While a condominium owner owns his unit, and a shareholder in a cooperative owns shares of a corporation, there are a lot of aspects of their living situations that they can't control. If the elevator doesn't work, or the grass isn't being cut, or there are leaks in the hallway that fall under the building's responsibility, the individual homeowner depends on their association board to have the situation rectified.
But what if they don't? What if the elevator's broken for three weeks, the grass is a foot high and the water in the hallway is three inches deep? What can the homeowners do to get their buildings' boards to live up to their responsibilities?
Warranty of Habitability
In a landlord-tenant rental situation, there exists what's commonly referred to as a warranty of habitability. The warranty of habitability is a legal concept that protects a tenant from a landlord's failure to properly maintain an apartment that is being rented. Essentially, it allows the tenant to withhold rent if, for example, the landlord isn't repairing leaks, or isn't responding if the heat doesn't work, or if appliances like refrigerators aren't operating properly.
"[If] you have a tenant that is not satisfied with the conditions and withholds his rent every month," says David Byrne, an attorney shareholder with the Lawrenceville, New Jersey office of Stark & Stark, "when the landlord files an eviction action, the tenant posts the money in court and says that the landlord has violated the warranty of habitability and that he shouldn't have to pay until these issues are resolved."
"The basic premise is that every residential lease carries with it an implied warranty or covenant of habitability," says Andrew McDonald, an attorney with Lomurro Davison Eastman & Munoz PA in Freehold.