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Ask the Attorney: What's Up With the Implied Warranty of Habitability?

My landlord has consistently failed to fix a problem, even though I have informed him of the issue numerous times. What can I do?

Pennsylvania law dealing with landlords and their tenants includes a doctrine known as the implied warranty of habitability. 

This doctrine gives tenants some leverage to get problems in their apartments fixed, under the right circumstances.

Created in 1979 by the landmark Pennsylvania Supreme Court case, Pugh v. Holmes, the implied warranty of habitability does not require landlords to provide perfect, pretty dwellings for all of their tenants. 

Rather, it obligates landlords only to keep their leased property in a condition that is fit for habitation, so that the tenants can use the premises for their intended purpose. 

If a landlord’s failure to address a particular problem renders the dwelling unfit for habitation, then she has breached the implied warranty of habitability and the tenant is entitled to certain remedies.

Over the years, Pennsylvania’s courts have developed case law to better define what exactly constitutes a breach of the implied warranty of habitability. 

Put simply, it is the big things that count, such as ensuring that the dwelling is a safe, sanitary place to live. A lack of heat, potable water or other utilities, broken windows, doors or locks, health or fire code violations, mold or leaking water can all rise to the level of a breach of the implied warranty of habitability.  Creaky floors, ugly paint colors or a broken laundry chute, on the other hand, probably will not be sufficient.

Before a court will find that a landlord has breached the implied warranty of habitability, the tenant must also establish that he informed the landlord of the problem and gave her sufficient time to fix it.

Assuming that there has been a breach of the implied warranty of habitability, the tenant has a couple of options. The tenant can pay out-of-pocket for the repair, and then deduct that cost from the monthly rent. 

Tenants opting for this course must be certain that the repair is making the premises more fit for habitation, and not simply adding an improvement to the property. 

Alternatively, the tenant can withhold rent from the landlord in an amount proportional to the decline in habitability because of the landlord’s failure to address the underlying problem.

Depending on the nature and severity of the problem, a breach of the implied warranty of habitability can provide a tenant with a defense against the landlord’s attempts to collect either a portion of, or in extreme cases, all of the rent.

(This article is intended as a discussion of legal topics that are often confusing to many lay people; it is not, and should not be relied on, as legal advice. Attorney Jesse White is licensed to practice solely in Pennsylvania and any information discussed relates solely to Pennsylvania law. If you have a question for attorney, contact The Law Office of Jesse White in Cecil at 724-743-4444 or visit www.jessewhitelaw.com.)

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