Every landlord must ensure the premises are in a habitable condition and refrain from interfering with the tenant's right to quiet enjoyment of the property. If the premises become inhabitable or the landlord interferes with a tenant's quiet enjoyment, the tenant has a valid cause of action against the landlord.
A landlord must keep the premises in a habitable condition by complying with all building, housing, health and safety codes, keeping all electrical, plumbing, heating and ventilating systems in good working order and ensuring the common areas are safe and sanitary. Any failure to do so is a breach of the landlord's duty and the tenant has a cause of action against the landlord.
Prohibited Landlord Actions
A landlord cannot engage in "self help" by changing the locks, removing doors or windows, shutting off utility services or threatening to do any of the forgoing actions in order to evict a tenant. Additionally, a landlord cannot seize a tenant's possessions to recover rent. If the landlord commits any of these acts, the tenant has a cause of action against the landlord.
A landlord cannot interfere with a tenant's quiet enjoyment of the premises. Therefore, a landlord must give a tenant 24-hour notice before entering the residence unless there is an emergency situation, and the landlord cannot abuse their right of access to inspect the premises, deliver packages or show the apartment to prospective tenants or buyers. If a landlord interferes with the tenant's quiet enjoyment, the tenant has a cause of action against the landlord.
Generally a landlord is not liable for any injuries that occur on the premises because the landlord is under no duty to make premises safe. However, a landlord can be liable if the injury occurred in a common area, the tenant was injured by a latent defect the landlord knew of and failed to warn the tenant about, the landlord undertook the task of making a repair but failed to complete the repair with reasonable care or the premises are leased for public use.
While a tenant can continue to pay rent in full and seek money damages from the landlord for his or her damages, other remedies also exist. If the property becomes inhabitable, the tenant can move out and terminate the lease, repair and deduct the costs of the repairs from future rent or reduce or withhold rent until the court determines fair rental value.
Lindsay Nixon has been writing since 2007. Her work has appeared in "Vegetarian Times," "Women's Health Magazine" and online for The Huffington Post. She is also a published author, lawyer and certified personal trainer. Nixon has two Bachelors of Arts in classics and communications from the College of Charleston and a Juris Doctor from the New England School of Law.