Each state has the authority to establish building codes. They can set statewide mandates or allow each town or territory to make their own rules. For example, Tennessee decided that the state's health department would publish a minimum standard for health conditions of any rental property that is distributed to each county, who in turn set living and building conditions for rental properties. When a home does not meet the standards established in the building codes, courts will usually deem it uninhabitable.
Common defects that can make a home uninhabitable include broken or missing windows or security gates or deadbolts, mold or cockroach infestation, low water pressures and slow drains, stairways without lights and a malfunctioning heater or air conditioning unit. Sometimes electrical sockets not working, intense and concentrated criminal activity and overwhelming smells could get a residence designated as uninhabitable. Things like unattractive carpeting are not sufficient.
Uninhabitable housing can also be defined by an insurance company to determine what constitutes a loss. The companies cover this material under loss of use or additional living expense policies. In the literature covering the terms of the policies, the companies list what constitutes an uninhabitable home. These terms represent an agreement between the insurance provider and policy holder when the holder purchases home insurance and is not subject to the same legal intervention that sometimes solves disputes between landlords and apartment renters.
Another way uninhabitable housing can be classified is if the property meets certain standards applied by the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development when they award grants. One example is the language used to describe the Neighborhood Stabilization Program dedicated to rehabilitating, reselling or replacing foreclosed or abandoned homes, which now includes "properties in mortgage default and uninhabitable homes with lingering code violations."