Do they have the right to evict my family if rent was being withheld due to numerous problems?

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Do they have the right to evict my family if rent was being withheld due to numerous problems?

For the last 7 moths we have lived at this property. We have had to call the police over 25 times, due to neighbors (noise complaints and stealing utilities). We have raw sewage leaking in our basement due to a clogged pipe that our landlord keeps ignoring. Bugs are getting into our apartment now and it could potentially make my kids sick. Can I withhold rent legally until its fixed?

Asked on September 1, 2011 under Real Estate Law, Wisconsin

Answers:

S.L,. Member, California Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 10 years ago | Contributor

In every lease, there is an implied warranty of habitability which means the landlord is required to maintain the premises in a habitable condition by complying with state and local housing codes.  When there is a breach of the implied warranty of habitability (sewage leak, bugs in your situation), the tenant notifies the landlord as you did and the landlord is required to respond within a reasonable time by making the necessary repairs.  If the landlord fails to respond within a reasonable time, the tenant has the following remedies for a breach of implied warranty of habitability: the tenant can make the repairs and deduct the cost from the rent or the tenant can move out and terminate the obligation to pay rent for the balance of the term of the lease or if the tenant decides to stay on the premises, the tenant can withhold rent and defend against eviction as you are doing.

Another alternative is to sue the landlord for breach of the implied warranty of habitability.  The sewage leak and the bugs  are health and safety issues which constitute breaches of the implied warranty of habitability.

As for the problems with the neighbors, if they are not tenants, your landlord would not be liable for their actions.  If they are tenants and are noisy and/or stealing your utilities, this would be a breach of the covenant of quiet enjoyment and your landlord would be liable.  The covenant of quiet enjoyment means that you as a tenant cannot be disturbed in your use and enjoyment of the premises.


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