In every residential rental agreement, there are two unavoidable basic tenant rights.
No matter if the agreement is verbal or written, a resident has the right to “Habitability” and the implied warranty of “Quiet Enjoyment.”
“Habitability” & “Quiet Enjoyment”
These are implied warranties, or covenants, and ensure that the rental property is safe and secure, and that the resident is granted the undisturbed use and enjoyment of the unit.
These two entitlements are at the very core of the rental relationship, and are primarily what a resident is buying with his or her monthly rent.
Many Landlords Ignore These Rights
While there is nothing wrong with using a thorough and stern lease, it must be fair to both parties.
However, many landlords try to force a resident to live in a unit that is uninhabitable, citing the following excuses:
- “You were aware of its condition before you signed the lease.”
- “The lease says that all maintenance and repair issues are the resident’s responsibility.”
- “The lease doesn’t specifically mention a working stove, so I don’t have to repair it.”
Landlords who try to refute these basic rights will likely find themselves with abandoned leases, multiple court dates, a pile of legal bills, or even potentially behind bars.
Any unit that is available for rent is assumed to have an implied warranty of habitability. Meaning, the landlord is guaranteeing that the unit will be in safe, good working order for the life of the tenancy.
For a unit to be habitable, it must:
- have sufficient access to essential utilities, like water, sewer, electricity, and heat; and
- not have any dangerous or life-threatening conditions, such as exposed electrical wires, a contaminated water supply, or chipping lead paint, among other issues.
Though it’s a simple concept, habitability is defined more specifically at the state level, and can vary greatly between states.
For example, California’s state-specific requirements for habitability are easily understood and similar laws found in most states (§1941.1, §1941.3):
- Weatherproofing: Effective weather protection of roof, exterior walls, windows and doors.
- Plumbing: Working plumbing and sewer facilities, including hot and cold running water.
- Major Systems: Gas, heating and electrical systems in good working order.
- Sanitation: Clean and sanitary buildings and grounds, free from debris, filth, rubbish, garbage, rodents, and vermin.
- Trash: Adequate trash receptacles in good repair.
- Living Areas: Floors, stairways, and railings in good repair.
- Locks: Deadbolt locks on exterior doors and security locks on some windows.
- Lead Paint: No lead paint hazards anywhere on the premises.
- Egress: Safe fire or emergency exits leading to a street or hallway.
- Alarms: Smoke and CO detectors in or around each unit.
2. Quiet Enjoyment
Quiet enjoyment is a resident’s right to the undisturbed use and enjoyment of the rental unit.
In exchange for rent, a tenant gets the following rights:
- Privacy: A reasonable expectation of privacy;
- Peace & Quiet: Including the freedom from unreasonable and recurring disturbances from the landlord and/or other neighbors;
- Right of Use: Exclusive right of use, except for landlord’s reasonable right of access;
- Safety & Security: A premise & dwelling that provide adequate security and are free of bodily hazards;
- Basic Utilities: Access to basic services such as electricity, heat and hot water, which are also part of the implied warranty of habitability.
With that said, it doesn’t supersede a landlord’s right to enter the property with proper notice or in emergencies, conduct showings, or make repairs in a reasonable manner.
…it doesn’t supersede a landlord’s right to enter the property with proper notice…
A landlord or manager can be in violation of this covenant if he or she:
- Enters the unit too frequently or without proper notice;
- Snoops through personal property;
- Fails to control disruptive nuisances, noises or behaviors, within reason;
- Harasses a resident in person or over the phone;
- Restricts or terminates essential services, such as water or electricity;
- Fails to repair items that affect habitability; and/or
- Prohibits reasonable enjoyment of the property, such as entertaining guests.
Embrace These Rights, Don’t Avoid Them
By ensuring the resident’s right to habitability and quiet enjoyment, a landlord will have already solved the majority of landlord-tenant issues before they happen.
When these essential needs are met, residents feel safe, secure, and are generally happy with the unit. As a result, they pay their rent on time and typically keep the unit clean.
Ensuring habitability can be difficult and expensive at times, but it’s a legal obligation, and just part of being a landlord.