If you’re a landlord, it’s extremely important that you understand what makes a rental property uninhabitable. It’s your responsibility to protect the well-being of your tenants as far as the safety of their rental home is concerned. It’s your responsibility to ensure that the property is livable.
The law provides a “warranty of habitability” to this end. And it doesn’t just protect tenants; it also helps shield rental property owners from litigation.
You hopefully don’t need a law to tell you to provide a safe, clean, habitable living environment for your tenants. It’s simply the right thing to do. But there are other benefits for you, as well. It helps you attract and retain good tenants, and it helps keep your investment property in good condition, reducing the risk of major costly repairs down the line.
What Does “Uninhabitable” Mean?
Before we identify what makes a rental property uninhabitable, it’s helpful to understand exactly what the term means. Basically, the presence of any danger to a tenant’s health or safety makes a rental home uninhabitable.
It’s a broad definition, on purpose. Many factors have the potential to make a home uninhabitable.
You’re under no obligation to provide luxury accommodations, the latest appliances, or anything like that, of course. But you are obligated to make sure there are no dangers associated with the condition of the property (generally due to lack of maintenance or upkeep).
Common Factors that Make a Rental Property Uninhabitable
- Lack of essential utilities – Whether you pay for the utilities or not, tenants have a right to electricity, cold and hot water, heat, and other essential utilities. In Florida and other hot climates, air conditioning is considered essential too. It’s a landlord’s responsibility to make sure all wiring, plumbing, HVAC units, water heaters, and other aspects of properly functioning utilities are in safe working order.
- Structural problems – If your investment property has structural problems such as significantly damaged walls, sagging ceilings, a leaking roof, etc., it’s unsafe and not habitable.
- Infestation – Infestations of disease-carrying or otherwise potentially dangerous insects or animals pose a threat to the health of tenants. In addition to leaving potentially harmful droppings, rodents chew on wires, beams, and other things, which can cause electrical problems, fire risks, and even structural problems. Rodents, roaches, bedbugs, and other critters must be dealt with promptly by a professional. However, if the tenant has caused the infestation through their own negligence (such as allowing garbage to pile up), they can usually be held responsible for the cost of an exterminator’s services.
- Hazardous substances – The presence of mold, lead paint, asbestos, certain chemicals, and other potentially hazardous substances can make a property uninhabitable. Look into state and local laws about providing lead paint disclosure forms if you have an investment property that was built before 1978.
- Violating certain building codes – There are various federal, state, and local building codes, and failure to meet them in some cases makes a rental property uninhabitable. For example, there may be requirements pertaining to room size and minimum square footage per resident. Working smoke detectors (and often, carbon monoxide detectors) are usually mandatory. In some places, window guards or other safety measures may be required if there’s a child under a certain age living in your property.
- Lack of security – Security is an important safety issue, and tenants have the right to a reasonably secure home. Locks on doors leading in from outside must be present and functional. Windows can’t be easily opened from the exterior. Exterior lighting should work.