Below is the abstract for “Digitizing the Warrant of Habitability,” available for download on SSRN.
The warranty of habitability was touted fifty years ago as a gamechanger in rebalancing power between tenants and landlords. Under the warranty, a residential tenant’s duty to pay rent is conditioned on a landlord’s obligation to make repairs. Scholars who have studied the warranty of habitability have focused on its defensive use, primarily when a tenant is already in eviction proceedings. Consensus has emerged that the warranty as a defensive shield has failed to deliver meaningful benefits to tenants living in poor housing conditions.
This Article explores whether an affirmative use of the warranty, coupled with a new technology and community organizing approach, can improve tenant outcomes. Specifically, the authors de-signed, built, and implemented a novel tool available for tenants to bring pro se actions for money damages in small claims courts for breaches of the warranty of habitability. The Warranty of Habitability Abatement of Rent Mathematical Calculator (“H.A.R.M. Calculator”) is an efficiency application that allows law students and attorney volunteers to assist tenants in preparing small claims court pleadings. Tenants then file their complaints, and, when successful, obtain judgments for money damages against their current or former landlords.
This Article contributes to the poverty law, housing law, and legal technology literatures by focusing on the warranty of habitability in a new way. An affirmative, tenant-centered remedy has the possibility of shifting power dynamics between tenants and land-lords. Through initial data collected, the authors have developed working hypotheses that the tool will test through future research.