South-Western Legal Studies in Business

Tenant Had Right to Break Lease Due to Safety Defect
Description

Appeals court held that a tenant had the right to refuse to occupy a house that contained a safety defect. The landlord breached the implied warranty of habitability and must return the damage deposit.

Topic Real and Personal Property
Key Words

Landlord-Tenant; Implied Warranty of Habitability; Timely Repair

C A S E   S U M M A R Y
Facts

Chiodini owned a house with a partly finished basement that has exposed wiring in it. Fox and Winkler rented the house on a one-year lease on May 8. Before moving in, the wiring was noticed and the tenants refused to move in on June 1, when the lease was to begin. City inspectors confirmed the wiring defect. Chiodini repaired the electrical problem and it passed inspection on June 25. Other tenants took occupancy August 20. Chiodini sued Fox and Winker for breach of lease. They responded with the affirmative defense that the premises were uninhabitable and counterclaimed for return of their deposit. The trial court held for Fox and Winkler. Chiodini appealed.

Decision

Affirmed. To state a cause of action for breach of an implied warranty of habitability, a tenant must show: 1) entry into a lease for residential property; 2) the subsequent development of dangerous or unsanitary conditions on the premises materially affecting the life, health, and safety of the tenant; 3) reasonable notice of the defects to the landlord; and 4) subsequent failure to restore the premises to habitability. The wiring problem was not trivial and was not repaired in a timely manner to allow occupancy by the beginning of the lease. The landlord was aware of the defect before the house was ever rented.

Citation

Chiodini v. Fox, ---S.W.3d--- (2006 WL 2805634, Ct. App., Mo., 2006)

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