The Legal Standard for Repairs: Warranty of Habitability
Landlords should generally try to make repairs in a timely manner, but catering to excessive or unwarranted demands by tenants can become tiresome and distract from other, more important duties. When deciding how to prioritize repairs, landlords should always consider whether the repair affects the habitability of the rental unit.
Repairs that Affect the Warranty of Habitability
Every time a landlord rents out a rental unit, she is implicitly promising that the dwelling is fit for human habitation. Repairs that affect whether the apartment is habitable place should be made immediately, and if they are delayed unreasonably the tenant may be within her rights to withhold rent. Examples of repairs that affect the warranty of habitability include:
- Structural repairs, such as severe damage to the walls, ceiling, or floor;
- Repairs to the electrical system;
- Repairs to the plumbing system;
- Extermination of severe pest infestations that were not caused by the tenant.
Exactly what is included in the warranty of habitability can vary from state to state. For example, some states make it the landlord's duty to ensure that the rental units are safe. Landlords in those jurisdictions must repair exterior locks, lights, and other basic safety devices as soon as possible.
Repairs that Can Be Made Later
Generally, if a repair does not affect the warranty of habitability, a tenant may not withhold rent if the landlord fails to remedy the situation. However, this does not mean that a landlord should just ignore the repair. There are a host of good reasons to make any kind of repair as quickly as possible:
- Safety: A loose floor tile or a broken step may not make the apartment uninhabitable, but it does present a safety hazard. If a tenant notifies you that the hazard exists and someone gets hurt, you may need to pay damages to the injured person.
- Maintaining a Relationship with the Tenant: Finding a new tenant for a rental unit is a time-consuming and expensive process for many landlords. If you start to ignore a tenant's requests for simple repairs, she may decide to leave and find a more accommodating landlord.
- Maintaining your Reputation: If you promptly respond to your tenants' request, you may earn yourself a reputation as a good, responsive landlord, which will make it easier to find better tenants the next time you need to rent your property.