Tenants in California have the legal right to repairs for issues that place the property in violation of state health and safety standards. To exercise this right, they must properly notify the landlord and in most cases allow 30 days repairs, unless there’s a provable need otherwise (like an emergency).
California Landlord Responsibilities for Repairs
California landlords are generally responsible for repairing any significant issues with health or safety on the rental property that weren’t caused by the renter’s lack of ordinary care. Specifically, landlords must maintain the following features:
- Plumbing (includes toilet, bathtub / shower, bathroom sink, kitchen sink).
- Hot / cold running water.
- Required ventilation.
- Required lighting.
- Garbage storage.
- Weatherproofing (includes exterior doors / windows).
- Exterior locks.
- Smoke alarms / CO detectors.
- Common areas.
- Anything that could make the property damp or moldy.
If any of the above stops working properly, and the tenant isn’t at fault for the damage, the landlord is the one responsible for making the repairs necessary to fix it.
What Repairs Are Tenants Responsible for in California?
California tenants are responsible for repairing damage they cause deliberately or carelessly, in addition to damage caused through lack of cleanliness, or through any misuse of fixtures on the rental property.
Requesting Repairs in California
California tenants are allowed to request repairs both verbally and in writing, although written notice is always legally stronger. By default, the landlord has 30 days after notice to perform repairs.
How Long Does a Landlord Have To Make Repairs in California?
California landlords have 30 days by default to make repairs after getting notice of an issue in need of maintenance. If the landlord or the renter want a different period of time to apply (for example, in an emergency), there has to be a documentable good reason.
Can the Landlord Refuse To Make Repairs in California?
California landlords cannot refuse to make repairs required by the law or lease. It doesn’t matter if the tenant is behind on rent or breaking terms of the rental agreement.
Do Landlords Have To Pay for Alternative Accommodation During Repairs in California?
California landlords don’t have to pay for alternative accommodation while they repair. However, repairs requiring the tenant to leave the rental property will usually reduce or eliminate the tenant’s legal obligation to pay rent, so tenants may be eligible for a refund from the landlord.
Tenant’s Rights if Repairs Aren’t Made in California
California tenants can get an injunction to force repairs if the landlord doesn’t fix an issue in the required time, or repair and deduct for more minor repairs. They can also withhold rent, or move out and cancel the rental agreement.
Can the Tenant Withhold Rent in California?
California tenants can withhold rent when a landlord’s actions affect basic habitability. However, rent money is usually still owed when it’s withheld, even if it’s not being paid directly to the landlord. Courts often require the tenant to pay rent into an escrow account while a case is pending.
Can the Tenant Repair and Deduct in California?
California tenants can arrange for repairs and deduct from the rent, up to twice every twelve months, when the landlord hasn’t made repairs after reasonable notice (usually 30 days). The repairs must be legally required, and the maximum deduction allowed is one month’s rent.
Can the Tenant Break Their Lease in California?
California tenants can break their leases, when a landlord’s actions affect basic habitability. The tenant typically has to move out and then give notice about ending the rental agreement.
Can the Tenant Sue in California?
California tenants can sue when the landlord doesn’t make required repairs after reasonable notice. The tenants can get an order to force repairs or recover the cost of damages.
Can the Tenant Report the Landlord in California?
California tenants can report landlords for code violations that affect health or safety on a property. Tenants should usually report to the local inspections or code enforcement department. If an inspecting officer finds a violation, the tenant could cancel the rental agreement, or sue to force repairs.
Landlord Retaliation in California
California landlords can’t retaliate against tenants by denying access, raising rent, reducing services, or disclosing immigration status when rent is current. The following tenant actions get legal protection against retaliation:
- Complaints about maintenance, health, or safety.
- Participation in a tenant organization.
- Exercising legal or contractual rights.
- Winning a habitability case.
- 1 Cal. Civ. Code § 1942 (2021)
“If within a reasonable time after written or oral notice… the landlord neglects to do [needed repairs]… the tenant may repair the same himself where the cost of such repairs does not require an expenditure more than one month’s rent of the premises and deduct the expenses of such repairs from the rent when due, or the tenant may vacate the premises, in which case the tenant shall be discharged from [lease obligations]… This remedy shall not be available to the tenant more than twice in any 12-month period… if a tenant acts to repair and deduct after the 30th day following notice, he is presumed to have acted after a reasonable time. The presumption established by this subdivision is a rebuttable presumption… and shall not be construed to prevent a tenant from repairing and deducting after a shorter notice if all the circumstances require shorter notice.”Source Link
- 2 Cal. Civ. Code § 1942(b) (2021)
While California law doesn’t globally establish a timeline for repairs, the availability of the repair-and-deduct remedy after 30 days (and ability to cancel the rental agreement with 30 days’ notice upon breach of lease) is generally held to establish a default window within which the landlord can “reasonably” attempt repairs.Source Link
- 3 Green v. Superior Court, 10 Cal.3d 616, 637 (1974)
“Under the implied warranty which we recognize, a residential landlord covenants that premises he leases for living quarters will be maintained in a habitable state for the duration of the lease. This implied warranty of habitability does not require that a landlord ensure that leased premises are in perfect, aesthetically pleasing condition, but it does mean that “bare living requirements” must be maintained. In most cases substantial compliance with those applicable building and housing code standards which materially affect health and safety will suffice to meet the landlord’s obligations.”Source Link
- 4 Cal. Civ. Code § 1941 (2021)
“The lessor of a building intended for the occupation of human beings must, in the absence of an agreement to the contrary, put it into a condition fit for such occupation, and repair all subsequent dilapidations thereof, which render it untenantable, except such as are mentioned in section nineteen hundred and twenty-nine [i.e., deterioration or injury to property occasioned by want of ordinary care].”Source Link
- 5 Cal. Civ. Code § 1929 (2021)
“The hirer of a thing must repair all deteriorations or injuries thereto occasioned by his want of ordinary care.”Source Link
- 6 Cal. Civ. Code § 1941.2 (2021)
“(a) No duty on the part of the landlord to repair a dilapidation shall arise under Section 1941 or 1942 if the tenant is in substantial violation of any of the following affirmative obligations, provided the tenant’s violation contributes substantially to the existence of the dilapidation or interferes substantially with the landlord’s obligation under Section 1941 to effect the necessary repairs:
“(1) To keep that part of the premises which he occupies and uses clean and sanitary as the condition of the premises permits.
“(2) To dispose from his dwelling unit of all rubbish, garbage and other waste, in a clean and sanitary manner.
“(3) To properly use and operate all electrical, gas and plumbing fixtures and keep them as clean and sanitary as their condition permits.
“(4) Not to permit any person on the premises, with his permission, to willfully or wantonly destroy, deface, damage, impair or remove any part of the structure or dwelling unit or the facilities, equipment, or appurtenances thereto, nor himself do any such thing.”Source Link
- 7 Cal. Health & Safety Code § 19720.3(a) (2021)
“Any building or portion thereof including any dwelling unit … in which there exists any of the following listed conditions … is declared to be a substandard building:
“Inadequate sanitation [which] shall include, but not be limited to, the following: …Lack of, or improper water closet, lavatory, or bathtub or shower in a dwelling unit. …improper kitchen sink. …Lack of hot and cold running water to plumbing fixtures. …Lack of adequate heating. …Lack of, or improper operation of required ventilating equipment. …Lack of required electrical lighting. …Dampness of habitable rooms. …Infestation of insects, vermin, or rodents as determined by a health officer or … code enforcement officer… Visible mold growth, as determined by a health officer or a code enforcement officer … excluding the presence of mold that is minor and found on surfaces that can accumulate moisture as part of their properly functioning and intended use. …General dilapidation or improper maintenance. …Lack of connection to required sewage disposal system. …Lack of adequate garbage and rubbish storage and removal facilities, as determined by a health officer or … code enforcement officer…Source Link
- 8 Cal. Health & Safety Code § 19720.3(d) & (e) (2021)
“[A building is substandard if it has exposed] wiring, except that which conformed with all applicable laws in effect at the time of installation if it is currently in good and safe condition and working properly.
“[A building is substandard if it has exposed] plumbing, except plumbing … currently in good and safe condition and working properly, and that is free of cross connections and siphonage between fixtures.”Source Link
- 9 Cal. Health & Safety Code § 19720.3(g), (j), & (k) (2021)
“[A building is substandard if it has] Faulty weather protection, which shall include, but not be limited to, the following: …Deteriorated or ineffective waterproofing of exterior walls, roofs, foundations, or floors, including broken windows or doors… [or] Defective or lack of weather protection for exterior wall coverings, including lack of paint, or weathering due to lack of paint or other approved protective covering. …
“[A building is substandard if it has] an accumulation of weeds, vegetation, junk, dead organic matter, debris, garbage, offal, rodent harborages, stagnant water, combustible materials, and similar materials or conditions constitute fire, health, or safety hazards. …
“[A building is substandard if it] is determined to be an unsafe building due to inadequate maintenance, in accordance with the latest edition of the Uniform Building Code.”Source Link
- 10 Cal. Civ. Code § 1954.210(a) (2021)
“If a tenant notifies the landlord of, or the landlord otherwise becomes aware of, a leak, a drip, a water fixture that does not shut off property [sic], including, but not limited to, a toilet, a problem with a water-saving device, or other problem with the water system that causes constant or abnormally high water usage, or a submeter reading indicates constant or abnormal high water usage, the landlord shall have the condition investigated, and, if warranted, rectify the condition.”Source Link
- 11 Cal. Civ. Code § 1941.3 (2021)
“(a) …the landlord … shall … (1) Install and maintain an operable dead bolt lock on each main swinging entry door of a dwelling unit. …(2) Install and maintain operable window security or locking devices for [ground and second-floor] windows that are designed to be opened. …(3) Install locking mechanisms that comply with applicable fire and safety codes on the exterior doors that provide ingress or egress to common areas…
“(b) The tenant shall be responsible for notifying the owner or his or her authorized agent when the tenant becomes aware of an inoperable dead bolt lock or window security or locking device in the dwelling unit. The landlord, or his or her authorized agent, shall not be liable for a violation of subdivision (a) unless he or she fails to correct the violation within a reasonable time after he or she either has actual notice of a deficiency or receives notice of a deficiency.”Source Link
- 12 Cal. Health & Safety Code § 17926 (2021)
“An owner of a dwelling unit intended for human occupancy shall install a carbon monoxide device … in each existing dwelling unit having a fossil fuel burning heater or appliance, fireplace, or an attached garage.”Source Link
- 13 Cal. Resid. Code § R314.3 (2021)
“Smoke alarms shall be installed… 1. In each sleeping room. 2. Outside each separate sleeping area in the immediate vicinity of the bedrooms. 3. On each additional story of the dwelling… 4. …not less than 3 feet (914 mm) horizontally from the door or opening of a bathroom that contains a bathtub or shower…”Source Link
- 14 Green v. Superior Court , 10 Cal.3d 616, 635 & 638 (1974) (internal citations omitted)
“The tenant’s duty to pay rent is ‘mutually dependent’ upon the landlord’s fulfillment of his implied warranty of habitability. …
“[T]enant’s damages shall be measured by the difference between the fair rental value of the premises if they had been as warranted and the fair rental value of the premises as they were during occupancy by the tenant in the unsafe or unsanitary condition… We recognize that the ascertainment of appropriate damages in such cases will often be a difficult task, not susceptible of precise determination.”Source Link
- 15 Salazar v. Maradeaga, 10 Cal.App.4th Supp. 1, 4 n.1 (Cal. Ct. App. 1992)
“[W]here the occupancy itself is not illegal, but the units do not conform with certain housing or building codes and the defects are, by definition, correctable… the tenant may, at his or her option, remain in possession and is relieved of the obligation to pay contract rent, but is liable for the reasonable value of the use and occupancy of the property in its defective condition.”Source Link
- 16 Cal. Civ. Code § 789.3 (2021)
While there isn’t a California statute that expressly provides injunctive relief for most repair-related lease breaches – except those where the landlord is intentionally attempting to unlawfully terminate tenancy; see Cal. Civ. Code § 789.3 (2021) – suing for specific performance under a warranty or contract is a standard and broadly available remedy in U.S. courts under common contract law.Source Link
- 17 Cal. Civ. Code § 789.3(c) & (d) (2021)
“(c) Any landlord who violates this section shall be liable to the tenant in a civil action for… Actual damages of the tenant… [plus] An amount not to exceed one hundred dollars ($100) for each day or part thereof the landlord remains in violation… in no event shall less than two hundred fifty dollars ($250) be awarded for each separate cause of action. Subsequent or repeated violations, which are not committed contemporaneously with the initial violation, shall be treated as separate causes of action and shall be subject to a separate award of damages.
“(d) In any action under subdivision (c) the court shall award reasonable attorney’s fees to the prevailing party. In any such action the tenant may seek appropriate injunctive relief… this section is not exclusive and shall not preclude the tenant from pursuing any other remedy which the tenant may have under any other provision of law.”Source Link
- 18 Cal. Civ. Code § 1942.5(a) (2021)
“(a) If the lessor retaliates against the lessee because of the exercise by the lessee of the lessee’s rights under this chapter or because of the lessee’s complaint to an appropriate agency as to tenantability of a dwelling, and if the lessee of a dwelling is not in default as to the payment of rent, the lessor may not recover possession of a dwelling in any action or proceeding, cause the lessee to quit involuntarily, increase the rent, or decrease any services within 180 days of any of the following:
“(1) After the date upon which the lessee, in good faith, has given notice pursuant to Section 1942 [repair of dilapidations], has provided notice of a suspected bed bug infestation, or has made an oral complaint to the lessor regarding tenantability.
“(2) After the date upon which the lessee, in good faith, has filed a written complaint, or an oral complaint which is registered or otherwise recorded in writing, with an appropriate agency, of which the lessor has notice, for the purpose of obtaining correction of a condition relating to tenantability.
“(3) After the date of an inspection or issuance of a citation, resulting from a complaint described in paragraph (2) of which the lessor did not have notice.
“(4) After the filing of appropriate documents commencing a judicial or arbitration proceeding involving the issue of tenantability.
“(5) After entry of judgment or the signing of an arbitration award, if any, when in the judicial proceeding or arbitration the issue of tenantability is determined adversely to the lessor. In each instance, the 180-day period shall run from the latest applicable date referred to in paragraphs (1) to (5), inclusive.”Source Link
- 19 Cal. Civ. Code § 1942.5(b), (c), and (d) (2021)
“(b) A lessee may not invoke subdivision (a) more than once in any 12-month period.
“(c) To report, or to threaten to report, the lessee or individuals known to the landlord to be associated with the lessee to immigration authorities is a form of retaliatory conduct…
“(d) …it is unlawful for a lessor to increase rent, decrease services, cause a lessee to quit involuntarily, bring an action to recover possession, or threaten to do any of those acts, for the purpose of retaliating against the lessee because the lessee has lawfully organized or participated in a lessees’ association or an organization advocating lessees’ rights or has lawfully and peaceably exercised any rights under the law. In an action brought by or against the lessee pursuant to this subdivision, the lessee shall bear the burden of producing evidence that the lessor’s conduct was, in fact, retaliatory.Source Link