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One of the basic issues in an unlawful detainer action is whether or not there is any rent due. Wash. Rev. Code § 59.12.170, which governs the entry of judgment and execution in an unlawful detainer action, states that upon a finding of default in the payment of rent, the judgment shall also declare the forfeiture of the lease, agreement or tenancy. Wash. Rev. Code § 59.12.030 provides that a tenant of real property for a term less than life is guilty of unlawful detainer either when he continues in possession in person or by subtenant after a default in the payment of rent and after notice in writing requiring in the alternative the payment of the rent or the surrender of the detained premises. Since the affirmative defense of breach of implied warranty of habitability goes directly to the issue of rent due and owing, which is one of the basic issues in an unlawful detainer action as the above statutes indicate, said defense is available in an unlawful detainer action of this nature.
This is an unlawful detainer action in which plaintiff (respondent) Ronald D. Foisy, sought the possession of his real property, unpaid rent, and damages. The defendant-lessee (appellant) Richard Kent Wyman, appealed from a judgment in favor of the plaintiff. Plaintiff alleged that defendant took possession of a house belonging to the plaintiff pursuant to a six-month lease. Defendant failed to pay a substantial amount of the rent and remained on the premises after the expiration of the lease. Defendant contended that the house was not maintained in a habitable condition. The trial court determined that the lessee was guilty of unlawful detainer but found the lease invalid and assessed a reasonable rental for the period of occupancy, defendant lessee appealed.
Was the defendant lessee guilty of unlawful detainer?
The court held that there was an implied warranty of habitability in the lease and breach of the warranty constituted a defense in an unlawful detainer action, the defendant-lessee should not have been placed in a position of having to agree to live in uninhabitable premises in exchange for reduced rent. But the court held that the lower court erred in failing to permit testimony regarding housing code violations as irrelevant to the issue of rent due and owing. The judgment of the lower court was then reversed and the case was remanded for a new trial. The court directed the finder of fact to determine whether the evidence indicated the premises were totally or partially uninhabitable and, if so, what portion of the lessee's obligation to pay rent was relieved. If the entire rental obligation was extinguished or if an appropriate partial rent was paid, then the action for unlawful detainer had to fail.