Keeping Rental Units in Livable Condition

Keeping Rental Units in Livable Condition

Landlords and tenants share responsibility to keep rental units and common areas in good condition. (Corey Coyle photo/Creative Commons)

You might have a courteous, professional relationship with a tenant who pays the rent on time, but all of a sudden problems develop, either on your end or the tenant’s. Sometimes this involves the habitability or livability of the unit. The landlord and tenant both have certain responsibilities in the upkeep and repair of a rental unit.

The California Department of Consumer Affairs says on its website:

“A rental unit must be fit to live in; that is, it must be habitable. In legal terms, ‘habitable’ means that the rental unit is fit for occupation by human beings and that it substantially complies with state and local building and health codes that materially affect tenants’ health and safety.

“California law makes landlords and tenants each responsible for certain kinds of repairs, although landlords ultimately are legally responsible for assuring that their rental units are habitable.”

Of course landlords should inspect their rental units immediately once they have been vacated, and sometimes before they are vacated if they have a clause in the rental agreement allowing inspections during occupancy. Landlords look for problems that would make the rental unit uninhabitable for new or existing tenants. They must correct those problems if they make the unit unfit to live in.

Under California Civil Code 1941, as established in a state Supreme Court case, the leases or rental agreements have what is called an implied warranty of habitability. This ruling mandates that landlords must repair defects that make the unit unlivable or uninhabitable.

If the unit is in disrepair because of destructive behavior by tenants, guests or pets, landlords need not repair those defects. Tenants are responsible to fix them damage caused by them, their kids or guests.

Also, landlords must do sufficient maintenance work to keep rental units livable. We will explain further on in this article what conditions make units uninhabitable.

But there is sort of a third category of conditions: less serious repairs. The party responsible for making these repairs, whether the landlord or tenant, is usually laid out in the lease or rental agreement.

California Civil Code Sections 1929 and 1941.2 requires tenants to be responsible to keep the rental unit clean and free of damage, including in the hallways and not just outside. Tenants must repair damages around the unit arising from abuse or neglect. We will give more detail on this below.

The main thrust of warranty of habitability is that rental units be OK for “the occupation of human beings.” Also, units are required to “substantially comply” with housing and building codes that pertain to tenants’ safety and health.

According to California Civil Code 1941.1 some of the conditions that may make a unit uninhabitable include:

  • It contains a lead hazard.
  • It has a structural hazard
  • It has inadequate sanitation.
  • It has a nuisance that “endangers the health, life, safety, property or welfare of the occupants or the public.”
  • It lacks waterproofing or weather protection of the walls or roof. This includes broken windows and doors.
  • It lacks plumbing facilities in good working condition.
  • It lacks gas facilities that work correctly.
  • It lacks heating facilities that work correctly.
  • It lacks electric facilities in good working condition.
  • The environs lack clean and sanitary conditions free from rodents, vermin, rubbish, garbage, filth or debris.
  • It lacks trash receptacles.
  • Its floors, stairs or railings aren’t in good repair.

In addition, California Civil Code 1941.1 requires that the rental unit must have:

  • A workable kitchen sink, toilet, wash basins, bathtub or shower in good repair. The toilet and shower must be in a ventilated room that provides privacy.
  • Windows or skylights in every room and windows that open at least halfway. Alternatively, a room can have a fan that affords ventilation.
  • Fire and emergency exits that give onto a hallway or street. No litter or combustible material are allowed in hallways, stairs or exits.
  • Good deadbolt locks and locks or security devices on windows that work well.
  • Smoke detectors in every unit and in common stairwells.
  • Lockable mailboxes for every unit.
  • “Ground fault circuit interrupters for swimming pools and anti-suction protections for wading pools in apartment complexes and other residential settings (but not single family residences),” the DCA says.

If the rental unit has just minor housing code violations or is not in aesthetically pleasing condition, the implied warranty of habitability is not violated. Also, the landlord sees to the rental unit having inside wiring for a telephone jack, but the warranty is not necessarily violated if it doesn’t. (Civil Code Section 1941.4; Public Utilities Code Section 788)

The California Department of Consumer Affairs says:

“An authoritative reference book suggests two additional ways in which the implied warranty of habitability may be violated. The first is the presence of mold conditions in the rental unit that affect the livability of the unit or the health and safety of tenants. The second follows from a new law that imposes obligations on a property owner who is notified by a local health officer that the property is contaminated by methamphetamine. This reference book suggests that a tenant who is damaged by this kind of documented contamination may be able to claim a breach of the implied warranty of habitability.”

As for tenants, they must:

  • Keep the premises as “clean and sanitary as the condition of the premises permits. “
  • Use gas, plumbing and electricity fixtures properly.
  • Dispose of garbage and trash in a sanitary way.
  • Not allow anyone to deface, destroy or damage the premises.
  • Not remove parts of the structure or dwelling unit or its equipment.
  • Use the rooms in the unit as they were meant to be used. A bedroom can’t be used as a kitchen. (California Civil Code 2(a)(5))
  • Tell the landlord when windows locks or deadbolt locks don’t work. (Civil Code Section 1941.3(b))

If a tenant breaches one of these conditions, the landlord doesn’t have to do the repairs. In that case, a tenant may not withhold rent and does not have legal recourse to say the landlord violated the implied warranty of habitability.

If you find it impossible to navigate the legal system with respect to landlord/tenant law, Express Evictions can counsel you on how to proceed.  If that professional, courteous landlord and tenant relationship breaks down and the tenant refuses to pay rent or otherwise violates legal obligations, you have options in the face of laws heavily weighted to protect tenants.

Express Evictions does evictions for a very low competitive fee that saves landlords the complicated and time-consuming process of writing up notices, serving them, gathering evidence of tenants’ failure to pay rent or other malfeasance, and testifying at an eviction hearing in a court of law.

For questions about keeping your property in livable condition, contact us today.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *