Rental Laws: What Are the Tenant’s Responsibilities for Ensuring an Apartment Is Habitable?

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Your state rental laws may require your landlord to maintain the apartment and make repairs. Even if your lease doesn’t state it, landlord tenant laws recognize an “implied warranty of habitability”, which means that the landlord must keep your apartment in a livable condition. However, you may have a responsibility as a tenant to maintain the apartment as well. The landlord will have a legal defense in court for back rent or an eviction if you don’t take reasonable care of the apartment and fulfill your duty to ensure that it is habitable.

Reasonable Care

When considering rental laws on this issue, the terms “reasonable care” or “reasonable manner” are most often used. You have to take reasonable care of the appliances, furniture, rooms or anything else that came with or is a part of the apartment. Every state sets its own standards for reasonable care, and the only way to know is to research how prior cases were decided. You can also ask an eviction lawyer or call the local bar association about a free consultation with a pro bono attorney. Some state courts have ruled that the following is considered reasonable care:

-Keep the apartment clean
-Maintain sanitary conditions
-Proper removal of trash
-Don’t damage the apartment
-Alert the landlord to the need to make repairs not caused by tenants
-Pay for repairs caused by tenants
-Use the apartment for its intended use, and not for illegal or other uses

Reasonable does not mean exceptional. Normal wear and tear is expected when you rent an apartment. However, it’s not reasonable to expect that you can destroy appliances or trash the apartment.

Written Notification of Repairs

You’re responsible according to rental laws to notify your landlord about the need to make repairs. Write a letter, and mail it to the landlord by certified mail, signature requested. That’s your documentation that they received the notice. If an emergency repair is needed, call first, but follow up with a written letter. In that letter, detail the damage as well as the cause. You will need it as part of your legal documentation if the landlord attempts to evict you. Follow up with another letter if you don’t get a response from the landlord. How long you wait will depend on the nature of the damage. If the apartment is inhabitable, then call again, and send another letter immediately. If repairs can wait, then use your best judgment, taking into account your history and relationship with the landlord.

No Responsibility

There are some states in which tenants have no responsibility for ensuring that an apartment is habitable. The landlord has the sole duty to maintain the premises. It’s important to learn what the particular laws of your state are regarding implied warrant of habitability, how it’s waived and the legal defenses available to your landlord. Even if it’s not required by law, taking good care of your apartment will help you build a good relationship with your landlord. They may be your best reference when you rent future apartments.

Rental laws vary from state to state, so hire an attorney if you’re being sued for failing to ensure that your apartment is habitable. A local attorney will have insight into how judges have ruled and what the legal precedent is where you’re located.

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