Hilder v. St. Peter
478 A.2d 202 (1984)

  • Hilder rented an apartment from St. Peter. There were a number of problems with the apartment, from broken windows to broken locks to broken toilets. St. Peter repeatedly promised to fix the problems but failed to take action.
  • After 14 months, Hilder moved out and sued St. Peter for breach of warranty of habitability.
  • The Trial Court found for Hilder and ordered St. Peter to pay $5k, which was all rent paid plus compensatory damages. St. Peter appealed.
    • The Trial Court found that the state of disrepair of the apartment substantially reduced the value of the leasehold from the agreed rental value.
    • St. Peter claimed that since Hilder never abandoned the property she should not recover 100% of the rent.
  • The Vermont Supreme Court affirmed, but remanded for recalculation of damages.
    • The Vermont Supreme Court found that the rental of any residential dwelling unit comes with an implied warranty of habitability in the lease, that the landlord will deliver over and maintain, throughout the period of tenancy, premises that are clean, safe, and fit for human habitation. This warranty covers all latent and patent defects in the essential facilities of the residential unit.
      • “Essential facilities” are facilities vital to the use of the premises for residential purposes.
    • The Court found that any substantial violation of an applicable housing code shall constitute prima facie evidence of a breach of the warranty of habitability.
    • The Court found that damages should be calculated as the difference between the value of the property as warranted and the value as it exists. In addition, compensatory damages can be awarded for tenant’s discomfort and annoyance.
      • However, in order to recover, the tenant must show that they notified the landlord of the problem and the landlord failed to correct it within a reasonable period of time.
    • The Court found that the Trial Court did not explain how they calculated compensatory damages, so they remanded for a recalculation.
      • Although punitive damages are not normally awarded under Contract law, they can be awarded in especially “willful, wanton, and fraudulent” cases to set an example.