A landlord should, in residential letting, be held to an implied covenant against latent defects, which is another manner of saying, habitability and livability fitness. It is a mere matter of semantics whether the court designates this covenant one "to repair" or "of habitability and livability fitness." Actually it is a covenant that at the inception of the lease, there are no latent defects in facilities vital to the use of the premises for residential purposes because of faulty original construction or deterioration from age or normal usage. And further it is a covenant that these facilities will remain in usable condition during the entire term of the lease. In performance of this covenant, the landlord is required to maintain those facilities in a condition which renders the property livable.
A tenant offset the cost of repair of a toilet in the payment of her rent. The landlord challenged the offset and demanded the outstanding rent. When his demands were refused, the landlord instituted a summary dispossess action for nonpayment of rent in the county district court. The trial judge found that the landlord did not have a duty to make repairs and rendered a judgment for possession. The case was appealed to the Supreme Court of New Jersey.
Does a landlord have the duty to make repairs?
The court found that a landlord has an implied covenant to make repairs. The court held that if a landlord failed to make repairs and replacements of vital facilities necessary to maintain the premises in a livable condition for a period of time adequate to accomplish such repair and replacements, the tenant could cause the same to be done and deduct the cost from future rents. The court stated that the tenant's recourse to such self-help had to be preceded by timely and adequate notice to the landlord of the faulty condition in order to accord him the opportunity to make necessary replacement or repair. The court held that if the tenant was unable to give notice after a reasonable attempt, he could proceed to repair or replace.