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The Implied Warranty of Habitability in Rhode Island Landlord-Tenant Cases

Lessors of residential properties, including homes, apartments, and single rooms, are required by law to keep the properties to a certain standard of habitability for their tenants. In the event that a property is not habitable in accordance with the law, a tenant can pursue an action against the landlord to enforce repairs, reduce the rents, or invalidate the lease agreement. The Appeals Court of Massachusetts recently released an opinion affirming a lower court’s judgment in favor of a tenant who had counter-sued their landlord with claims that the property they rented was not habitable.

According to the recently published opinion, the defendants in the case leased an apartment from the plaintiff in December 2014. After part of the lease term had expired, the defendants complained to the plaintiff about certain maintenance issues that required repair. When the plaintiff failed to adequately address the defendants’ concerns, they withheld rents from the plaintiff and eventually moved out of the apartment. The plaintiff pursued an action to recover damages for the lease amount in Massachusetts Housing Court, and the defendants responded that the condition of the apartment was so poor that they were justified in withholding rents and ultimately breaking the lease. The defendants noted issues including a non-functioning bathtub spout, a leaky kitchen sink, cracks in the floor of the kitchen, inadequate access to the electrical panel, a broken deadbolt lock on the front door, bathroom ventilation issues, and a ceiling leak that resulted in water damage.

The Housing Court agreed with the defendants and ruled that the condition of the apartment was a violation of the implied covenant of habitability, which generally requires that a residential unit be fit for human occupation and will remain so for the duration of the tenancy. Based on that decision, the Housing Court reduced the rents the defendants owed, and also awarded them attorneys fees for defending the plaintiff’s claims. On appeal, the Court of Appeals of Massachusetts affirmed the housing court decision, noting that tenants have the right to habitable premises, and even if some of the issues existed at the time of lease inception and were not complained about by the tenants until later, the relief given by the housing court was appropriate.

Do You Need a Rhode Island Property Law Attorney?

If you or a loved one has entered into a lease for a residential property and have disputes with your landlord over needed repairs or other issues that have made your home uninhabitable, you may be entitled to damages or to pay a reduced rent. Landlords notoriously take advantage of the assumed ignorance of tenants when enforcing unfair or illegal lease agreements and avoiding their obligations. A qualified Rhode Island landlord-tenant attorney can help to protect your rights as a tenant and prevent you from being taken advantage of by a predatory landlord. The Rhode Island real estate attorneys at Bilodeau Capalbo, LLC are experienced in landlord-tenant cases, and can help you protect your right to live in a habitable home. Contact a Rhode Island property attorney today. Call and schedule an appointment to discuss your case with a qualified attorney at Bilodeau Capalbo by contacting our office at 401-300-4055.

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