California Habitability Laws

QUICK FACTS
  • Landlord Responsibilities. Maintain functioning plumbing, heating, and electrical facilities, including hot and cold running water and weather protection of roof and exterior walls, including unbroken windows and doors (read more).
  • Making Repairs. Tenant can request repairs and the landlord will have 30 days (for non-emergency situations) to make the repairs (read more).
  • Tenant Options. If repairs aren’t made in a timely manner, tenant can withhold rent. Tenant is also allowed to repair and deduct, report the issue to a public official or file a lawsuit (read more).
  • Retaliation. Landlords cannot retaliate against a tenant who has requested that repairs be made which are necessary to maintain a unit in a safe and habitable condition (read more).

The implied warranty of habitability in California does not apply to all types of dwellings. See the table below for which are & aren’t included.

Dwelling TypeLandlord/Tenant Laws Apply?
Single familyYes
Multi-familyYes
Fraternities/Sororities/ClubsNot specifically addressed
RV parksNot specifically addressed
Mobile home parksNot specifically addressed
CondosNot specifically addressed
Hotels/MotelsYes, for long term owners only

Landlord Responsibilities

The following chart lists possible landlord responsibilities when it comes to habitability.  Not all of them are requirements in California, as indicated below.

Note: some of the below items may not be addressed at the state level but may be addressed on a county or city level. Check your local housing codes to see which additional requirements may apply.

Habitability IssueLandlord Responsibility?
Provide windows and doors that are in good repair.Yes
Ensure the roof, walls, etc., are completely waterproofed and there are no leaks.Yes
Provide hot and cold running water.Yes
Provide working HVAC equipment.Yes
Provide working plumbing and electrical wiring/outlets/ lighting.Yes
Provide working gas lines if used for utilities/cookingYes
Provide working sanitation facilities (bathtub/shower, toilet).Yes
Provide a trash can (for trash pickup services).Yes
Ensure that any stairs and railings are safe.Yes
Ensure that all floors are in good condition and safe.Yes
Provide fire exits that are usable, safe, and clean.Yes
Ensure storage areas, including garages and basements, do not house combustible materials.Yes
Provide working smoke detectorsYes
Provide a mailbox.Yes
Provide working wiring for one telephone jack.Yes
Provide working kitchen appliances.No
Provide working carbon monoxide detector.Not addressed
Provide a working washer/dryer.No

California’s landlord/tenant laws are some of the most detailed in the entire country—and not only do landlords and tenants need to be aware of the laws at the state level, there may also be additional regulations for the city or town the rental property is in. Here are several of the more detailed requirements in more depth below.

Sanitation Facilities

The sanitation facilities must include a working toilet, bathtub/shower, and sink. In addition, they must be in a room with ventilation and privacy.

Kitchen/Appliances

The kitchen sink cannot be made from wood or any other absorbent material.

Landlords may provide kitchen appliances and/or washers/dryers, but they are not required to under the law. If any non-landlord owned appliance fails, it’s the renter’s responsibility to repair/replace it.

Windows

Windows or skylights must be provided for every room, and any windows provided must be operable, meaning they open at least halfway—unless another form of ventilation is provided.

In addition, the windows cannot be broken or damaged to the point that they do not operate properly.

Security

Working deadbolts must be provided for entry doors, and working locks or security devices must be provided for all windows.

Pools

For any multifamily unit with a pool, landlords must provide anti-suction measures for wading pools, and ground fault circuit interrupters for swimming pools.

Mold

Finally, the presence of mold in the unit may mean the unit isn’t in habitable condition, but it doesn’t automatically mean that’s the case. The landlord and tenant need to work together to determine whether the mold in the unit makes it unlivable and needs to be mitigated.

Sprinkler Systems

Not all states require existing apartment complexes, townhomes, and condos to have sprinkler systems. Many states do not require new construction to have sprinkler systems, either. However, California has enacted laws requiring “retroactive” installations for high rises.

Rodents and Vermin

Landlords must provide rental units that are rodent- and vermin-free.

Required Landlord Disclosures

In addition, landlords must disclose any of the following pre-existing conditions affecting habitability to potential renters:

  • Lead-based paint (for properties built prior to 1978) – landlords must also provide tenants with a booklet titled, “Protect Your Family From Lead in Your Home,” issued by the federal government, prior to the signing of the lease.
  • Asbestos and known carcinogens disclosures are dependent upon the size of the landlord’s rental empire.  If the landlord has ten or more employees, then they fall under this part of the law.  If the landlord has nine or fewer employees, they’re exempt from these requirements.
  • Methamphetamine manufacturing (notice from health inspector) – for any rental property that has been inspected by a health inspector and found to have been used for the manufacture of methamphetamines, the landlord must provide a copy of the health inspector’s notice and order to vacate the premises to all current and potential renters (who have already submitted a rental application for the property).
  • Death of the prior tenant in the rental unit – if the prior tenant died in the rental unit not more than three years prior, the landlord is required to disclose this to the new tenant(s), including what caused the former tenant’s death. The only exception to this rule is if the prior tenant died from AIDS—then a landlord is not required to disclose that as the cause of death.

Making Repairs

The tenant has the right to request that their landlord make repairs should any unexpected issue affecting habitability comes up.

  • Sending notice – If tenants do request repairs, they have the option to put their request in writing to their landlord, make the request in person, or ask for the repairs over the phone. The landlord will then have a “reasonable” amount of time to make the repairs—30 days in non-emergency situations.
  • Landlord access – Tenants are required to give landlords access to the property to make necessary repairs. However, a landlord must give tenants at least 24 hours’ written notice unless:
    • The tenant is home at the time and allows the landlord entry.
    • It’s an emergency.
    • There’s an oral agreement between the landlord and the tenant regarding when the landlord will be accessing the property to make repairs.
    • The tenant no longer occupies/has abandoned the unit.

Tenant’s Options if Repairs Aren’t Made

If repairs aren’t made in a timely manner, the tenant has a few possible options for resolving the issue.

  1. Withhold rent – In California tenants can withhold rent (all or in part) until the necessary repairs have been made. Withheld amounts may be required to be held in escrow accounts until the issue is resolved
  2. Repair and deduct – tenants have the right to repair it themselves and then deduct the amount of the repair from their monthly rent (if the repair costs less than one month’s rent). This cannot be done more than twice in one year.
  3. Lawsuit – tenants do have the right to take legal action for damages resulting from habitability issues.
  4. Reporting to Public Officials – landlords can be reported to state or local health inspectors if they fail to make repairs and restore the unit into a safe and habitable condition.
  5. Abandonment – The tenant has the option to abandon the unit if the problems are making the unit unlivable or the repairs would cost more than one month’s rent.

Landlord Retaliation

Landlords cannot retaliate against a tenant who exercised their rights under California habitability laws, such as:

  • complaining about suspected bed bug infestation,
  • reporting any habitability issues to the appropriate agency or government authority
  • withholding rent
  • filing a lawsuit

The following actions are considered retaliatory conduct against a tenant:

  • increase rent
  • decrease services
  • force evict
  • recover possessions
  • or threaten to report to immigration.

If a landlord chooses to retaliate against a tenant for requesting required repairs, under the law, they’re allowed to receive $2,000 for each violation a landlord has committed in retaliating against them.

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