Year: 1978 (Date of Decision: 2 May, 1978)
Forum, Country: Appellate Division of the Supreme Court of New York, United States of America
Standards, Rights: Reasonableness; Right to adequate housing; Right to health
SummaryBackground: This case involves the property law right of the “implied warranty of habitability”, which guarantees a tenant a liveable home environment. The landlord is responsible for the upkeep and maintenance of a property, and cannot allow for conditions that would affect the health and safety of the tenant. In this case, tenants of this building withheld their rent to protest the interruption of extensive garbage removal and janitorial services which affected the health and safety of the tenants. The janitorial staff had gone on strike, causing many services and amenities to stop. This caused the building to turn into an environment where rats, roaches and other vermin flourished. Routine maintenance was not completed and trash incinerators were wired shut.
Holding: The Court determined that anything detrimental to life, health, and safety is considered a breach of the warranty of habitability and violates a tenant’s rights as guaranteed by the housing code. The ruling described a residential lease as a sale of shelter and needs to encompass services, which render the premises suitable for which they are leased. While the premises need not be perfect, they must not perpetuate conditions that can adversely affect the tenant’s health and safety [p. 1294-95]. Further, the overarching test for determining whether a property is liveable is based on a reasonable person standard. If a reasonable person would not find a place habitable, then the implied warranty of habitability has been breached [p. 1295].
This would also be a violation of the Right to Housing.
Additional Comments: Damages should be awarded through a balancing test in which the fact finder must weight the severity of the violation, the duration of the conditions, and the steps taken by the landlord to remedy the situation. In this case, the judge awarded 10 per cent deduction on the rent due to the severity of the conditions and the meagre attempts by the landlord to remedy the situation [p. 1295].