Tenants have the right to safe and habitable homes in exchange for the rents we are paying.
If your landlord is not making repairs, he is violating your “Warranty of Habitability” and you should force him to make the repairs.
Habitability Law For Rental Housing
California Civil Code Sections 1941-42 define your landlord’s obligations to make and keep their rental properties (i.e. your home) in habitable condition. If the premises are not maintained according to established minimum requirements, tenants have the right to withhold rent or “repair and deduct.” If you chose to do this, you should consult a Tenant’s Rights Attorney as there are proper ways to do this… Moreover, the landlord cannot retaliate against you. Any eviction action or rent increase attempt within 6 months of such a complaint / repair & deduct is presumed to be “retaliatory.”
In addition, landlords can not demand rent, evict for non-payment or increase rents when serious housing codes AND the landlord has been ordered to correct the violations by the city or state AND the violations have not been corrected within 35 days of the city’s order to correct the violations. See California Civil Code 1942.4. Civil Code 1942.4 was also amended to increase the statutory damages (to $5,000 from $1,000 which can be given a tenant in habitability lawsuit.
Your Landlord Must Provide:
- Adequate and safe heating.
- Effective weatherproofing, including doors, windows and roofs.
- Housing free of garbage, rats, mice, cockroaches and vermin.
- Plumbing and gas service in good working order.
- Adequate amounts of hot and cold running water.
- Adequate electric plugs and phone jacks.
- Stairs and common areas maintained in safe order.
What You Can Do
Tenants have various ways to force landlords to make repairs. Many of these rights are dependent on whether or not you can prove the landlord knew of the problem and had ample time to fix it. You should begin by writing your landlord a letter telling him what your complaints are and asking that he fix it promptly. Keep a copy of the letter — you may need it later. If your letter does nothing:
Call The Department of Building & Safety
If you call—or write— they will send an inspector out to your home. When the inspector comes, you should point out exactly what is wrong. If there are other things in your home you’re not sure about, ask the inspector to look at them. After the inspection, the landlord will be given an order to correct the problems (usually 30 days).
If the landlord ignores the Department of Building & Safety order, he can be take to court by the City and fined, or even jailed for some serious offenses. However, in these times of stretched budgets, the Department of Building and Safety is not prone to be aggressive nor follow-up on your concerns so don’t just wait for them to take action.
After the inspection, you should call, write or visit Department of Building & Safety to get a copy of their report. This report is valuable for you to have as it documents what the problems are, when the landlord was officially notified and how serious they are. You should have a copy of this report before you attempt to “repair and deduct” or withhold your rent.
Once the Department of Building & Safety has cited the landlord for serious violations (such as those listed above), the landlord must correct the violations. Under state law, if the landlord has not corrected the violations in 35 days, the landlord cannot ask for rent, collect rent, give you a rent increase or evict you for non-payment.
WARNING: Do not call Department of Building & Safety if you live in an illegal unit and for whatever reason want to stay there on in the neighborhood – instead – contact a Tenant’s Rights lawyer first. Why? – Rather than cite the landlord for repairs needed, the DB&S will simply issue an order to legalize the unit or shut it down and you may be evicted. If you believe your unit may be illegal, cautiously check with Department of Building & Safety before requesting that an inspector visit.
Repair And Deduct Expenses from the Rent Amount
You can make repairs yourself and deduct up to one month’s rent to pay for them. You can do this twice in a 12 month period and you could do it two months in a row. If the problem affects multiple tenants, the tenants can combine this right. To do this, you must have given the landlord adequate time to make the repairs himself and the problem must be serious.
If you use this option, you must beware that the landlord can attempt to evict you for “nonpayment;” and if he does, your defense is your legal right to repair and deduct. But you must be able to show that the landlord knew of the problem, had time to fix it, and did not, therefore it is strongly recommended that you contact a Tenant’s Rights Lawyer before taking this course of action. Then if you do make the repairs, keep all the receipts and submit copies of them to the landlord along with your reduced rent.
Sue Your Landlord
If you have many serious violations, talk to a Tenant’s Rights Attorney about suing your landlord. It is illegal for a landlord to demand or collect rent for a rental home or an apartment which has serious habitability problems and you may be able to sue for all or part of the rent you have paid while living in substandard living conditions.