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Just Because You'd Live There . . .

Doesn't make a space habitable. Too many times I've heard landlords say "I would live there" or "I used to live there," and according to them, the space was "fine." Unfortunately what you choose to live in and what you choose to rent to another are two very different things. Once you start collecting money in the form of rent, you fall within the North Carolina Residential Rental Agreement Act which defines the parameters of a "habitable" space.

Not that long ago, a landlord contacted me about a tenant he wanted to remove. I asked if there were any issues the tenant might raise in defense of the eviction. The landlord indicated that while the space had running water in the form of showers and sinks, there was no commode. He explained there was a "sawdust" toilet, otherwise known as a compost toilet. I didn't know what one was. If you were like me, let me explain. In a few words, basically what we are talking about is a portable, indoor, outhouse - a five gallon bucket with a toilet seat. When the bucket is full, you take it outside and spread it around.

This sort of commode is fine in your fish camp or hunting cabin or deer stand. But if you rent your fish camp, hunting cabin or deer stand for residential occupancy you better have a "operable toilet." See N.C. Gen. Stat. 42-42(a)(8). And while a sawdust toilet is "operable," I don't think that is what the North Carolina Legislature meant when it wrote the statute.

As a landlord, you have have chosen to provide housing to those who will pay your desired rent. Therefore you have an obligation to maintain and repair your property to comply with the North Carolina Residential Rental Agreement Act. If you are not going to maintain or repair your property, then get out of the business of renting for residential purposes.

Habitability is a minimum standard and sometimes difficult to meet. However, habitability as defined in the statutes is the legal standard that must be met. How you choose to live is one thing, when you rent to another it is a whole different thing.

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