Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Snow Habitability?

The SCOV says that the implied warranty of habitability will not cover a tenant's car destroyed by heavy snow and ice falling off of the roof of the landlord’s building.

Ah, the joys of living in Vermont.

When tenant's car, parked in a designated space next to her rented home, was ruined by the wintry mix that slid off the building, she brought a breach of contract claim against landlord. The trial court found that the lease which disclaimed landlord's responsibility for damage to tenant’s property was "voided by the implied warranty of habitability," and as such, landlord was liable for the damage.

The SCOV disagreed, noting that although the implied warranty of habitability is alive and well in Vermont, it only provides a promise that the "premises are safe, clean and fit for human habitation." Although inconvenient, a destroyed car is simply not on the same page as the successful cases, ala "clogged toilets, raw sewage, and poisoned water." The fact that plenty of residential leases do not include a guaranteed parking space and are not required to do so is a sign that the ability to drive and park is not "vital to habitability."

In short, contract law isn’t tort law. Although there may have been a wrong here, “contract” isn’t a French word. In this sense, the case falls in line with Favreau v. Miller, where the SCOV determined that the implied warranty of habitability does not cover personal injuries. Such cases require inquiry into "fault, causation and degrees of comparative negligence," while contract law is essentially only concerned with whether or not there was a breach of the lease. Let’s face it; renting is a contact sport.

So, what is a tenant to do? Here, tenant attempted to amend the complaint under Rule 15 to include a negligence claim. The lower court denied her motion, as the claim was not included in the original complaint, and the landlord did not consent to such a suit. The SCOV affirmed for the same reasons. However, SCOV appears to suggest that tenant may have been successful with a negligence claim had she gone that route.

Another alternative: move somewhere that doesn't get 100 inches of snow every winter.

Is it spring yet?

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