provided, it’s the landlord’s duty to keep such appliances in good working order.
Landlord Responsibilities for Electrical Issues in West Virginia
West Virginia landlords are responsible formaking sure there are no electrical issues that endanger basic safety or habitabilityon the rental property.
Are Landlords Responsible for Replacing Light Bulbs in West Virginia?
West Virginia landlords arenot responsible for replacing light bulbsor particular light fixtures, except as needed to maintain facilities and appliances the landlord provides.
Landlord Responsibilities for Garbage Removal in West Virginia
West Virginia landlords mustprovide and maintain outside garbage containers and garbage removal services,but only on multi-unit properties. Renters of single-family dwellings have to make their own arrangements for garbage if other terms aren’t agreed in the lease.
Landlord Responsibilities for Landscaping in West Virginia
West Virginia landlords haveno specific obligation to provide landscapingor maintain it with actions like cutting grass. They only have to deal with issues like fallen trees if they interfere with the cleanliness of common areas, violate local codes, or create a hazard to health and safety.
Landlord Responsibilities Regarding Mold in West Virginia
West Virginia landlords areresponsible for mold issues the tenant didn’t cause.While there’s no state requirement for testing, landlords must investigate and fix mold problems since they threaten health and safety.
Landlord Responsibilities Regarding Pests in West Virginia
West Virginia landlords are responsible forfixing pest issues the renter didn’t cause,including rats, roaches, mice, bed bugs, and ants.
Landlord Responsibilities for Windows & Window Coverings in West Virginia
West Virginia landlords haveno specific responsibilityto provide particular types of windows or window coverings. The landlord usually has to repair broken windows the tenant didn’t cause, since this is a health and safety issue.
Landlord Responsibilities Regarding Safety Devices in West Virginia
West Virginia landlords are responsible forinstalling and replacing smoke alarms and required carbon monoxide (CO) detectors.Routine maintenance on such safety devices is normally the responsibility of the renter.
Are Landlords Responsible for Replacing Batteries of Safety Devices in West Virginia?
West Virginia landlords haveno specific responsibility to replace safety device batteries.This kind of routine maintenance is usually the renter’s responsibility.
Landlord Responsibilities for Washers and Dryers in West Virginia
West Virginia landlords arenot required to furnishtheir rental properties with a working washer and dryer. However, if provided, it’s the landlord’s duty to keep such appliances in good working order.
Renter’s Rights for Repairs in West Virginia
West Virginia renters have theright to repairs for issues that affect health and safety,unless they caused the issue themselves. To exercise their right, renters must start by giving the landlord (preferably written) notice about the issue. The landlord gets a reasonable time after notice to fix the issue.
If the issue isn’t fixed within the legally required time, the renter canend the rental agreement,or ask a court toorder repairs or compensation.The renter isn’t allowed to repair and deduct, or withhold rent payments (except by court order).
“[In] a written or oral lease of residential premises, there is an implied warranty that the landlord shall at the commencement of a tenancy, deliver the dwelling unit and surrounding premises in a fit and habitable condition, and shall thereafter maintain the leased property in such condition.”
“A landlord shall: (1) At the commencement of a tenancy, deliver the dwelling unit and surrounding premises in a fit and habitable condition, and shall thereafter maintain the leased property in such condition; and (2) Maintain the leased property in a condition that meets requirements of applicable health, safety, fire and housing codes, unless the failure to meet those requirements is the fault of the tenant, a member of his family or other person on the premises with his consent; and (3) In multiple housing units, keep clean, safe and in repair all common areas of the premises remaining under his control that are maintained for the use and benefit of his tenants; and (4) Make all repairs necessary to keep the premises in a fit and habitable condition, unless said repairs were necessitated primarily by a lack of reasonable care by the tenant, a member of his family or other person on the premises with his consent.”
“[T]he determination of whether a landlord breached the warranty is a question of fact to be determined by the circumstances of each case. The breach must be of a substantial nature rendering the premises uninhabitable and unfit. Thus minor housing code violations or other dificiencies [sic] which individually or collectively do not adversely affect the dwelling’s habitability or fitness would not entitle the tenant to a reduction in rent. In making the determination of whether the premises were uninhabitable and unfit, housing code violations and deficiencies should be scrutinized in light of such things as their nature, the length of time they persisted, their effect on safety and sanitation, the age of the structure, and the amount of rent charged.”
“A landlord shall: (5) Maintain in good and safe working order and condition all electrical, plumbing, sanitary, heating, ventilating, air- conditioning and other facilities and appliances, including elevators, supplied or required to be supplied by him by written or oral agreement or by law; and (6) In multiple housing units, provide and maintain appropriate conveniences for the removal of ashes, garbage, rubbish and other waste incidental to the occupancy of the dwelling unit; and (7) With respect to dwelling units supplied by direct public utility connections, supply running water and reasonable amounts of hot water at all times, and reasonable heat between October 1, and the last day of April, except where the dwelling unit is so constructed that running water, heat or hot water is generated by an installation within the exclusive control of the tenant.”
“An operational single station carbon monoxide detector with a suitable alarm or a combination smoke detector and carbon monoxide detector, which shall be alternating current (AC) powered, either plugged directly in to an electrical outlet that is not controlled by a switch or hardwired into an alternating current (AC) electrical source, with battery backup, shall be installed, maintained, tested, repaired, or replaced, if necessary, in accordance with the manufacturer’s direction: (1) In any newly constructed residential unit which has a fuel-burning heating or cooking source including, but not limited to, an oil or gas furnace or stove; (2) In any residential unit which is connected to a newly constructed building, including, but not limited to, a garage, storage shed, or barn, which has a fuel-burning heating or cooking source, including, but not limited to, an oil or gas furnace or stove; and (3) In either a common area where the general public has access or all rooms in which a person will be sleeping that are adjoining to and directly below and above all areas or rooms that contain permanently installed fuel-burning appliances and equipment that emit carbon monoxide as a byproduct of combustion located within all apartment buildings, boarding houses, dormitories, long-term care facilities, adult or child care facilities, assisted living facilities, one- and two-family dwellings intended to be rented or leased, hotels, and motels.”
While maintenance responsibilities for CO detectors aren’t specifically defined in the law, it would be reasonable for a court to apply the same standards to CO detectors as for smoke alarms in the same statute. West Virginia makes landlords responsible for installation and replacement, but makes tenants responsible for routine maintenance:
“The owner of each dwelling described in subsection (a) of this section shall provide, install, and replace the operational smoke detectors required by this section. To assure that the smoke detector continues to be operational in each dwelling described in subsection (a) of this section which is not occupied by the owner of the dwelling, the tenant in any dwelling shall perform routine maintenance on the smoke detectors within the dwelling.”
At common law, the default remedies available for a breach of contract or covenant (including rental agreements) are injunctions for specific performance (a judge forcing the offending party keep the terms of the agreement), injunctions for rescission (a judge modifying or canceling the terms of the agreement), and monetary damages. Note that tenants do not have a legally viable claim unless they give the landlord notice of issues on the property. Note also, tenants cannot recover if they caused the issue in question:
“Since the basic contract remedies are available to tenant, the basic contract duties are imposed upon him. The tenant is under an obligation to give landlord notice of a deficiency or defect not known to the latter. Furthermore, the contract principle that a person may not benefit from his own wrong will exonerate a landlord for a defect or deficiency caused by a tenant’s wrongful conduct.” Teller v. McCoy, 162 W. Va. 367, 387 (W. Va. 1978) (internal citations omitted)
“The warranty of habitability, a covenant upon which the very duty to pay rent depends, is certainly a vital and essential provision of the lease. Breach of this covenant, upon which the vitality of the lease depends, would entitle the lessee to rescind the lease, to vacate the premises and to be relieved of any further rental obligation. Because the typical residential tenant enters into a lease in order to obtain a habitable place to live, his failure to receive such a place to live would unquestionably justify rescission [i.e., cancellation of the agreement].”
“[B]reach by the landlord of the implied warranty of habitability, a material covenant upon which the duty to pay rent depends, may be raised as a defense in a landlord’s action for rent. When the landlord sues for damages to the premises allegedly caused by the tenant, the tenant may raise breach of the implied warranty as a defense only to show that the damage to the premises resulted from and were caused by the landlord’s breach of the implied warranty. When the landlord sues for damages and the tenant contends that the warranty of habitability was breached, but does not maintain that the damages were directly caused by the breach, the tenant could counterclaim for damages reasonably arising from the breach of the implied warranty of habitability.”
Under West Virginia law, the landlord’s obligation to keep the property in habitable condition and the tenant’s obligation to pay rent are mutually dependent. This means a tenant who is current on rent can legally compel a landlord to do necessary repairs, but also, a tenant in default on rent (for example, withholding rent) cannot legally demand repairs. SeeTeller v. McCoy, 162 W. Va. 367, 384 (W. Va. 1978) (“since a lease of a residential dwelling unit is to be treated and construed as any other contract, the covenant to pay rent and the warranty of habitability are mutually dependent.”)
Repairing and deducting from rent is explicitly forbidden under West Virginia law. SeeTeller v. McCoy, 162 W. Va. 367, 386-87 (W. Va. 1978) (holding that the repair-and-deduct remedy is not available in West Virginia given that “the wide range of contract remedies available to the tenant are adequate to enforce fulfillment of the implied warranty”)