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A landlord's duty is to provide a habitable home - what happens when that goes wrong?

Updated: Mar 9, 2023



Recently, Sperring Law Firm has helped several tenants terminate their leases based on the warranty of habitability and the landlord’s violation of the lease. Past results cannot guarantee future success, but if you are having problems with your leased property then call Sperring Law Firm today. Even the worst situations require that the correct process be followed to terminate a lease, and failure to follow that process can easily lead to lease penalties. A tenant may also be ordered by a court to pay the landlord damages for vacating a property without properly terminating the lease.


The warranty of habitability is a legal principal that states a landlord must provide a property that is “fit for human living; and not having any conditions that would be dangerous to life, health, or safety (i.e., Landlord must provide heat, gas, electric, smoke detectors, and running water, and premises must be free of mold, asbestos, and vermin).” The overwhelming majority of landlords provide just that for tenants – good, clean, and affordable housing.


For the landlords that don’t though, it can be a nightmare for tenants. The process to get out of the lease is difficult. Text messages, phone calls, and emails to the landlord are not enough. These acts help establish a timeline and put the landlord on notice of an issue, but you must formally provide notice to your landlord the specific issue that is creating an uninhabitable property, that you have already provided notice of the issue, that landlord has nothing to address the issue, and that you are providing the landlord a reasonable period of time to fix the problem. If the landlord does not address the issue within that timeframe, then the tenant will either: 1) withhold rent until the issue is fixed, 2) repair the problem and deduct the repair(s) from rent, or 3) terminate the lease because the property is not habitable.


If a tenant’s text messages and emails do not establish these basics requirements, then a tenant who vacates a property may be found to have breached the lease improperly. If a tenant violates a lease improperly and vacates early, often times a lease will state the landlord is entitled to collect rent for the full amount of the remaining term of the lease from the tenant. While this is not always enforced to the fullest extent by the courts, landlords are still often entitled to several thousand dollars (or more) in damages for tenants improperly vacating a property even if the property is not habitable.


Below is a short excerpt that Sperring Law Firm drafted to assist one of its clients avoid a judgment being entered because the client terminated a lease early. The landlord disagreed with the termination and was threatening to seek rent for the remaining lease term. Ultimately, the tenant was permitted to leave without penalty (names have been removed and dates changed to protect identities).

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Landlord is in breach of both the lease and Landlord’s duty to provide Tenant a habitable property and for breaches of the lease agreement Landlord entered with Tenant.

A Landlord in Pennsylvania is required to deliver a residential premises in habitable condition fit for human living; and not having any conditions that would be dangerous to life, health, or safety (i.e., Landlord must provide heat, gas, electric, smoke detectors, and running water, and premises must be free of mold, asbestos, and vermin). Pugh v. Holmes, 384 A.2d 1234 (Pa. Super. Ct. 1978). The warranty of habitability cannot be waived. Id. The warranty of habitability is designed to ensure that a Landlord will provide facilities and services vital to the life, health, and safety of the tenant and to the use of the premises for residential purposes. Id.


All leases contain an implied warranty of habitability; the tenant's obligation to pay rent and the Landlord's obligation to maintain habitable premises will be mutually dependent. Id. A material breach of one of the obligations will relieve the obligation of the other so long as the breach continues. Id.


In addition to the above legal requirements, Section 16 of the lease here states that Landlord is responsible for trash removal at the property. Further, it is Landlord’s duty under Section 10 “to keep in good repair and working order the electrical, plumbing, sanitary, heating, air conditioning, and all other services.”


Here, Landlord has permitted a disgusting level of trash and filth to accumulate in the common area adjacent to Tenant’s apartment. Tenant notified Landlord on January 2, 2022 via Landlord’s online tenant portal about the trash and filth. Tenant also notified Landlord that feces were located in the common area as well. Almost immediately, the request was marked as “Resident’s responsibility” and Landlord informed Tenant that management would not send maintenance to remedy the issue.


Additionally, Tenant advised Landlord of mold growth in the basement on January 2, 2022 to which Landlord has not responded or remedied. Tenant has also found bugs such as cockroaches in Tenant’s apartment. Mold, trash, vermin, and feces are hazards to human health. Individually, these hazards can lead to severe illness, and the fact that several of these hazards simultaneously affect Tenant’s apartment is downright dangerous. As such, Tenant’s apartment is not habitable, and Landlord is in breach of the lease because of the mold and filth surrounding his apartment. Landlord’s refusal to remedy the problems despite notice and Landlord’s lease obligation means that Tenant’s termination of the lease was proper and Landlord is not entitled to damages.

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Whether you are a tenant OR a landlord, don’t hesitate to contact Sperring Law Firm at (484)-250-9058 or at csperring@sperringlegal.com. The legal system is confusing for both sides, and we can help you navigate your responsibilities as a landlord, or protect your rights as a tenant.


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