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When is a Rental Property Uninhabitable?

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As the landlord of a rental property, it is your duty to provide a safe and comfortable living space for your tenants. What your tenants do with the interior is up to them (as long as it abides by the terms of the contract). But your responsibility lies in the structural integrity of the building itself: Is it up to code? Are the utilities functioning in a safe and non-lethal way? Are there any hazardous substances present in the building? These are the types of questions you should be asking yourself before, during, and after a tenant moves in. Otherwise, your space may be deemed “uninhabitable” and you could find yourself caught up in a tangle of legal red tape.

So, let’s dive into the basics: What exactly makes a space “uninhabitable,” whether by law or common decency? Well, let’s take a look at some examples.

  • Building Codes. There are certain laws that dictate how large a space must be and what features must be present to be considered livable: windows, doors, fire exits, etc. But beyond architectural standards, the landlord must also maintain the integrity of the building. A living space may be deemed unsafe if the walls are in bad condition, the floors are overloaded with weight, there is rot or decay that threatens the structural integrity, or the electrical wiring or heating systems are faulty. Any of these issues could pose a threat to potential occupants and would render the space uninhabitable.
  • Appliances & Utilities. Faulty wiring and malfunctioning appliances can lead to an uninhabitable space. Not only are the occupants at risk of a potential electrical fire, but appliances and utilities can be dangerous when they cease to function at all. Consider the plumbing, which carries water to the kitchen and bathroom. Consider electricity, which powers our kitchen appliances and safety monitors. Without these, a living space is very much uninhabitable.
  • Health Hazards. Last, but certainly not least, landlords must complete a thorough evaluation of their home for any outbreaks or infestations. Mold, mildew, pests, and even water damage can have adverse health effects on any occupants. The health and safety of your tenants must be top priority, so it’s important that you have this done by a professional. If you do have one of the issues listed above, your space will be considered uninhabitable until it is resolved.

These may seem like basic necessities, and that’s true. Every landlord should strive to make their space as safe and comfortable as possible. But this isn’t a fix-it-and-forget-it situation. Maintenance is an ongoing job, one that will continue throughout a tenant’s residency. Be sure that you are keeping up with the needs of your tenant and conducting regular inspections to ensure their health and safety at all times!

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