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What Makes a Rental Property Uninhabitable?

Understanding what is considered an uninhabitable rental property is crucial for landlords, property managers, and tenants. Housing providers must ensure their properties are safe and livable, meeting the implied warranty of habitability. Each state has specific requirements, and landlords should maintain properties to avoid legal consequences. Regular maintenance and understanding your local laws are essential for compliance.

For landlords, property managers, and tenants alike, understanding what is considered an uninhabitable rental property is key to understanding tenant rights and landlord obligations. Housing providers, like landlords and property managers, are responsible for providing their tenants with a safe and livable home.

Mold, Mildew, and Water Leaks

Not all water leaks amount to a “major issue” or immediately make a property uninhabitable. The scope, severity, and actions, or lack thereof, taken by the property owner come into play here. A roof leak caused by a recent rainstorm that your landlord resolves quickly with the help of a professional roofer is very different from a persistent leaking pipe that your landlord does nothing about, even after written notice.

Mold and mildew growth are the typical byproduct of unresolved water leaks or flooding in a property. This is more than just a nuisance: many forms of mold and mildew can be dangerous for humans and animals to be around. This falls into the category of environmental hazards, which can also include exposure to lead paint dust (common in older properties) or asbestos insulation.

Lack of essential utilities

Tenants have a right to essential utilities, like hot and cold water, electricity, and heating. As the landlord, you must ensure that repairs to the HVAC system, plumbing, and electrical installations are carried out in a prompt manner. Air conditioning is also part of the “warranty of habitability” in some regions where hot temperatures and scorching weather can be a health issue.

In addition to providing essential utilities, there may be state laws on minimum temperature requirements regarding room and hot water temperatures, so be sure to check your state laws regarding the issue.

Structural issues

It’s in a landlord’s interest to keep the rental property in good repair to protect their investment. However, a leaking roof, sagging ceiling, or severe damage to walls won’t just affect the property values. These types of issues also make a rental property an unsafe living environment for the tenant.

And, let’s say the damage to the apartment or unit is damaged due to a fire or flood. In that case, it’s the landlord’s responsibility to provide alternative accommodations for the tenant or tenants while the repairs take place.

Rodent or pest infestation

Vermin, roaches, and disease-carrying bugs are not ideal—and can also make a rental property uninhabitable. While a spider scurrying across the floor is a minor issue, a bed bug infestation can render the property uninhabitable. Plus, pests like rats and roaches can carry diseases and pose a health risk to your tenants.

However, the warranty of habitability doesn’t apply if the tenant is the source of the pest problems. For example, let’s suppose a tenant fails to take the garbage out. In turn, a problem with rats or roaches develops. In that case, the tenant may be required to pay for pest control, as they were the cause of the issue.

Potential hazards

For a rental unit to be considered habitable, it must also be free from any type of chemical or environmental hazard. The most common hazardous materials found in properties are lead-based paint and asbestos.

In many states, landlords must provide a lead paint disclosure about buildings built before 1978 that disclose the presence of any known lead-based paint used in the home. That’s because it was common to use lead-based paint in homes built before 1978—and the tenant has a right to know whether these potential hazards are in the home.

Lead from paint, paint chips, and dust can pose health hazards if not managed properly, and it can be especially harmful to young children and pregnant women. Landlords with properties built before 1978 are therefore required to also give tenants a federally-approved pamphlet on lead poisoning prevention, and may also be required to ensure a unit is lead-free if a child under the age of six will be living there.

Lack of adequate security

Tenants have the right to expect to feel secure in the rental unit, which means that a unit being habitable includes the ability to adequately secure the property. To keep the property in a livable condition, you must repair locks and ensure windows can’t be easily opened from the outside. It is also crucial to change the locks when a new tenant moves in.

Ignoring state and local health building codes

There are federal and state laws that regulate the type of conditions tenants have the right to live in. For example, there could be room size requirements that dictate the minimum square footage required for each occupant. Most states also require that smoke and carbon monoxide detectors be installed and checked annually.

Tips for Preventing an Uninhabitable Rental Home

As a landlord or property manager, you are legally obligated to provide a habitable home for your tenants. While this is an essential legal requirement, it is also in your best interest to maintain the property and ensure it is a welcoming environment to keep great tenants long-term. Vacancies are costly, ignored repairs tend to cause expensive issues down the road, and keeping great tenants is an ideal situation for your rental property. An uninhabitable property is bad news for your ROI; not to mention the legal implications that can come from these issues.

Check Your State Laws

Verify what your requirements are per your state laws. You can use a habitability state guide to as a quick reference for your area, but always verify with an attorney trained in landlord-tenant law in your area to ensure you fully understand the law’s nuances. This is especially important when dealing with issues like repairs and lease agreements.

Final thoughts

Tenants expect a rental property owner to keep the unit in good repair—and the law requires you to keep the property habitable and safe for your tenants. That’s why, as a landlord, it’s in your best interests to have a good maintenance schedule and promptly carry out major—and even minor—repairs. This will improve your reputation as a trusted landlord, and you reduce the risk of a tenant filing a complaint with the local housing authority.

Plus, regular maintenance and repairs help to keep your property values high and cut down on smaller issues turning into major issues over time. So, make sure to avoid any unsafe living conditions on your properties—both for the sake of your tenants and your wallet.

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