In California, tenants are legally entitled to rental properties that are in good repair and meet specific health and safety standards. In some cases, if a landlord fails to maintain a property appropriately, the tenant can take one of a number of different actions, including withholding rent. A landlord’s failure to ensure the safety of his or her rental property can have serious repercussions on the health and wellness of tenants, so if your landlord’s actions do not meet the standards required by law, it is important to contact an experienced San Francisco tenant lawyer who can help protect your interests.
All landlords in California have a legal obligation to ensure that premises available for rent or lease are livable and habitable. Under state law, every rental must have:
- Effective waterproofing and protection for roofs and exterior walls, which includes unbroken windows and doors;
- Working plumbing, heating, and electricity;
- Building and common areas that are free of trash, vermin, and rodents;
- Clean and safe floors, stairs, and railings;
- No lead paint hazards;
- No dangerous or morally offensive nuisances;
- The installation of deadbolts on each main swinging entry door; and
- The installation of appropriate security for ground level windows.
As part of a tenant’s duties, each renter must also adhere to a series of requirements meant to ensure that the property is appropriately maintained, including:
- Keeping the unit clean and sanitary;
- Disposing of garbage in an appropriate and sanitary manner;
- Using and operating electrical, plumbing, and gas appliances in an appropriate manner; and
- Refraining from purposely destroying or damaging a part of the rental property’s structure or facilities.
Requests for Repair
In some cases, despite a tenant’s best efforts, a fixture in a dwelling will stop working or a part of the structure will become dangerous. In these cases, tenants are given the right to notify landlords and request a repair. Many landlords take their responsibilities seriously and work quickly to fix known problems or dangers on their properties. Unfortunately, there are some landlords who ignore repeated tenant requests for repair. For this reason, it is important for tenants to keep a copy of their written request for repair as well as any agreements made by the parties and photographic evidence of the damage. These pieces of evidence can come in handy at a later date if a tenant’s landlord tries to evict them for nonpayment of rent. It is also a good idea to retain the services of an experienced San Francisco tenant lawyer who can help explain your legal options.
When a landlord repeatedly ignores requests for repair, tenants can refuse to pay rent until the repairs are made, but only in certain situations. For instance, the repair must:
- Make it unsafe or unhealthy to live in the unit; and
- Not have been caused by the carelessness, neglect, or deliberate act of the tenant.
When these requirements are met, tenants should give landlords a reasonable opportunity to fix the problem and set a deadline informing the landlord of an intention to withhold rent if the issues are not resolved. In California, it is presumed that if a landlord does not fix a problem within 30 days, the tenant can repair and deduct. However, if the circumstances warrant quicker attention, repairs must be made immediately. A tenant can only use the repair and deduct remedy twice in a twelve-month period. The tenant can only deduct up to the amount of monthly rent due. If the cost of the repair exceeds the monthly rent, the tenant will have to pursue another remedy to recover the excess cost.
Tenants should understand that using the repair and deduct remedy carries significant risk. The landlord may attempt to evict the tenant for nonpayment of rent. In that case, the tenant can defend the unlawful detainer by proving that the rent was not due because the landlord failed to make the repair. But if the tenant does not prevail, the tenant will be evicted. For this reason, it is often wiser to pay the full rent and the full cost of repair, and seek compensation from the landlord in court or by filing a Rent Board petition.
Contact an Experienced San Francisco Tenant Lawyer Today
If you live in the Berkeley, Oakland, or San Francisco areas and your landlord has repeatedly ignored your requests for repair, please contact Elke & Merchant LLP by calling (415) 294-4111 and we will help you set-up a free consultation with a dedicated San Francisco tenant lawyer.