How Do I Force a Landlord to Make Repairs in Virginia?
An implied term in residential rental leases is the warranty of habitability. If the landlord causes the rental to become uninhabitable or fails to make repairs so that the premises are uninhabitable, a constructive eviction may occur. This may allow the tenant to withhold rent, repair the problem and deduct the cost from the rent, or recover damages. Wisconsin does not have a "repair and deduct" law. Unless the landlord agrees to allow a tenant to withhold amounts for repair, the tenant will be behind in rent for doing so. However, rent may be abated if the premises in uninhabitable for a portion of the rental period. A failure on the landlord's part to correct a problem affecting the habitability of the premises may be cause for termination of the lease when not caused by any fault on the tenant's part.
In general, a warranty of habitability requires landlords to maintain safe and sanitary housing fit for human habitation. The warranty of provides protection against those conditions that materially affect the health and safety of the tenants or those deficiencies that, in the eyes of a reasonable person, deprive a tenant of those essential functions which a residence is expected to provide. "Habitability," for purposes of a landlord's warranty of habitability is not the same as no risk of harm. An apartment can provide adequate shelter and amenities, as promised, and still be a place which presents some risk.
This warranty is implied into all leases and generally requires the landlord to deliver livable quarters at the tenancy's inception and to maintain the premises in a habitable condition throughout the term, and conditions the tenant's covenant to pay rent on the habitable condition of the premises. A landlord is required to make all repairs and do whatever is necessary to put and keep the premises in a fit and habitable condition. To constitute a breach of the warranty, the defect complained of must be shown to be of a nature and kind which will prevent the use of the dwelling for its intended purpose to provide premises fit for habitation by its dwellers.
The warranty of habitability is not intended to make the landlord a guarantor of every amenity customarily rendered in the landlord-tenant relationship, but only provides protection against those conditions that materially affect the health and safety of the tenants or those deficiencies that, in the eyes of a reasonable person, deprive a tenant of those essential functions which a residence is expected to provide. "Habitability," for purposes of a landlord's warranty of habitability is not the same as no risk of harm. An apartment can provide adequate shelter and amenities, as promised, and still be a place which presents some risk.
Factors to be considered in determining whether a condition or defect constitutes an actionable breach of the warranty include:
(1) whether the condition violates a housing law, regulation, or ordinance;
(2) the nature and seriousness of the defect;
(3) the effect of the defect on safety and sanitation;
(4) the length of time the condition has persisted; and
(5) the age of the structure.
Lack of hot water or heating may constitute a breach of the warranty of habitability.
A condition which may endanger or materially impair the health or safety and well-being of an occupant is sufficient to violate the warranty of habitability Factors aiding a court's determination of the materiality of a landlord's alleged breach of a residential lease include:
(1) the seriousness of the claimed defects and their effect on the dwelling's habitability
(2) the length of time the defects persist,
(3) whether the landlord received written or oral notice of the defects,
(4) whether the residence could be made habitable within a reasonable time, and
(5) whether the defects resulted from abnormal conduct or use by the tenant.
Additionally, to assert a breach of the implied warranty of habitability except where otherwise provided by statute, the tenant must prove that he or she gave notice to the landlord of the defect or condition, that the landlord had a reasonable opportunity to make the necessary repairs, and that he or she failed to do so.
Please see the following VA statutes:
§ 55-248.27. Tenant's assertion; rent escrow. —
A. The tenant may assert that there exists upon the leased premises, a condition or conditions which constitute a material noncompliance by the landlord with the rental agreement or with provisions of law, or which if not promptly corrected, will constitute a fire hazard or serious threat to the life, health or safety of occupants thereof, including but not limited to, a lack of heat or hot or cold running water, except if the tenant is responsible for payment of the utility charge and where the lack of such heat or hot or cold running water is the direct result of the tenant's failure to pay the utility charge; or of light, electricity or adequate sewage disposal facilities; or an infestation of rodents, except if the property is a one-family dwelling; or of the existence of paint containing lead pigment on surfaces within the dwelling, provided that the landlord has notice of such paint. The tenant may file such an assertion in a general district court wherein the premises are located by a declaration setting forth such assertion and asking for one or more forms of relief as provided for in subsection C.
B. Prior to the granting of any relief, the tenant shall show to the satisfaction of the court that:
1. Prior to the commencement of the action the landlord was served a written notice by the tenant of the conditions described in subsection A, or was notified of such conditions by a violation or condemnation notice from an appropriate state or municipal agency, and that the landlord has refused, or having a reasonable opportunity to do so, has failed to remedy the same. For the purposes of this subsection, what period of time shall be deemed to be unreasonable delay is left to the discretion of the court except that there shall be a rebuttable presumption that a period in excess of thirty days from receipt of the notification by the landlord is unreasonable;
2. The tenant has paid into court the amount of rent called for under the rental agreement, within five days of the date due thereunder, unless or until such amount is modified by subsequent order of the court under this chapter; and
3. It shall be sufficient answer or rejoinder to such a declaration if the landlord establishes to the satisfaction of the court that the conditions alleged by the tenant do not in fact exist, or such conditions have been removed or remedied, or such conditions have been caused by the tenant or members of his family or his or their invitees or licensees, or the tenant has unreasonably refused entry to the landlord to the premises for the purpose of correcting such conditions.
C. Any court shall make findings of fact on the issues before it and shall issue any order that may be required. Such an order may include, but is not limited to, any one or more of the following:
1. Terminating the rental agreement or ordering the premises surrendered to the landlord;
2. Ordering all moneys already accumulated in escrow disbursed to the landlord or to the tenant in accordance with this chapter;
3. Ordering that the escrow be continued until the conditions causing the complaint are remedied;
4. Ordering that the amount of rent, whether paid into the escrow account or paid to the landlord, be abated as determined by the court in such an amount as may be equitable to represent the existence of the condition or conditions found by the court to exist. In all cases where the court deems that the tenant is entitled to relief under this chapter, the burden shall be upon the landlord to show cause why there should not be an abatement of rent;
5. Ordering any amount of moneys accumulated in escrow disbursed to the tenant where the landlord refuses to make repairs after a reasonable time or to the landlord or to a contractor chosen by the landlord in order to make repairs or to otherwise remedy the condition. In either case, the court shall in its order insure that moneys thus disbursed will be in fact used for the purpose of making repairs or effecting a remedy;
6. Referring any matter before the court to the proper state or municipal agency for investigation and report and granting a continuance of the action or complaint pending receipt of such investigation and report. When such a continuance is granted, the tenant shall deposit with the court rents within five days of date due under the rental agreement, subject to any abatement under this section, which become due during the period of the continuance, to be held by the court pending its further order;
7. In its discretion, ordering escrow funds disbursed to pay a mortgage on the property in order to stay a foreclosure;
8. In its discretion, ordering escrow funds disbursed to pay a creditor to prevent or satisfy a bill to enforce a mechanic's or materialman's lien.
Notwithstanding any provision of this subsection, where an escrow account is established by the court and the condition or conditions are not fully remedied within six months of the establishment of such account, and the landlord has not made reasonable attempts to remedy the condition, the court shall award all moneys accumulated in escrow to the tenant. In such event, the escrow shall not be terminated, but shall begin upon a new six-month period with the same result if, at the end thereof, the condition or conditions have not been remedied.
D. The initial hearing on the tenant's assertion filed pursuant to subsection A shall be held within fifteen calendar days from the date of service of process on the landlord as authorized by § 55-248.12, except that the court shall order an earlier hearing where emergency conditions are alleged to exist upon the premises, such as failure of heat in winter, lack of adequate sewage facilities or any other condition which constitutes an immediate threat to the health or safety of the inhabitants of the leased premises. The court, on motion of either party or on its own motion, may hold hearings subsequent to the initial proceeding in order to further determine the rights and obligations of the parties. Distribution of escrow moneys may only occur by order of the court after a hearing of which both parties are given notice as required by law or upon motion of both the landlord and tenant or upon certification by the appropriate inspector that the work required by the court to be done has been satisfactorily completed. If the tenant proceeds under this subsection, he may not proceed under any other section of this article as to that breach.
§ 55-248.21. Noncompliance by landlord.
Except as provided in this chapter, if there is a material noncompliance by the landlord with the rental agreement or a noncompliance with any provision of this chapter, materially affecting health and safety, the tenant may serve a written notice on the landlord specifying the acts and omissions constituting the breach and stating that the rental agreement will terminate upon a date not less than 30 days after receipt of the notice if such breach is not remedied in 21 days.
If the landlord commits a breach which is not remediable, the tenant may serve a written notice on the landlord specifying the acts and omissions constituting the breach, and stating that the rental agreement will terminate upon a date not less than 30 days after receipt of the notice.
If the landlord has been served with a prior written notice which required the landlord to remedy a breach, and the landlord remedied such breach, where the landlord intentionally commits a subsequent breach of a like nature as the prior breach, the tenant may serve a written notice on the landlord specifying the acts and omissions constituting the subsequent breach, make reference to the prior breach of a like nature, and state that the rental agreement will terminate upon a date not less than 30 days after receipt of the notice.
If the breach is remediable by repairs and the landlord adequately remedies the breach prior to the date specified in the notice, the rental agreement will not terminate. The tenant may not terminate for a condition caused by the deliberate or negligent act or omission of the tenant, a member of his family or other person on the premises with his consent whether known by the tenant or not. In addition, the tenant may recover damages and obtain injunctive relief for noncompliance by the landlord with the provisions of the rental agreement or of this chapter. The tenant shall be entitled to recover reasonable attorneys' fees unless the landlord proves by a preponderance of the evidence that the landlord's actions were reasonable under the circumstances. If the rental agreement is terminated due to the landlord's noncompliance, the landlord shall return the security deposit in accordance with § 55-248.15:1.
§ 55-248.25. Landlord's noncompliance as defense to action for possession for nonpayment of rent. —
A. In an action for possession based upon nonpayment of rent or in an action for rent by a landlord when the tenant is in possession, the tenant may assert as a defense that there exists upon the leased premises, a condition which constitutes or will constitute, a fire hazard or a serious threat to the life, health or safety of occupants thereof, including but not limited to a lack of heat or running water or of light or of electricity or adequate sewage disposal facilities or an infestation of rodents, or a condition which constitutes material noncompliance on the part of the landlord with the rental agreement or provisions of law. The assertion of any defense provided for in this section shall be conditioned upon the following:
1. Prior to the commencement of the action for rent or possession, the landlord or his agent was served a written notice of the aforesaid condition or conditions by the tenant or was notified by a violation or condemnation notice from an appropriate state or municipal agency, but that the landlord has refused, or having a reasonable opportunity to do so, has failed to remedy the same. For the purposes of this subsection, what period of time shall be deemed to be unreasonable delay is left to the discretion of the court except that there shall be a rebuttable presumption that a period in excess of thirty days from receipt of the notification by the landlord is unreasonable; and
2. The tenant, if in possession, has paid into court the amount of rent found by the court to be due and unpaid, to be held by the court pending the issuance of an order under subsection C.
B. It shall be a sufficient answer to such a defense provided for in this section if the landlord establishes the conditions alleged in the defense do not in fact exist; or such conditions have been removed or remedied; or such conditions have been caused by the tenant or members of the family of such tenant or of his or their guests; or the tenant has unreasonably refused entry to the landlord to the premises for the purposes of correcting such conditions.
C. The court shall make findings of fact upon any defense raised under this section or the answer to any defense and, thereafter, shall pass such order as may be required including any one or more of the following:
1. An order to set-off to the tenant as determined by the court in such amount as may be equitable to represent the existence of any condition set forth in subsection A which is found by the court to exist;
2. Terminate the rental agreement or order surrender of the premises to the landlord; or
3. Refer any matter before the court to the proper state or municipal agency for investigation and report and grant a continuance of the action or complaint pending receipt of such investigation and report. When such a continuance is granted, the tenant shall deposit with the court any rents which will become due during the period of continuance, to be held by the court pending its further order or in its discretion the court may use such funds to pay a mortgage on the property in order to stay a foreclosure, to pay a creditor to prevent or satisfy a bill to enforce a mechanic's or materialman's lien, or to remedy any condition set forth in subsection A which is found by the court to exist.
D. If it appears that the tenant has raised a defense under this section in bad faith or has caused the violation or has unreasonably refused entry to the landlord for the purpose of correcting the condition giving rise to the violation, the court, in its discretion, may impose upon the tenant the reasonable costs of the landlord, including court costs, the costs of repair where the court finds the tenant has caused the violation, and reasonable attorney's fees.
If you wish to use the legal system to resolve your dispute, you may want to review the following general information regarding contract law and breach of contract actions:
Contracts are agreements that are legally enforceable. A contract is an agreement between two parties that creates an obligation to do or refrain from doing a particular thing. The purpose of a contract is to establish the terms of the agreement by which the parties have fixed their rights and duties. An oral contract is an agreement made with spoken words and either no writing or only partially written. An oral contract may generally be enforced the same as a written agreement. However, it is much more difficult with an oral contract to prove its existence or the terms. Oral contracts also usually have a shorter time period within which a person seeking to enforce their contract right must sue. A written contract generally provides a longer time to sue than for breach of an oral contract. Contracts are mainly governed by state statutory and common (judge-made) law and private law. Private law generally refers to the terms of the agreement between the parties, as parties have freedom to override many state law requirements regarding formalities of contracts. Each state has developed its own common law of contracts, which consists of a body of jurisprudence developed over time by trial and appellate courts on a case-by-case basis.
An unjustifiable failure to perform all or some part of a contractual duty is a breach of contract. A legal action for breach of contract arises when at least one party's performance does not live up to the terms of the contract and causes the other party to suffer economic damage or other types of measurable injury. A lawsuit for breach of contract is a civil action and the remedies awarded are designed to place the injured party in the position they would be in if not for the breach. Remedies for contractual breaches are not designed to punish the breaching party. The five basic remedies for breach of contract include the following: money damages, restitution, rescission, reformation, and specific performance. A money damage award includes a sum of money that is given as compensation for financial losses caused by a breach of contract. Parties injured by a breach are entitled to the benefit of the bargain they entered, or the net gain that would have accrued but for the breach. The type of breach governs the extent of damages that may be recovered.
Restitution is a remedy designed to restore the injured party to the position occupied prior to the formation of the contract. Parties seeking restitution may not request to be compensated for lost profits or other earnings caused by a breach. Instead, restitution aims at returning to the plaintiff any money or property given to the defendant under the contract. Plaintiffs typically seek restitution when contracts they have entered are voided by courts due to a defendant's incompetence or incapacity.
Rescission is the name for the remedy that terminates the contractual duties of both parties, while reformation is the name for the remedy that allows courts to change the substance of a contract to correct inequities that were suffered. In order to have a rescission, both parties to the contract must be placed in the position they occupied before the contract was made. Courts have held that a party may rescind a contract for fraud, incapacity, duress, undue influence, material breach in performance of a promise, or mistake, among other grounds.
Specific performance is an equitable remedy that compels one party to perform, as nearly as practicable, his or her duties specified by the contract. Specific performance is available only when money damages are inadequate to compensate the plaintiff for the breach.
Promissory estoppel is a term used in contract law that applies where, although there may not otherwise be an enforceable contract, because one party has relied on the promise of the other, it would be unfair not to enforce the agreement. Promissory estoppel arises from a promise which the promisor should reasonably expect to induce action or forebearance of a definite and substantial character on the part of the promisee and which does induce such action or forebearance in binding if injustice can be avoided only by enforcement of the promise. Detrimental reliance is a term commonly used to force another to perform their obligations under a contract, using the theory of promissory estoppel. Promissory estoppel may apply when a promise was made; reliance on the promise was reasonable or foreseeable; there was actual and reasonable reliance on the promise; the reliance was detrimental; and injustice can only be prevented by enforcing the promise. Detrimental reliance must be shown to involve reliance that is reasonable, which is a determination made on an individual case-by-case basis, taking all factors into consideration. Detrimental means that some type of harm is suffered.
Reasonable reliance is usually referred to as a theory of recovery in contract law. It was what a prudent person might believe and act upon based on something told by another. Sometimes a person acts in reliance on the promise of a profit or other benefit, only to learn that the statements or promises were either incorrect or were exaggerated. The one who acted to their detriment in reasonable reliance may recover damages for the costs of his/her actions or demand performance. Reasonable reliance connotes the use of the standard of an ordinary and average person.