LATEST LOCK LAW LENGTHENS
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Landlords with properties in
states other than California may still find this review of interest. If
your state does not have a specific lock requirement, but relies on
common law tort theory, your good faith compliance with the requirements
of a considered statute, even if from another state, might help to head
off liability in the event of a security failure.
Also, for all landlords, do not overlook
the security requirements your insurance carrier may impose as a
condition of coverage.
Effective July 1, 1998, the California
Legislature imposed a detailed mandate of the types of locks and
installations which a landlord is required to maintain on residential
premises. The landlord is now exposed to liabilities under the
constructive eviction and repair and deduct features of the Civil Code,
and for breach of the implied warranty of habitability in the Code of
Civil Procedure, providing remedies which did not automatically exist at
common law under traditional premises liability tort theory.
California Civil Code Section 1941.3, the
new lock law, imposes specific requirements on landlords with regard to
doors and windows, which must be complied with effective July 1, 1998.
Each main entry door of a dwelling unit
must be equipped with a deadbolt lock with the bolt extending a minimum
of 13/16 of an inch beyond the strike edge of the door into the jamb in
the locked position. This must be of a design and installed in
compliance with all state and local laws pertaining to fire and life
safety, and accessibility requirements for the disabled.
An existing deadbolt of not less than
one-half of an inch, or those with a thumb-turn deadlock that have a
strike plate attached to the doorjamb and a latch bolt that is held in a
vertical position by a guard bolt, plunger or an auxiliary mechanism are
deemed in compliance but must be replaced by one which complies with the
previous paragraph when either repair or replacement are necessary.
Existing doors which cannot be equipped
with a dead bolt must be equipped with a metal strap horizontal across
the midsection of the door with a deadbolt which extends 13/16 of an
inch beyond the strike edge of the door and protrudes into the doorjamb.
Sliding doors are exempt.
Doors equipped with other locks or
security devices which are inspected and approved by a local or state
governmental agency as providing adequate security are deemed to comply,
even if they do not strictly fulfill the requirements of the new law.
All windows which are designed to be
opened must be equipped with operable locking devices. Louvered windows,
casement windows, and all windows more than 12 vertical or six
horizontal feet from the ground, roof, or other platform are exempt.
Doors which open to the common areas must
be equipped with "locking mechanisms that comply with applicable
fire and safety codes." But doors need not be added to openings
which had no doors prior to July 1, 1998. Presumably this also means
that doors which did exist prior to that date cannot be removed.
The tenant has the obligation to notify
the landlord of inoperable locks when the tenant discovers them, and the
landlord's liability for noncompliance with the requirement does not
commence until a reasonable time for repair has elapsed. However, the
responsibility for ensuring that operable locks are installed in the
first place is on the landlord.
In the event the landlord fails to comply
with the statute, the tenant has the right to do the lock installation
and deduct it from his rent, vacate the property as constructively
evicted and be relieved from liability for the balance of his lease, or
withhold rent and raise the lack of compliance as a defense to a
non-payment of rent eviction. Before the statute, it was the burden of
the tenant to show the existing security suite in the rental unit was a
failure to comply with applicable housing codes which affected his
health or safety. Now, it is apparently only necessary to show that the
security did not comply with the objective measurements and requirements
of the statute.
Rent collection on premises which lack
proper locking devices may also subject the landlord to liability under
Civil Code Section 1942.4.
The landlord would be well advised to
ensure that his security arrangements comply both with this statute and
any local ordinances pertaining to security. Engagement of a
professional familiar with these requirements is recommended.
For the text of the lock statute, Civil
Code Section 1941.3, and a review of liabilities properly to maintain
premises fit for human habitation, look at our California
Landlord/Tenant Law Overview.