Because we hold that the tenant's obligation to pay rent is contingent on the landlord's duty to provide and maintain a habitable dwelling, it is no longer necessary for the tenant to first abandon the premises. Thus, the doctrine of constructive eviction is no longer a viable or needed defense in an action by the landlord for unpaid rent.
Plaintiff tenant rented an apartment from defendant landlords that had many defects which made living in the apartment unsafe. Plaintiff, however, paid her rent on time every month. Defendant did nothing to correct the defects despite repeated complaints by plaintiff. The defendants appealed the amount of damages granted plaintiff.
Whether a tenant is required to abandon the leased premises in order to be entitled to damages for breach of warranty of habitability.
In the rental of any residential dwelling unit an implied warranty that the leased premises shall, during the period of the tenancy, be fit for human habitation. A tenant who was aware of existing defects in the leased premises cannot be said to have assumed the risk, removing him from the protection of the warranty. Considering that there is a breach of warranty of habitability, the court affirmed the grant of damages equal to the entire amount of the rent plaintiff paid. The plaintiff did not have to abandon the premises in order to be entitled to a full refund. The court remanded the issue of the amount of compensatory damages because the trial court did not set forth the method it used to compute the additional compensatory damages awarded.