The of Warranty of Habitability

A tenancy is a contractual relationship between both landlord and tenant where the landlord promises to keep the premises in a habitable condition and in return, the tenant agrees to fulfill their rental obligations. Under Massachusetts law, all landlords owe tenants what is called a “warranty of habitability.” This means that a landlord is obligated to keep your apartment in good condition throughout the duration of the tenancy.

It is a common practice for landlords to attempt to wiggle out of their obligations to provide a habitable apartment by claiming that the rent they charged you was discounted because of the bad conditions. Don’t be fooled! This does not relieve landlords of their obligations owed to the tenant under the warranty of habitability.

The warranty of habitability means that at the inception of the rental there are no latent or patent defects in facilities vital to the use of the premises for residential purposes and that these essential facilities will remain during the entire term in a condition which makes the property livable. Boston Housing Authority v. Hemingway 363, Mass. 184 (1972).

If your landlord does not keep your apartment in good condition, he or she has breached the warranty of habitability. You then may have a claim that the value of your apartment has decreased and that it is not worth all of the rent that your landlord is charging you. You can make this claim in appropriate cases to reduce the amount of rent you owe, to win the right to stay in your apartment, or to sue for monetary damages. This warranty covers all tenancy agreements, whether in writing or not. Your landlord cannot ignore this requirement or require you to give up your right to live in a habitable apartment.

The landlord is in violation of the warranty of habitability from the moment he or she has actual knowledge of conditions that may endanger or impair your health, safety, or well-being. The landlord is assumed to have actual knowledge of violations if they existed at the time you moved into your apartment. Keeping in this in mind, it is best to tell your landlord about existing bad conditions, and always better to do so in writing.

So, what are some bad conditions that would qualify as a breach of the warranty of habitability? Below is a non-exhaustive list of some common problems that normally constitute a breach of this warranty:
Cockroaches, insects, mice, or rats;
Water leaks and plumbing problems;
Electric problems;
Lead paint;
Defective or leaky windows;
Defective celling, walls or floors;
Problems with heat or hot water;
Defective locks or security problems.

Not every defect will be enough to constitute a breach of the warranty of habitability. A court has broad discretion in deciding what is a breach of the warranty. If you want to pursue a suit against your landlord based on a breach of the warranty of habitability, its best to get a report from the Board of Health documenting all code violations.

When the landlord violates the warranty of habitability, you have several options. You can ask a court to reduce your rent for the time period when you lived with bad conditions. Your right to reduced rent begins from the time that your landlord has actual knowledge of the bad condition in your apartment. If the court finds that the landlord has breached the warranty of habitability, a judge then calculates money damages that the landlord may owe you. The measure of damages for a tenant is the difference between the fair market value of the apartment in good condition (usually the amount of rent you originally agreed to pay) and the fair rental value, which is the value of the apartment with all of the problems. In determining whether the landlord has breached the warranty of habitability and the tenant’s damages stemming from such a breach, the court will look at the following factors:

  1. The seriousness of the defective conditions and their effect on the habitability of the apartment;
  2. How long you have had to live with the defects;
  3. Whether the defects could be fixed within a reasonable amount of time and your apartment made livable again; and
  4. Whether you are responsible for the defects.

Every case has its own specific set of circumstances so it is important to note that if the court rules in your favor under the warranty of habitability you may still be responsible for some portion of the rent during the time you resided in the premises with the defective conditions.

If you have bad conditions in your apartment and you believe your landlord is in breach of the warranty of habitability, it is important to speak with an experienced attorney who knows the law and will fight for your rights. It is not uncommon for the court to order that the landlord is responsible for the tenant’s attorney’s fees in the appropriate circumstances. Therefore, you may not have to pay your attorney anything to take on your case. I have much success in this area of my practice. Call my office at (508)-753-1807 to set up a free consultation. I can also be reached at Jonathan@jdmolleurlaw.com. Alternatively, I can be reached directly on my personal cell at (508)-579-8333.

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