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Tenants’ Right to Repairs in California

What is the tenants’ right to repairs?

In California, tenants are afforded the right to live in a habitable environment. This requires the landlord to make any repairs to the property that make it uninhabitable. Landlords that rent uninhabitable and dilapidated properties to tenants are commonly referred to as “slumlords.”

What is a landlord legally required to fix?

The law requires an owner of a rental property to make any repairs that would cause the property to be uninhabitable for any reason. California Civil Code section 1941.1 and section 1941.3 describes several requirements needed for a home to be habitable. They include:

  • Weather protection and waterproofing
  • Sanitary premises with adequate receptacles for trash and waste disposal
  • Working hot and cold running water
  • Functional toilet and sink
  • Working electricity
  • Functional doors, windows, and locks
  • Well-kept floors and walls
  • No asbestos, lead, or dangerous chemicals
  • No nuisances*

A “nuisance” is legally defined as something that is reasonably dangerous or obnoxious that the landlord permits on the premises. They do not necessarily have to be in a tenant’s living area but instead could be anywhere on the landlord’s property. Some examples of this include:

  • Gang activity in the parking lot of an apartment building
  • The presence of black mold near a communal laundry area
  • Another tenant has 3 large dogs that go outside and bark loudly every morning

What do landlords not have to fix?

A property owner is not required to repair damages that are too minor to interfere with the habitability of the home. A leaky faucet, for example, maybe annoying to a property owner, but it is not considered a characteristic of an uninhabitable home. 

Every rental contract is different, and it is common for an agreement to state that landlords must pay for minor repairs even if they do not legally interfere with a property’s habitability. Check your rental contract for special clauses that make the property owner cover repairs that are solely aesthetic.

What is “constructive eviction?”

This is when the habitability level of a property becomes so poor, that a tenant is basically forced to move out. Some examples include:

  • The mold buildup has become so bad in an apartment bathroom that the tenant living there became ill and had to move into a hotel.
  • The unit next to a tenant is home to a band that frequently plays loud music late at night. It has become so bad that the tenant can barely sleep, so after 3 months of this, she leaves.
  • The presence of cockroaches on a property is unaddressed, so the cockroaches get into a tenant’s refrigerator and pantry daily, causing her to move out.

If your landlord has constructively evicted you, you not only are entitled to recover damages to you and your belongings, but you also may be able to have your rent paid back to you for the months that you had to deal with the issue. If your living conditions are so bad that you had no choice but to move out, you should get legal help in order to be financially compensated.

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