Landlords’ Duties & Obligations
Your landlord owes you certain duties under the law and under your lease, if you have one. As a tenant, you have the right to a livable, safe and clean apartment. This is called the warranty of habitability. This right is automatically part of your lease even if your lease does not actually say this. Also, your lease cannot say that you give up this right. If your lease states, in any way, that you give up your right to a livable, safe and clean apartment, the court will not enforce that part of the lease. Under the Housing Stability & Tenant Protection Act of 2019 (HSTPA), the warranty of habitability was changed to include a duty to repair. The public areas of your building are also covered by the warranty of habitability.
If your apartment does not have adequate heat or hot water on a regular basis, then your landlord has violated the warranty of habitability. Also, if your landlord fails to rid your apartment of an insect infestation, this may violate the warranty of habitability. However, if you cause the unlivable, unsafe or unclean condition by causing damage to your apartment, then you must fix it and it is not your landlord’s responsibility.
There are several things you can do if your landlord breaches the warranty of habitability. Be sure to give the landlord written notice of the bad conditions and keep proof of the notice. You may be able to sue your landlord for a rent reduction or withhold rent, if you landlord fails to make a repair or violates the warrant of habitability. Withholding rent can be risky because your landlord may sue you for non-payment of rent. However, under the HSTPA, the landlord may have to prove that the eviction is not retaliatory in response to the tenant’s legitimate complaint. If the landlord does try to evict you, you can sue the landlord back for breach of the warranty of habitability. The court can decide what amount of credit toward the rent you receive based upon how bad the conditions are in your apartment. Also, the HSTPA changes the eviction process so tenants have more time to pay rent owed.
You may also try to make the necessary repairs yourself and then subtract the reasonable repair costs from your rent payment, but this is risky as well. This should be done only after giving the landlord notice in writing and a reasonable opportunity to do the repairs. If you do this, you should be sure to keep all receipts for such repairs. Also, be sure to take photographs of the bad conditions and be sure to keep them in a safe place in your computer or file.
If your apartment becomes damaged and uninhabitable by fire, water damage, or other problems that were not caused by you, then you may be able to leave the apartment and cancel the lease on three days’ notice to the landlord. In this case, you will not have any further obligation to pay rent to the landlord.
Landlords of multiple dwellings must keep the apartments and the public areas in good repair, clean and free of insects, pests, garbage or other offensive material. Landlords must also make sure all electrical, plumbing, sanitary, heating and ventilating systems are working. Landlords must also make sure any appliances they install, like refrigerators and stoves, are in good and safe working order. There are rules concerning bed bugs and smoking policies. Landlords must keep your apartment free of bedbugs and must provide all tenants with notice of the building smoking policy.
Landlords also have requirements related to lead paint, smoke detectors, carbon monoxide detectors, locks and window bars. Landlords must protect you from reasonably predictable criminal harm. For example, if you are the victim of a crime in your apartment and you can show that the criminals were able to get into your apartment because the landlord did not fix a broken lock on the main door, you may be able to recover damages from your landlord. Be sure to notify the landlord of all bad conditions in writing. Otherwise, the landlord may claim they did not know of the bad conditions and that is why they were not fixed.
Legal Editor: David Kaminsky, December 2014 (updated August 2020)
Changes may occur in this area of law. The information provided is brought to you as a public service with the help and assistance of volunteer legal editors, and is intended to help you better understand the law in general. It is not intended to be legal advice regarding your particular problem or to substitute for the advice of a lawyer.