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J. C. PUGH v. ELOISE P. HOLMES (04/13/78)

decided: April 13, 1978.


No. 367 March Term, 1977, Appeal from the Order entered by the Court of Common Pleas of Franklin County, Civil Section, as of No. 16 August Term, 1976


David R. Woodward, Chambersburg, for appellant.

No appearance entered nor brief submitted for appellee.

Watkins, President Judge, and Jacobs, Cercone, Price, Van der Voort and Spaeth, JJ. Price, J., files a dissenting opinion. Watkins, former President Judge, and Hoffman, J., did not participate in the consideration or decision of this case.

Author: Jacobs

[ 253 Pa. Super. Page 80]

This appeal presents an issue important to the application of landlord-tenant law. Appellant Mrs. Holmes requests that Pennsylvania join the growing number of jurisdictions which have abolished the principle of caveat emptor (or caveat lessee) and applied the doctrine of implied warranty of habitability to landlord-tenant relationships.*fn1 For the reasons stated below, we hold that caveat emptor is no longer applicable to residential leases and that an implied warranty of habitability will apply to all such leases.

Appellant has rented a residential dwelling in Chambersburg, Franklin County, from appellee since November, 1971. The rental is based on a month-to-month oral lease and the rent is sixty dollars monthly. The only income appellant and her two minor children receive is $294 in monthly public assistance payments.

In April, 1976, appellee filed an assumpsit action against appellant before a justice of the peace alleging that appellant had failed to pay her rent from September, 1975, through April, 1976. Appellee obtained a judgment and appellant filed a notice of appeal with the Court of Common

[ 253 Pa. Super. Page 81]

Pleas of Franklin County. Appellee then filed a complaint requesting judgment for unpaid rent in the amount of $576. In August, 1976, appellee filed a second action against appellant before the justice of the peace and obtained a judgment for possession and for unpaid rent. Appellant again appealed to the Court of Common Pleas and appellee filed a complaint seeking possession and unpaid rent.

Appellant filed an Answer Containing New Matter to both complaints in which she raised a breach of the implied warranty of habitability as a defense. In support of her answer, appellant alleged that since September, 1975, appellee failed to maintain her dwelling "in a safe, sanitary, and healthful condition fit for human habitation." She listed ten specific factors, including a leaking roof, lack of hot water, leaking pipes, infestation by cockroaches, and hazardous steps and floors, as examples of the uninhabitable condition of her rental premises. She also alleged that she had notified appellee of these defective conditions and that he did not repair them. On the basis of this implied warranty defense, appellant argued that her obligation to pay rent to appellee had been relieved and that she was neither responsible for the past rent nor should she have to relinquish possession of the dwelling.

Appellant also denied that the total rent for May, 1976, was due because, after notifying appellee of a broken lock on her front door and giving him a reasonable opportunity to repair it, she replaced the lock herself at a cost of six dollars. The six dollars, she stated, should be deducted from the rent claimed as past due. Finally, appellant asserted a counterclaim for twenty-five dollars for the cost of repairing several other defective conditions of which she had given appellee notice, but which he did not correct.

Appellee entered preliminary objections in the nature of a demurrer both to appellant's request that her rental obligation be abated and to the counterclaim for repair costs. The lower court sustained appellee's preliminary objections and appellant brought this appeal. During the pendency of this appeal, appellant has been depositing forty-five dollars monthly into an escrow account.

[ 253 Pa. Super. Page 82]

Landlord-tenant law traditionally has been controlled by the common law. The origins of the doctrine caveat emptor stem back to the sixteenth century when landlord-tenant relationships developed in a primarily agrarian society.*fn2 Leases were treated as conveyances and tenants rented the land surrounding their dwellings, with the dwellings themselves regarded as little more than appendages to the land. ". . . [T]he governing idea [was] that the land [was] bound to pay the rent," that is, rent ...

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