Tenant Laws: Is it the Landlord’s Fault?

by ShelbyW on September 29, 2012

  • Sumo

(US law and generally) Tenants and landlords each have duties to one another. Tenants are responsible for keeping the property clean and disposing of trash. Tenants are also liable for any damage that they or their guests cause to the property. They may also be subject to other responsibilities as outlined in the lease agreement.

Landlords owe a greater duty to the tenant.

Implied Warranty of Habitability

In each lease agreement, there is an implied warranty of habitability. This simply means that the landlord must ensure that the property remains in a habitable condition.

What constitutes a defect that renders the structure uninhabitable varies. Defects affecting the habitability of the structure generally deal with the structure itself or with the utilities. The property must include functional heating, plumbing, gas, water, security features, smoke detectors, fire exits, and a mailbox. The floors, walls, and ceilings must be structurally sound. Properties without these essential features may be uninhabitable.

The lease agreement will specify who is responsible for addressing the less significant defects in the property. The tenant and landlord may agree that certain defects must be addressed by the tenant. Matters involving aesthetic issues such as carpet and paint are often the tenant’s responsibility. Tenants and landlords arguing over trivial matters should consult the lease agreement or rental agreement. If the agreement is silent on the matter, and if the tenant or his or her guests did not cause the defect, then the landlord will usually be responsible for the repair.

A breach of the implied warranty of habitability constitutes a breach of the lease. When the lease is broken, the landlord may be liable for compensatory damages to the tenant if the tenant is injured by the breach. For example, the landlord may be liable to the tenant for damages amounting to the difference between the rent at a new location and the rent at the initial location, as well as any other damages arising from the breach.

Tenants or landlords concerned about a potential breach should consult legal counsel to discuss their options.

Tort Law

Poor maintenance on the property may also cause an injury to the tenant or his or her guests. According to our personal injury lawyer Montgomery County, Pennsylvania firm, when this happens, the consequences are more severe. At common law, landowners are required to repair or warn visitors of latent defects. Different visitors are owed different duties to warn and repair. If an individual with a duty to warn of or repair a defect breaches that duty, and if that breach is the proximate cause of an injury to the plaintiff, then the breaching party will be liable for negligence.

When signing the lease agreement, tenants may have agreed to make repairs. If the tenant had the responsibility of repairing the defect that caused the injury, the tenants will be liable for negligence. In practice, many plaintiffs will still sue the property owner or landlord, alleging negligence even if the repair was not the landlord’s responsibility.

Disputes between tenants and landlords can be difficult to resolve. The best weapon against disputes is a clear lease or rental agreement that specifies the responsibilities of each party with respect to maintenance. By defining their roles before disputes occur, landlords and tenants will help prevent any misunderstandings that may lead to more serious consequences.

Shelby Warden is a researcher and contributes articles for the personal injury lawyer Montgomery County, PA team at the Law Offices of McMahon, McMahon & Lentz. They have successfully represented many clients in cases against property owners who, through negligent acts or omissions, caused serious injury or death to others. Their firm uses engineers, security specialists and other experts to build the best possible case and maximize recovery for their clients.




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