A Colorado Tenant’s Guide to the Warranty of Habitability

What is the warranty of habitability?

A guarantee in every residential lease that the apartment or home is fit for people to live in. Colo. Rev. Stat. § 38-12-503(1).

 

What kind of conditions would make an apartment or home “uninhabitable” under the law?

The statute lists 11 specific examples of uninhabitable conditions. If an apartment or home lacks one of the following characteristics, it could be considered uninhabitable.

  • 1) Waterproofing and weather protection of the roof, exterior walls, windows, or doors;
  • 2) Plumbing and gas facilities;
  • 3) Running water and reasonable amounts of hot water;
  • 4) Functioning heat correctly installed and in good working order;
  • 5) Electrical lighting correctly installed and in good working order;
  • 6) Common areas that are reasonably clean;
  • 7) Extermination of rodents or vermin;
  • 8) Adequate garbage receptacles;
  • 9) Floors, stairways, and railings in good repair;
  • 10) Locks on exterior doors and locks or security devices on windows; and
  • 11) Compliance with building, housing, and health codes, which, if violated, would cause the home to be dangerous to the tenant

This is not an exclusive list. Other conditions that make an apartment or home unsuitable to live in could count as an uninhabitable condition. Colo. Rev. Stat. § 38-12-505.

 

Does the tenant have to maintain the property in any way?

  • First, a tenant must fulfill maintenance duties agreed to in the lease, with some exceptions.
  • Second, a tenant must maintain the premises in a clean and safe manner which means:
    • complying with building, health, and housing codes;
    • keeping the inside of the apartment or home clean and sanitary;
    • disposing of garbage in a sanitary manner;
    • using utilities, such as heat and air-conditioning, in a reasonable manner;
    • not disturbing the neighbors peaceful enjoyment of their apartment or home; and
    • notifying the landlord if the apartment or home is uninhabitable.
  • And, of course, a tenant should not destroy or damage any part of the apartment or home.

Colo. Rev. Stat. § 38-12-504.

 

Is an “uninhabitable” condition enough to hold the landlord responsible under the law?

No. There are three requirements that must be met before a tenant can hold a landlord responsible under the law:

  • 1) The premises are uninhabitable (one of the conditions listed above or something similar);
  • 2) The condition is “materially dangerous or hazardous” to the tenant; and
  • 3) The tenant gave written notice of the condition to the landlord and the landlord failed to fix the problem in a reasonable amount of time Colo. Rev. Stat. § 38-12-503(2)(a)-(c).

If these three requirements are satisfied, the landlord has “breached the warranty of habitability.” If there is an uninhabitable condition in your home, and you feel that the condition is dangerous or hazardous to you, make sure that you give your landlord written notice of that condition. You can find a sample letter here.

 

What if the tenant caused the uninhabitable condition?

When damage to the property is caused by the tenant or the tenant’s guest, the landlord has not breached the warranty of habitability. However, the landlord can still be responsible under the warranty of habitability if the tenant is a victim of domestic violence or abuse, the damage was a result of that violence, and the tenant gave the landlord written documentation of the domestic violence or abuse. Colo. Rev. Stat. § 38-12-503(4).

 

What remedies are available to tenants?

There are several remedies available to tenants, but some of the rules, such when the tenant can seek each remedy, are complicated. Tenants should read through the statute before choosing to pursue one remedy over another. The remedies include:

  • 1) Terminating the lease early;
  • 2) A court order requiring the landlord to repair the problem (this is called injunctive relief);
  • 3) Damages (such as rent reduction and other expenses); and
  • 4) Attorney fees and costs in some circumstances.

Colo. Rev. Stat. § 38-12-507.

 

Are there any exceptions?

Yes, there are exceptions. Typical residential leases covering apartments or houses are covered by the warranty of habitability. However, the warranty of habitability does not apply to residences at public or private institutions, occupancy in a hotel or motel less than 30 days, or occupancy in a yurt or hut, among many other exceptions. If you are wondering if you fall under an exception, check this list.   Colo. Rev. Stat. § 38-12-511.

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