Real Estate

The Right to Habitable Conditions

Although landlord/tenant laws vary from state to state, and even from city to city, they almost always include rules for habitable conditions. When a dwelling unit is "habitable," a human being can live there safely. The dwelling doesn't have to be attractive and pleasant, but it does have to be safe.

Landlords Can Rent Only Habitable Homes

Typically, a landlord is not allowed to rent a home unless it's in habitable condition. This generally means the dwelling must have running water, working plumbing, no major leaks, available heat, functional electric hookups, and no broken windows or doors.

The residence must be mold-free. Depending on the terms of your lease, a landlord may not have to pay for your utilities. If utilities are not included in your rent, you must arrange for and maintain service in your own name.

Your Landlord Is Responsible for Most Repairs

If the condition of your home changes over time because of building age or an accident, your landlord must restore your home to its condition when you first moved in. If a tree falls on your roof and puts a hole in it, for example, your landlord must repair the roof. If your furnace gives out, your landlord must buy and install a new one.

You May Be Responsible for Some Repairs

If you cause the damage, on purpose or by accident, your landlord is not responsible for repairs. This might happen if you damage appliances or plumbing by improper use. Damage also might occur if you neglect to take care of the property.

Structural damage that you cause may affect the value of the property, so your landlord might expect you to pay for the repairs. If you refuse to do so, your landlord can usually take you to court.

Seek Legal Help if Your Home Is Uninhabitable

If your home becomes uninhabitable through no fault of your own, talk with a lawyer. In most states, you can withhold rent payments until the problem is fixed. You can also make the repairs or fix the problem yourself and deduct the cost from your rent. To do so, you'll need a receipt. In most cases, a health inspector must come to your home and agree that the place is uninhabitable before you can do these things.

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