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Habitability and the law

Landlords and tenants alike in North Carolina should know their rights and responsibilities under a rental agreement. While most terms are spelled out in the rental contract, the state has codified some of the basic responsibilities into law.

As the North Carolina Attorney General's Office describes, one of the most notable requirements that landlords must follow is to provide habitable rental premises. Habitability is a requirement that the premises upon which a tenant will reside are, "in good and fit condition." Habitability applies not just on the move-in date, but throughout the duration of the rental agreement. If a portion of rental property falls out of habitability, a landlord must make the necessary repairs to restore it to habitable condition.

Habitability is defined by the local building code, along with North Carolina's rental law. Local codes often prohibit peeling paint, pest infestations, sewer malfunctions and fire hazards, though some of these prohibitions apply only to multi-family rental units.

If a landlord's rental property requires repairs, the tenant living there should notify the landlord promptly. Under North Carolina law, a tenant should not withhold rent while waiting for a landlord to make a repair, as withholding rent can be grounds for eviction. A tenant can make complaints to their local health or fire departments and can also seek legal recourse through the court system.

Of particular concern to tenants during the summer months are air conditioning units. As Fox 8 News reports, habitability laws in North Carolina require the living areas in a rental property to maintain a temperature of at least 68 degrees Fahrenheit in the winter. Landlords must keep their property at a reasonable temperature in the summer, but they are not required to provide air conditioning systems. Landlords who do provide air conditioning units to their tenants are responsible for keeping them in good repair. This means that a landlord must make reasonable efforts to fix the units if they break, but as long as those efforts are reasonable, they do not necessarily have to match the tenant's desired timeframe.

Whether you are a landlord or a tenant, if you are having problems related to the habitability of rental property in North Carolina, it is important to have an experienced attorney to help you reach an acceptable resolution, whether by agreement or by going through the court.

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