Since 2008, Colorado has recognized a legal concept known as the “implied warranty of habitability.” This is a promise that a landlord will keep their units safe and livable. Colorado law outlines the specific requirements for a rental unit to be considered habitable. If a landlord violates the warranty by refusing or ignoring a repair request, tenants have several legal options to force their landlords to fix the issue.
The warranty of habitability exists in every Colorado lease
Colorado law states there is an implied warranty of habitability in every lease.1 It doesn’t matter whether the lease is written or oral—it applies either way. It’s illegal for a lease to try and waive, reduce, or alter the guarantee that the warranty creates. Because the warranty exists even without being explicitly stated, it is an “implied” warranty.
Colorado law is specific about what makes a rental habitable
Colorado law is unambiguous in laying out what’s required by the implied warranty of habitability. In general, rental units a) must be fit for human habitation and b) can’t be materially dangerous or hazardous to the tenant's life, health, or safety.1 The law also goes on to provide more specifics. To be considered legally habitable in Colorado, a rental unit must:2
- Have functioning appliances
- Have unbroken windows and door
- Be weather-proof, with ceilings and walls that don’t leak
- Have plumbing and gas facilities in good working order
- Be connected to a sewage system
- Have running water and adequate hot water
- Have a functional heating system
- Have electrical lighting, maintained in good working order
- Be exterminated in the event of rat or bug infestations in the unit or common spaces
- Be free of anything more serious than minor mold, or damp conditions that could create mold
- Have common areas that are garbage-free and reasonably clean
- Have garbage and recycling bins outside
- Have floors, stairs, and rails in good repair
- Have working locks on both doors and windows
- Comply with all building, housing, and health codes (if a violation of the code would endanger a tenant’s life, health, or safety)
If a rental unit doesn’t comply with something on this list, it’s considered a “breach” of the warranty—that is, the landlord has broken their legal promise to keep the rental property habitable. However, if a tenant or one of their guests caused the damage, the landlord is not responsible for fixing it.
The one caveat in the law is that most issues with a common area will not make a rental unit “unfit for human habitation” unless it seriously affects a tenant’s ability to enjoy their unit. So, garbage in a common area is probably not a breach of the warranty of habitability. Flooding in an entryway, however, probably would be.
An issue that’s not on the list could also be considered a breach
Although it’s relatively detailed, the list above isn’t exhaustive. A court could (and has!) decided that other problems could make a rental unit “unfit for human habitation.” For instance, a court found that a terrible smell, which rendered part of a house unusable, was a breach of the warranty of habitability.3
In addition, there may be more specifics requirements mentioned in your local building, housing, and health codes. For instance, the city of Longmont, Colorado notes how many electrical outlets are required for each livable room and the minimum temperature that units must be heated to in the winter.4
Tenants must inform their landlord if the warranty has been breached
Tenants have some legal options if the warranty has been breached. But before they have the right to move forward with any of those tactics, they must let their landlord know about the issue.5
In Colorado, the procedure for informing a landlord about a breach of the implied warranty of habitability is somewhat complex. Briefly, a tenant must send a written note to their landlord, letting them know about the issue and when they can access the unit for repairs. At that point, the landlord has one to four days to make the repair. If the landlord doesn’t fix the issue within the time frame required by law, the tenant has to send a second notice.
After the landlord receives the second notice, they have four business days to obtain an estimate of the repair cost. If the landlord doesn’t reply to the tenant within four business days, the tenant can take matters into their own hands.
Tenants can respond to a breach of the warranty in several ways
If a landlord refuses to fix a breach of the warranty of habitability after being notified twice and given a reasonable amount of time to take care of the problem, Colorado tenants have a few different options.5
- Repair and deduct: A tenant can make the necessary repair themselves and deduct the cost from their next rent payment.
- Withhold rent: A tenant can stop paying some or all of their rent until their landlord makes repairs. This is a tricky legal maneuver in Colorado, however.
- Sue for damages: If a breach causes a tenant monetary damages—for example, if a burst pipe ruins the tenant’s things—the tenant can sue the landlord to be compensated for those damages.
- Rent abatement: If the breach made the rental unit less “valuable”—that is, if it is no longer worth the rent agreed to—the tenant can take their landlord to court. The tenant may receive rent money back, or a rent abatement going forward. This can also result in a unit being declared uninhabitable, thus relieving a tenant from an obligation to pay any rent.
- Court-ordered injunctive relief: Finally, a court may order “injunctive relief.” This means that a court orders a landlord to make the repairs requested by the tenant. If they don’t, they may be held in contempt of court, fined, or even jailed.
The information provided on this website does not, and is not intended to, constitute legal advice.