The tenant's obligation to pay rent is dependent upon the landlord's performance of his obligations, including his warranty to maintain the premises in habitable condition. In order to determine whether any rent is owed to the landlord, the tenants must be given an opportunity to prove the housing code violations alleged as breach of the landlord's warranty.
Landlord entered into several lease contracts to rent units in an apartment complex. Due to failure to pay rent, the landlord attempted to evict his non paying tenants. The tenants brought up numerous violations of the Housing Regulations as "an equitable defense or a claim by way of recoupment or set-off in an amount equal to the rent claim." The lower court allowed the evictions, finding that proof of housing code violations was inadmissible when proffered as a defense to an eviction action for nonpayment of rent. The case was appealed to the United States Court of Appeals.
Can housing code violations, which arise during the term of a lease, permit tenants to not comply with their obligation to pay rent?
The Court reversed and remanded the case because common law rule placing the burden of repair on tenants was no longer valid where modern urban tenants' interest in property had nothing to do with the land itself, but was an interest in having suitable living quarters. It explained that because leases should have been viewed as contracts, modern contract law implied warranties of quality to meet expectations of buyers. In addition, the comprehensive regulatory scheme of the housing code displaced common law rule. If housing code violations existed, but part of back rent was owed and tenants agreed to pay, judgment of possession could not have been entered.