Tenants have the right to a safe and habitable home, regardless of how much rent they pay. The term "habitable house" refers to a rental that meets basic requirements such as a roof that keeps out rain, adequate ventilation, solid floors and walls that are not in danger of collapsing, no significant risk of environmental hazards, reasonable protection from criminal intrusion, etc. In Chukwuma & Ors v. Awon1, the Court held that a landlord owns a duty of care to a tenant". This duty of care extends to a tenant having a habitable home.
The "implied warranty of habitability" is the technical legal term for a tenant's right to a habitable rental. The term derives from the notion that landlords promise tenants habitable premises simply by renting out the property. The promise does not have to be written down or otherwise formally agreed upon in the tenancy agreement/lease.
The Implied Warranty of Habitability
What does it mean to say that landlords must provide habitable rentals? In most places, landlords are responsible for:
- keeping basic structural elements of the building safe and intact.
- maintaining all common areas, such as hallways and stairways, in a safe and clean condition.
- keeping electrical, plumbing, sanitary, and elevators operating safely.
- keeping known environmental hazards from posing a significant danger.
- taking reasonable measures to prevent foreseeable criminal intrusions.
What are the injuries a landlord can be liable for?
A landlord can be liable for injuries caused by2:
- latent defects
- defects in common areas
- public use of premises
- defects in furnished short-term residences
- defects due to negligent repairs
- landlord's failure to effectively repair the premises when he had a legal responsibility to do so
Is the Tenant's right to habitable premises waivable?
The right of a tenant to compel a landlord to keep a habitable rental unit is unalienable. Landlords, for example, cannot shirk their habitability responsibilities in a "disclaimer" when the tenancy begins. Similarly, any agreement between landlord and tenant to waive the warranty will not be upheld by the Courts.
When a Landlord Breaches the Implied Warranty of Habitability
A landlord violates the implied warranty of habitability when a problem arises that would cause a reasonable tenant to be concerned about their health or safety due to the landlord's inattention or negligence.
Does minor damage constitute a breach?
Minor damage that does not affect health or safety does not constitute a breach of the implied warranty of habitability. A minor repair can be annoying, limiting, or distasteful but it doesn't seriously endanger the health or safety of a reasonable tenant or make a rental uninhabitable.
Does the landlord have the obligation to repair of premises?
Landlords often have a duty to repair the premises. The duty may be statutory or may rest on an agreement in the lease. In either case, the landlord will be liable to a tenant or others for injury resulting from defects that should have been repaired. No less important, a landlord will be liable even if he has no duty to repair but negligently makes repairs that themselves turn out to be dangerous3.
Tenant Options When a Landlord Breaches the Implied Warranty of Habitability
When a landlord refuses to provide habitable housing that meets minimum requirements, a tenant can take action to enforce the implied warranty of habitability. The tenant may pay for the repairs with the consent of the landlord and deduct the cost from his/her rent. In Bocas Nigeria Ltd v. WEMABOD Estates Ltd4, Forbes, J: held: – "The tenant is obliged to pay his rent as and when due. But all is not lost, he can set off in his landlord's action, a claim for money expended to effect any repair the landlord was under an obligation to effect on the following conditions: –
1. He must prove that he informed his landlord of the repair.
2. He gave him reasonable time to effect the repair.
3. The repair he effected is not of good quality and
4. The sum he expended to effect the repair is reasonable."
Also, the tenant can initiate a court action against the landlord for the breach.
Conclusion It can be seen from the above that, it is critical for a landlord to keep his or her property in a habitable living condition because tenants facing uninhabitable living conditions have legal rights and remedies. A tenant facing an uninhabitable living condition in a house s
1. (2018) LPELR-44830(CA)
4. (2016) LPELR-40193 (CA)
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.