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CONDITION, MAINTENANCE AND REPAIR (California Only)

Copyright  2000-2011  Landlord.com

This article covers the obligation to offer and maintain residential rental property in California in legally habitable condition and is not intended to cover commercial settings.

The landlord is under an obligation to put and keep his rental units in a condition fit for human occupancy, except for those conditions caused by his tenant's want of ordinary care. Civil Code Secs. 1929, 1941 A building fit for human occupancy must have at least the following characteristics. Civil Code Sec. 1941.1:

Effective weatherproofing of roof, exterior walls, and unbroken windows.

Plumbing up to code and in good condition.

Water supply up to code providing hot and cold water.

Heating facilities up to code and in good condition.

Electrical lighting up to code and in good condition.

Building, grounds and appurtenances clean and free of vermin at the time of renting.

Adequate receptacles for garbage.

Floors, stairways and railings in good repair.

Install and maintain locks, Civil Code Sec. 1941.3

The landlord's obligation to repair dilapidations in the above standard characteristics of habitable dwellings does not arise if the tenant violates his own legal obligations as to maintenance, provided these violations substantially interfered with the landlord's ability to do the repairs. Civil Code Sec. 1941.2

In addition, the landlord is obligated to wire the premises for at least one telephone line. Civil Code Sec. 1941.4

Some local jurisdictions have enacted ordinances requiring certain types of locks, exterior doors, "peep holes," etc. .

Although a tenant may not waive his right to the foregoing habitability requirements, he can agree in writing to maintain, improve or repair these items as part of the consideration of his lease (although this is a terrible idea). Civil Code Sec. 1942.1.

The landlord having the duty to maintain the premises, has the countervailing right to enter the premises to do so. Civil Code Sec. 1954

Where the landlord fails to maintain the premises as above, then the tenant has a number of remedies. He may do the repair himself and deduct it from rent under certain circumstances, or vacate and be discharged from further obligations under his lease. Civil Code Sec. 1942 He may also withhold the rent until the repairs are done, if the landlords breaches are substantial and have affected the tenant's health and safety.

A landlord may not collect rent on a premises which are substantially in breach of his obligations to maintain the premises (usually referred to as a breach of the implied warranty of habitability), and may be legally penalized if he does. Civil Code Sec. 1942.4 Acts in retaliation for a tenant exercising his legal rights may also subject the landlord to substantial legal penalties Civil Code Sec. 1942.5.

The breach of the implied warranty of habitability usually comes to a head where the tenant has failed (or refused) to pay the rent, the landlord has given a three day notice to pay or vacate, then initiated an eviction action and placed the matter before a judge or jury.

Where this occurs, and the tenant can show that the landlord's failure to maintain was a substantial breach of the implied warranty affecting his health and safety, the court or jury will determine the degree to which this breach devalued the rental value of the property to the tenant, usually expressed as a percentage, i.e., -15%, -25%, etc. This factor will then be applied to the lease's rental rate and the rental rate reduced by that amount. The tenant will have the opportunity to pay the past due rent less the percentage earlier found. If the tenant does so, the tenant wins. If the tenant fails to pay, the tenant is evicted. Code of Civil Procedure Sec. 1174.2

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