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A dialogue: Does a Broken Toilet Seat Not Replaced by Landlord in a Month Create an Uninhabitable Condition?

Posted By Cliff Tuttle | December 2, 2017

No. 1,362

Here’s a question that appeared the other day in the AVVO forum where landlords and tenants pose questions to lawyers. ¬†Attorney Leslie Margolis and I answered the question at about the same time and we then traded comments. Unfortunately, I don’t have my comments available to reprint, but hers are better anyway. ¬†Consider this an endorsement of her answer. First the question:

Broken toilet seat?

It’s been 2 months. I have written letters and made phone calls to Allegheny county housing but nothing has been done. I have a copy of the letter. I’m going to buy a new seat and deduct it from the rent. They are going to be nasty and take me to the magistrate over this screaming for “late fees” etc. My question is this: do they have a pot to piss in?

Here is Leslie’s initial reply:

“You cannot simply pay for things you need and deduct them from rent without following certain steps..and those steps are only applicable when the condition renders the premises uninhabitable….i suggest you consult with a local landlord tenant attorney and bring a copy of your lease.”

Leslie A. Margolies, Esq. is an attorney and Director of The Real Estate Law Group which provides affordable legal representation (sliding scale) for people with property problems in all counties of Pennsylvania. Her services include real estate and landlord tenant litigation, real estate transactions and document preparation. Please note that responses to questions on this website are for general purposes only. Such responses may not be considered legal advice and do not establish an attorney-client relationship.

Now, mine:

“Yes, you have the right to replace the toilet seat and deduct it. The case that says so is Pugh v Holmes.

Clean up your language in front of the Magistrate, though.”

Whereupon, she said:

I disagree that is as simple as you suggest. I believe it is a mistake to oversimplify the issue particularly when the tenant is likely to advocate for themselves and not bring adequate evidence. You don’t know if he has even retained proof of the letters and you do not know if the judge will find the absence of a toilet seat to be a condition which renders the premises uninhabitable. That case only states that the tenant may deduct for repairs from rent when the condition constitutes a breach of the implied warranty of habitability. In order to constitute a breach of the implied warranty of habitability the defect must be of a nature and kind which will render the premises unsafe, or unsanitary and thus unfit for living therein. And the repairs which were necessary in that case clearly involved safety.¬†“

LM: “Moreover, if he does deduct the toilet seat but it turns out he has only a week to week or month to month lease, then the landlord can terminate the lease just because he is annoyed about the toilet seat and the tenant will be blindsided by this unanticipated consequence.

LM: “I think it could easily be argued by a good defense attorney that a toilet seat offers nothing more than comfort and that a toilet rim can be cleaned so that is no more unhealthy than a toilet seat. If he were my client I would threaten the landlord with legal action which would cost him more than a toilet seat and hope that he (or she) wises up. But I don’t think a letter from the tenant will have the same effect as a letter from a lawyer. And hiring a lawyer to write such a letter would cost more than a toilet seat. But if he documents his complaints properly he could try deducting it from rent and hope for the best. But I would not suggest doing so if he had a month to month or week to week lease (or even worse a verbal lease)

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CLIFF TUTTLE has been a Pennsylvania lawyer for over 40 years and (inter alia) is a real estate litigator and legal writer. The posts in this blog are intended to provide general information about legal topics of interest to lawyers and consumers with a Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania focus. However, this information does not constitute legal advice and there is no lawyer-client relationship created when you read this blog. You are encouraged to leave comments but be aware that posted comments can be read by others. If you wish to contact me in privacy, please use the Contact Form located immediately below this message. I will reply promptly and in strict confidence.

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