Landlord-Tenant Law: Implied Warranty of Habitability
The Implied Warrant of Habitability
Whether expressly written into the lease agreement or not, every lease for the rental of residential property contains a warranty of habitability. This warranty (or promise) is implied because it is a basic assumption to the lease agreement that Courts enforce, regardless of whether it is written into the lease.
In legal terms, the implied warranty of habitability is the landlord's responsibility and promise that the unit is fit for occupation by human beings and is in substantial compliance with state and local codes and ordinances that protect the health and safety of tenants. (See Civil Code Sections 1941 and 1941.1. See also Green v. Superior Court (1974) 10 Cal.3d 616, 637-638.)
Before renting a unit to a tenant, the landlord must make the premises fit for human living, i.e. legally habitable. Also, while the unit is being rented, it is the landlord's responsibility to repair any defect that renders the unit uninhabitable, i.e. repairing the heat in the winter.
Green v. Superior Court
In the landmark case of Green v. Superior Court (1974) 10 Cal.3d 616, the California Supreme Court held that all residential leases and rental agreements contain an implied warranty of habitability. Also, pursuant to this warranty, the landlord is legally responsible for repairing any conditions that substantially effect the habitability of the unit. The landlord must remedy any substantial failure in the unit to comply with the state and local building and health codes. (Green v. Superior Court, supra, at p. 637-638.)
The landlord is generally responsible for any maintenance work, but for less serious repair work the lease agreement will usually dictate whose responsibility the repair work is.
However, the landlord is not responsible for repairing damages that were caused by the tenant, the tenant's guests, or the tenant's pets. (See Civil Code Sections 1929, 1941.2.)
Conditions that make the unit uninhabitable
There are many conditions that may ultimately render a unit uninhabitable. As stated above, the landlord must provide a unit fit for living for human beings and it must be in substantial compliance with building and health codes.
A dwelling unit may be uninhabitable if it contains a lead hazard that endangers the lives or safety of the tenants or the public, or is a substandard building because, for example, a structural hazard or inadequate sanitation endangers the health, safety, or welfare of the tenants or the public.
Also, a unit may be uninhabitable if it substantially lacks any of the following:
- Effective waterproofing and weather protection for the roof and exterior walls;
- Plumbing facilities in good working order;
- Gas and heating facilities in good working order;
- An electric system in good working order; and
- Floors, stairways, and railings in good working order.
See Civil Code Section 1941.1 for more details.
The implied warranty of habitability is not breached merely because the rental unit is not perfect, or even aesthetically pleasing. Nor is the warranty violated when the unit is in minor violation of the housing, building, or safety codes.
Limitation on habitability
Even if a rental unit is uninhabitable, the landlord may not be required to repair the condition that makes the unit uninhabitable if the tenant has failed to fulfill his own responsibilities.
Tenants are required to:
- Use all electrical, plumbing, and gas fixtures properly;
- Keep the unit in a clean, sanitary condition;
- Do not destroy or damage the unit, or allow any one else to do so;
- Dispose of trash in a sanitary manner; and
- Notify the landlord when any dead bolts, safety devices, or window locks don't operate properly.
See Civil Code Section 1941.3 for more details.
The tenant's minor violation of these responsibilities does not release the landlord from his duty to repair a condition that renders the unit uninhabitable. However, if the tenant's failure to do one of these things either substantially causes the condition that makes the unit unlivable or interferes with the landlord's ability to repair the condition, then the landlord does not have to repair the condition.
A tenant may not withhold rent and has no action against a landlord for breach of the warranty of habitability when the tenant has failed to fulfill his own obligations which in turn have caused the uninhabitable condition.