Having problems associated with the utilities in your Rental Unit? We may be able to help you.
Oh yeah…, we tell our relatives and friends back east that it never gets cold in Southern California – – sunshine, palm trees, sandy warm beaches. But let’s be honest! Southern California can get cold. If your landlord is neglecting your heating system it is not only inconsiderate, it is also against the law. If you are suffering from no —or inadequate heat, then your landlord is violating the law as it pertains to “habitability.” Landlords who fail to provide heat can be sued or face tenant actions such as rent withholding or repair & deduct from the rent.
What The Law Says
In California, the case Green v. Superior Court established that residential tenancies in California contain an implied warranty of habitability. Basically, this means a residential rental must be habitable at the time it is rented and during the tenancy the landlord must repair problems that render it uninhabitable.
“Habitability” means the property must be in livable condition. Items under the warranty of habitability include working electrical, plumbing, gas and heating systems, ventilation and compliance with building and safety and health codes, among other items. If the unit you rented lacked heat when you rented it, you probably have a habitability claim. Habitability can also be raised as a defense in an eviction lawsuit. On the other hand, landlords are not responsible for repairing damage caused by a tenant, other residents or their guests. The division of responsibility for repairs between landlord and tenant is usually stated in the rental agreement or lease.
If the heat was working when you rented the unit but stopped working at some point, the answer will depend on whether the heat stopped working through no fault of yours or because of some misuse or damage. Assuming you did not damage the heating system, your landlord is legally obligated to restore heat to your unit. It may be as simple as relighting the furnace pilot.
What You Should Do
1. Notify Your Landlord. With something as necessary as heat, you probably want to tell your landlord right away over the phone or in person. Follow it up with a letter & keep a copy. If you don’t get a promised repair date, go ahead and apologize up front and blame it on your parents or ?? – but explain that those who care about you WANT your heat fixed and have advised to to call the Building and Safety Department if the repairs are not scheduled and actually made as it is the law.
2. Contact the Building and Safety Department. You should request an inspection. It usually works better if you show up at the counter in the building and safety department of your local city hall. They will fill out an inspection request and typically set it up for the following day. Be persistent and try to be there to allow access for the field inspector.
3. You also have rights to repair & deduct or withhold rent. You should talk to a Tenant’s Rights Attorney before you exercise these rights as this sort of action often ends up with some animosity and that could lead to an attempt to evict you.
4. Talk to an Tenant’s Rights Attorney about bringing a lawsuit against your landlord if the problem persists and he fails to do anything about it.
Penalties Against Landlords Who Break The Law Section 306 of the Housing Code says that landlords can be fined between $500-$1,000 and/or imprisoned for up to six months. Not providing heat is a crime. Let your landlord know what the penalty is, but be prepared to take other actions to assert your rights, as most cities are either reluctant to prosecute landlords or simply don’t have the budget for it in these troubling economic times.