What Are a Landlord's Duties Under the "Warranty of Habitability"?

The “warranty of habitability” is an important concept in New York real estate law. If you lease a residential property such as an apartment or condo, by law you guarantee the premises are “fit for human habitation.” This does not mean the residence must be in new or perfect condition, but it does mean the conditions are “in accord with the uses reasonably intended by the parties” and there are no known hazards which would endanger the tenant's health or safety.

When landlords are notified of a potential breach of the warranty of habitability and refuse to act, the tenant may refuse to pay rent until the problem is corrected. A court may subsequently award damages to the tenant. Let's consider a recent example of this from a Manhattan court decision.

Jeddah Madison Corp. v. Vornea

In this case, the tenant rented a three-bedroom duplex in Manhattan from the landlord for $8,500 per month. The tenant took possession of the duplex in August 2012. In May 2014, a fire in an adjacent unit caused significant water damage to the tenant's duplex. The landlord subsequently tested the duplex for mold, which was found in the master bedroom and hallway.

The landlord and tenant subsequently disagreed on a plan to remove the mold. In the meantime, the tenant stopped paying rent, and the landlord responded by filing a lawsuit in Manhattan Civil Court. By the time the case was tried in April 2015, the back rent owed was more than $93,000. But equally important to the case, the mold problem had not yet been resolved.

Judge Sabrina B. Kraus ruled on May 11, 2015, holding the tenant was entitled to a 35% abatement of all rent owed since May 2014. This means the tenant now only owes the landlord about $55,000, as opposed to the original $93,000. (The tenant was also given a $1,100 credit for another repair unrelated to the mold issue.)

Based on the testimony and evidence offered at trial, Judge Kraus concluded there was an “impermissible mold condition” in the duplex's master bedroom and hallway that rendered that part of the unit unfit for occupation by the tenant. This breached the warranty of habitability. However, Judge Kraus also found the tenant partially impeded the landlord's efforts to correct the problem. This did not absolve the landlord of its responsibility to correct the problem, nor did it prevent the tenant from receiving an abatement of his rent, although the judge did reduce the amount of the abatement. The critical factor was the landlord received notice of the mold problem in May 2014, and from that point forward it had the legal responsibility to address the situation.

Get Advice Before Your Litigate

Not all landlord-tenant disputes like the one discussed above lead to litigation. It is always advisable for parties to resolve a problem before heading to court. But that does not mean you should act without first seeking competent legal advice. If you need to speak with an experienced New York real estate attorney about a landlord-tenant problem, contact our offices right away.