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This year, we’ve reformed the Index to focus on unhoused youth and young adults (YYA), aligning it with their experiences and policy needs. Shifting from harm reduction to transformative change, some jurisdictions may see lower scores than before. This is a deliberate strategy, not a setback. Lower scores should motivate, not discourage, jurisdictions. They present an opportunity to adopt policies that effectively tackle and prevent youth homelessness, fostering meaningful progress.

Additional Damages for Uninhabitable Housing

  • Habitability of housing
  • Shifting power

A remedy for uninhabitable or substandard housing is additional damages from landlord to tenant

When landlords sue tenants for nonpayment of rent, habitability violations are sometimes an affirmative defense to nonpayment – meaning that a tenant can tell the judge about the habitability violations and the judge may decide that they don’t owe some or all of the rent to the landlord. Generally, though, withholding rent can be risky because the judge might eventually decide it was withheld improperly and order the tenant to pay some or all of it back to the landlord. Some jurisdictions allow or require tenants to withhold rent through a rent escrow process. This is where tenants pay their rent into a neutral third-party account until the habitability issue is resolved and then the court decides how much rent should be paid to the landlord and how much should be returned to the tenant for “loss of use” of the rental property. 

Finally, in some jurisdictions, tenants may have the option to recover damages from their landlords for habitability violations that go beyond the value of their rent. The damages could be compensatory (actual cost of finding alternate shelter or trying to fix the issue) or punitive (allowing damages beyond reimbursement of costs to deter the landlord from allowing habitability issues to persist in the future). These types of remedies could be especially powerful if paired with the right to an attorney to help a young person with their case. But without a right to counsel, requiring a young person to go to court to address uninhabitable housing is unrealistic – a better way would be to allow tenants to withhold rent after reasonable notice to the landlord of the need for repair and to then bar the landlord from filing a lawsuit for nonpayment of rent unless they can first prove to the court that the rental unit is habitable.

Key Metric Score Type of Policy Description
1.0 Reform Tenants can recover damages from landlord in a lawsuit or countersuit re: habitability issues
0.5 Harm Reduction Tenants can recover damages from landlord in a lawsuit or countersuit but only if landlords actions are found to be willful or retaliatory
0.0 Status Quo No law found
COMING SOON Only actual costs and attorneys fees are recoverable
No Data No Data No Data

Cite: National Homelessness Law Center and True Colors United. ", Additional Damages for Uninhabitable Housing" Accessed: June 22, 2024.

Habitability of housing

A habitable dwelling is one that is safe, clean, and suitable for living in. It is an essential component of the right to housing. In general, landlords have a legal obligation to maintain habitability in their rental properties, including working heat, hot water and electricity, and addressing issues like broken locks or infestations. However, jurisdictions vary in how much power renters have to hold landlords responsible to fix unsafe or unlivable conditions.

“It’s one thing to get housing, it’s another to have to feel uncomfortable in that housing. NYCHA supportive housing can be dangerous, too many repairs, infestations. People going through housing insecurity are expected to deal with these things. Housing is often seen as a profit maker and not a basic right. Landlords and property managers should care more and keep up on their buildings.”– Kemi Adebisi-Oke

Shifting power

Shifting power in housing refers to a change in the dynamics of control and decision-making regarding housing. Historically, power in housing has been concentrated in the hands of wealthy individuals and corporations, leaving marginalized communities with limited say in the development and management of their homes and neighborhoods. However, there has been a growing movement towards shifting power towards these communities, with a focus on community-led development, tenant rights, and affordable housing.

Shifting power in housing can also help us move towards the decommodification of housing, which is when housing is treated primarily as a place to live rather than a financial asset or means of accumulating profit. There are a few types of decommodified housing, such as public or social housing (housing owned by governments or other public entities) or shared equity housing (housing owned by a group of residents, community members, or community organizations). But decommodified housing today constitutes less than 1 percent of US housing stock. The Index tracks a few policies that jurisdictions can enact to support shared equity models but action is needed on the federal level to reinvest in public housing and to support efforts like a Homes Guarantee.

“Autonomy in housing choice – I think about subsidized housing and what I had to give up to access it. Privacy was lacking when accessing certain things, like refrigerators had to be looked in. Over policing in these spaces removes privacy and autonomy and the impact on mental health in spaces that lack autonomy and privacy is devastating. Constantly looking for notices, constantly anxious about conditions of housing and maintenance checks. This causes stress and anxiety with my son, as well. MULTIGENERATIONAL stresses, constantly on the defense. Housing should preserve dignity and respect.” – Tiffany S. Haynes

These maps are provided as legal information only and should not be used as legal advice for your specific situation. If you need help with any of the issues described on this website, please check out the Homeless Youth Legal Network (HYLN) directory OR email or call HYLN for help finding a referral to a lawyer.