Citation. 144 Vt. 150, 478 A.2d 202, 1984 Vt.
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Brief Fact Summary.
The Plaintiff, Hilder (Plaintiff), moved into to an apartment with substantial defects, some of which she repaired at her own cost. Plaintiff sued to recover paid rent and money spent to repair defects in apartment.
Synopsis of Rule of Law.
When the landlord breaches the implied warranty of habitability, tenant can withhold rent, repair defects and deduct this cost from rent payments, seek rent already paid, and seek punitive damages in the appropriate cases.
In October 1974, Plaintiff began occupying an apartment in the Defendants, the Mr. and Mrs. St. Peter’s (Defendants) complex. Plaintiff occupied the apartment pursuant to an oral lease and paid all rent due. Further per an oral agreement, Plaintiff cleaned the apartment in exchange for her security deposit back, which the Defendants denied receiving. Plaintiff discovered several defects and items in disrepair in her apartment. Some of which she fixed with her own funds. The trial court found that the state of disrepair constituted a breach of the implied warranty of habitability and reduced the value of the leasehold. Defendants appealed.
The Defendants raised three issues on appeal:
Whether the court’s award to Plaintiff of the entire amount of rent paid to Defendant was proper when the Plaintiff remained in possession.
Whether the court’s finding that Mr. St. Peter acted on his own behalf and with the apparent authority of Ms. St. Peter was sustainable.
Whether the court correctly calculated the amount of damages awarded to Plaintiff.
Affirmed in part, reversed in part and remanded. Plaintiff is entitled to either withhold rent or seek damages in the amount of rent previously paid.
An implied warranty of habitability exists, requiring the landlord to deliver and maintain through the lease, premises that are safe, clean and fit for human habitation.
The warranty of habitability covers all latent and patent defects in the essential facilities of the residential unit. Essential facilities are facilities vital to the use of the premises for residential purposes.
A tenant cannot assume the risk by acknowledging a defect, nor can the implied warranty of habitability be waived by a covenant in the lease.
To bring this claim, the tenant must show that he first notified the landlord and gave the landlord a reasonable time to correct the defect.
The court went through the history of landlord tenant law and noted that in today’s modern society, the landlord is more familiar with the complex operations associated with apartment building maintenance and repair, while the tenant is at a disadvantage in bargaining power. The court also noted that punitive damages are appropriate in cases where the landlord’s behavior is willful and wanton or fraudulent.