What is the implied warranty of habitability?
Landlords are required to keep rental premises livable—a legal doctrine called the "implied warranty of habitability." This implied warranty comes from local building codes and state statutes that specify minimum requirements for essential services such as heat, water, and plumbing, as well as court decisions as to what constitutes decent housing. The source of the warranty determines landlord responsibilities and legal options, such as rent withholding, available to tenants:
- State and local housing laws. In some states, such as Idaho and West Virginia, you will satisfy the implied warranty of habitability by complying with applicable state or local housing codes, such as minimum requirements for hot water and sewage disposal. State laws generally require landlords to make all repairs and do whatever is necessary to keep the rental premises in a fit and habitable condition. Local housing codes are often more specific, when it comes to things such as minimum heating requirements.
- Court decisions. In many states, including California and Vermont, the implied warranty of habitability is independent of any housing code. The standard is whether the premises are "fit and habitable" or "fit for human occupation." While a substantial housing code violation, however, is usually a breach of the implied warranty of habitability, courts can require more of a landlord when it comes to providing "fit and habitable" conditions. And additional landlord responsibilities can depend on the circumstances: Landlords owning rental property in wet rainy areas—such as Oregon, for example—may need to provide waterproofing.
See the Nolo article Tenant Rights to a Livable Space for more information on the implied warranty of habitability and details as to the real-world meaning of "fit and habitable."