What Is an Implied Warranty of Habitability?

An implied warranty of habitability is an unstated guarantee that a rental property meets basic living and safety standards before occupation and will continue to meet them for the duration of the occupancy. It only applies to leases or rentals for residential properties, not commercial properties, as tenants of commercial properties do not live in them. Even if the lease does not actually state this warranty in writing, it is implied in the lease.

Key Takeaways

  • An implied warranty of habitability is an unstated guarantee that a rental property is in compliance with basic living and safety standards.
  • Local building codes form the basis of these standards.
  • The landlord is responsible for insuring that the warranty of habitability is met, not the tenant.

How an Implied Warranty of Habitability Works

Local building codes outline the standards that rental units must meet. As a general rule of thumb, an implied warranty of habitability means that the landlord has provided:

  • Drinkable water
  • Hot water
  • Heat during cold weather
  • Working electricity
  • Adequate ventilating system
  • Smoke and carbon monoxide detectors
  • Working bathroom and toilet
  • Sanitary premises, including the removal of insect or rodent infestation
  • Protection from criminal harm in the form of locks and window guards
  • Up-to-date conformity to building codes

Tenants must make sure to notify a landlord in writing that substandard conditions exist and be able to prove that they have done so if a landlord refuses to make repairs.

Advantages and Disadvantages of an Implied Warranty of Habitability

One major advantage is that a tenant is never responsible for ensuring that the warranty of habitability is met. Instead, it is the landlord’s legal responsibility to make sure that the warranty is met and to take steps to make habitability possible as soon as they are aware of any issues. A landlord whose rental units do not meet these conditions is known as a slumlord.

Tenants living in uninhabitable units have legal remedies to force landlords to meet their obligations, including suing the landlord for a rent reduction or withholding rent until repairs are made. (This does not mean nonpayment of rent; the rent money should be put in escrow in a dedicated bank account.) If the landlord sues for nonpayment of rent, the tenant must countersue for breach of the warranty of habitability.

Tenants must make sure to have notified the landlord in writing of all substandard conditions and be able to prove that such notice was made. Tenants who have landlords who refuse to meet the warranty have the right to terminate any existing lease or make necessary repairs that cost no more than one month’s rent. In the latter case tenants should document the inhabitable conditions via photographs and keep copies of the receipts for all repair costs.

Finally, there are several other legalities to consider. Renting an apartment or place of occupancy in full awareness of the issues that contradict habitability may violate the warranty. In other words, you can’t, in order to save money, deliberately rent an apartment known to be without hot water and then try to sue the landlord. Also, landlords do have a legal amount of reasonable time, generally considered no more than 30 days, to repair or address any issues. And, as noted above, tenants must continue to pay rent if they are still living on the premises, even without the warranty.