The Lawletter Vol 40 No 5
Recently, in Francis v. Kings Park Manor, Inc., No. 14-cv-3555 (ADS)(GRB), 2015 WL 1189579 (E.D.N.Y. signed Mar. 16, 2015), the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York held that an African-American apartment resident had a plausible claim for breach of the implied warranty of habitability based on the harassing behavior of a next-door neighbor tenant. In that case, the plaintiff's next-door neighbor, among other things, repeatedly made racially offensive comments and threats to the plaintiff, which conduct led at one point to the neighbor's arrest for aggravated harassment. Despite the plaintiff's complaints to the property management company in charge of the apartment complex, the management company took little action to address the plaintiff's complaints.
The plaintiff proceeded to bring an action against the property management company, its alleged agent, and his neighbor for declaratory judgment, permanent injunctive relief, damages, costs, and attorney's fees, alleging a continuing pattern of racially discriminatory conduct in violation of 42 U.S.C. §§ 1981 and 1982 and the Fair Housing Act. The plaintiff also asserted causes of action for breach of contract (based on the breach of the warranty of habitability implied in the lease) and for negligent infliction of emotional distress. The court dismissed all of the claims against the property management company and its agent except for the breach-of-implied-warranty-of-habitability claim.
Relying on the statutory warranty of habitability set forth in section 235-b of the New York Real Property Law, which, among other things, protects against conditions that materially affect the health and safety of tenants, the court opined that such a claim could be based on the acts of third parties, including the harassing activities of a cotenant. The court explained that "a tenant may state a claim for breach of the statutorily implied warranty of habitability against a landlord for failure to intervene in response to harassing behavior by a co-tenant." Id. at *16. The court refused to dismiss the claim, even though the plaintiff had renewed his lease for another term during the period of the complained-of harassment.
Although Francis was based on the alleged violation of a specific New York statute setting forth the implied warranty of habitability, numerous other states recognize that there is an implied warranty of habitability (or an implied covenant of quiet enjoyment) with respect to residential leases.