Landlords Beware - Recent Ruling Clarifies Tenants' Ability to Sue for Long-Standing Uninhabitable Conditions
The scenario: (1) Idaho tenant rents a house with alleged uninhabitable conditions but continues to live in the house for years; (2) tenant sends a letter to landlord demanding that landlord correct the uninhabitable conditions within three days or tenant will sue; (3) landlord refuses; and (4) tenant sues… What happens?
The answer may surprise you but the Idaho Court of Appeals in William D. Rekow v. Ronald Weekes held that the tenant can pursue damages from the date the tenant first rented the home with uninhabitable conditions and is not limited to damages from the date landlord received the notice to cure.
Idaho, like many other states, recognizes what is commonly referred to as the “implied warranty of habitability.” The “implied warranty of habitability” is the concept that a residential property will be “habitable” for the tenant even if the lease does not specifically require the landlord to make repairs. Idaho has enacted a statutory version of the “implied warranty of habitability” under I.C. § 6-320.
In order for an Idaho tenant to sue under I.C. § 6-320, the tenant first must provide notice to the landlord and allow the landlord three days to cure the breach or failure. Specifically, it requires that the tenant give written notice “listing each failure or breach upon which his action will be premised and written demand requiring performance or cure.” For each failure or breach listed in the notice that has not been cured by the landlord within three days after the notice was given, the tenant may pursue a claim for under I.C. § 6-320.
The question for the Idaho Court of Appeals was whether or not the tenant’s damages began to accrue after the three day notice letter or whether damages accrued from the date the uninhabitable condition occurred (in this case nearly fifty-five months worth of damages). The Court of Appeals answered this question by stating that the “damages begin when the implied contractual provision is breached.”
This ruling provides some exposure to landlords that do not correct defective conditions within the three day cure period provided by the statute. With this ruling the landlord could be liable for treble damages due to conditions that existed for years on the property. Given this exposure, the prudent thing for a landlord to do is to correct such deficiencies within the three day cure period and remove the ability for a tenant to proceed with a lawsuit under I.C. § 6-320.