California Habitability Laws

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.

Quick Facts for California

Who Does The Warranty of Habitability Apply To?

The Warranty of Habitability in California applies to short-term and long-term rental properties that are single-family or multi-family dwellings. It also covers RV parks and mobile homes.

How Long Do Tenants Have to Make Repairs?

3 days after being given written notice. If they fail to remedy the situation, they will be given a 5-day notice to vacate.

What Are Tenants Responsible For?

Tenants are required to keep the rental reasonably clean; landlords can ask a tenant to clean up if they are not doing so.

What are Landlords Responsible For Providing?

Working HVAC equipment, plumbing, electrical, sanitation facilities, and elevators (in buildings that have them), as well as a trash can (for trash pickup services). Landlords must disclose pre-existing conditions that could affect habitability, such as lead paint in the unit. Smoke detectors are required in each unit of a multifamily unit.

How Long Do Landlords Have to Fix Something?

After tenants request repairs, landlords must make them within 30 days (in non-emergency situations). They must also provide 24-hour notice before entering the unit to make these repairs. Tenants can withhold rent until repairs are made.

We waded through the laws for to lay out what landlords and tenants are responsible for when it comes to habitability, and what happens if the residence isn’t properly taken care of by the landlord.

The chart below lays out the types of rental units the laws apply to.

*RV parks and mobile home parks have their special rules and are not addressed in this article.

  • Landlords must disclose pre-existing conditions that could affect habitability, such as lead paint in the unit.
  • Tenants can withhold rent until repairs are made.
  • Smoke detectors are required in each unit of a multifamily unit.

Understanding the Law

In California, every lease or rental agreement contains an “implied warranty of habitability”—meaning that landlords are responsible for ensuring the unit is safe for human habitation prior to leasing the unit and during the unit’s lease period should any issues arise that would affect habitability.

Interestingly, tenants are responsible for ensuring that any shared areas of rented or leased multifamily properties are clean and safe—such as hallways—and not the landlord, which is different than most other states. 

Landlords do, however, need to keep all other common areas (grounds, community gardens on the rental property, pools, etc.) safe and clean.

Landlords are also required to ensure that the property complies with any and all building codes and housing codes as they relate to the safety of the building and/or the health of the residents.  Be especially mindful of this as a landlord, as many of the major cities in the state have stricter requirements here than the state law does.

Landlords are also required to make and pay for any necessary repairs/perform any maintenance to make the unit habitable, as long as the damage was not caused by the tenant. 

However, in spite of the above, landlords and tenants can add a written clause to the lease or rental agreement stating that the tenant will handle all repairs and maintenance for their unit in order to lower their monthly rent.  The landlord is still responsible to ensure the unit meets all required housing codes.

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)
  • Asbestos (if the landlord has at least ten employees)
  • Known carcinogens (if the landlord has at least ten employees)
  • Methamphetamine manufacturing (notice from health inspector)
  • Death of the prior tenant in the rental unit

 Each of these will be discussed in more detail below under the section on Landlord Responsibilities.

Tenants are required to pay for any repairs caused by their own negligence or intentional acts, and any repairs arising from the acts of their family members, pets, and guests.

Finally, rental agreements are not allowed to include any provisions that limit a tenant’s rights regarding habitability or the remedies they can pursue if habitability is not met.

Landlord Responsibilities

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

Sanitation Facilities

We look at several of the more detailed requirements in more depth below.

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.

Required Landlord Disclosures

As noted above, if lead-based paint is present in the rental property, or could be present in the rental property, the landlord must disclose this before tenants sign the rental agreement.  

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.

Additionally, a written lead-based paint disclosure must be issued to the tenant, and a lead-based paint warning must be included in the written lease agreement.  However, landlords are not required to remove any lead-based paint on the premises. 

Landlord responsibilities only go so far as warning the tenants of the possibility or actual presence of lead-based paint on the property; they are not required to mitigate it.

Asbestos and carcinogen 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. 

If a landlord is aware that their rental property contains asbestos or other known carcinogens, and the landlord has ten or more employees, as stated above, then they are required to disclose that information to potential tenants prior to signing a lease agreement with the tenants.

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).

Failure to provide potential tenants with this notice and order gives them the right to terminate the lease.

Finally, 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. 

However, if tenants ask the landlord directly about the cause of death, they’re not allowed to lie to them or offer them misleading information.

Addressing Habitability Issues

If, due to a tenant’s actions, the unit becomes uninhabitable, landlords are not required to make any repairs because of their negligence or intentional acts.  In this situation, the tenant cannot withhold rent for the landlord’s failure to repair the issue(s).

For any repairs a landlord chooses to make due to the tenant’s actions, the landlord can:

  • Use the tenant’s security deposit to pay for any damage to the property when the tenant moves out.
  • End the lease early because of the tenant’s failure to properly maintain the property.
  • File a formal eviction proceeding in court, if their tenant doesn’t vacate the property after receiving notice that the lease has been terminated early.  This is examined in more detail below.

Under the law, tenants are allowed to have three days to correct any “correctable” issues noted as the reason for terminating the lease, including repairing any damage they have caused.

Formal eviction proceedings

Under California law, formal (court) eviction proceedings are the only way to forcibly remove a tenant.  Landlords are not allowed to change the locks on a rental property and lock the tenant out, seize the tenant’s property, shut off their utilities, or remove windows/ doors from the property. 

Landlords are also not allowed to physically remove the tenant themselves (or with the help of their bouncer friends).

If landlords choose to do any of the above, then they will be held liable for any damages caused to the tenant, plus $100 per day for each day that the landlord held the tenant’s property, kept the new locks on the rental unit, failed to replace doors or windows, or kept the tenant’s utilities shut off.

Once the court has reached a decision in a formal eviction case, the tenant will be given five days’ notice to vacate the premises (if the court rules in the landlord’s favor and evicts the tenant).  

If the tenant refuses to leave the property after the fifth day, then they will be forcibly removed by the sheriff, and all personal property seized by the sheriff’s office. 

In addition, the sheriff will put new locks on the rental unit, effectively locking the tenant out.

The landlord may not re-enter the property until the sheriff has fully evicted the tenant.

Necessary repair requests


There may be times during a lease or rental agreement period that an unexpected issue affecting habitability comes up—such as a storm that damages the roof and causes the unit to leak.  At those times, the tenant has the right to request that their landlord make repairs to restore the unit to habitability.

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.  

It’s in everyone’s best interest to write down the repair request and for both parties to review it to ensure you are both in agreement on the repairs that need to be made and when they should be done.

The landlord will then have a “reasonable” amount of time to make the repairs—30 days in non-emergency situations, less if say, the water pipes break and the tenant has no water in their unit. 

Unfortunately, the law is vague about what’s “reasonable” in these circumstances, so what may feel reasonable to a landlord may not feel reasonable to a tenant, which is why it’s best to agree to a repair time frame upfront with the tenant and put it in writing.  This way, any potential disputes about the repair can be avoided.

In addition, landlords cannot retaliate against a tenant who has requested that repairs be made which are necessary to maintain a unit’s liveability.

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.

If the landlord fails to make the requested repairs that affect the unit’s habitability within a “reasonable” time period (not more than 30 days), their tenant has 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.
  • Vacate the property immediately without owing any further rent, also known as abandonment.
  • 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, depending on the locale.
  • Pursue legal action for damages.

Again, these tenant remedies only apply to necessary repairs to make the unit habitable that the tenant did not cause through their own actions or inaction.

In addition, 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.

Finally, if the costs for any repairs were taken out of the tenant’s security deposit, the landlord is required to give them an itemized list of everything paid for from the deposit within 21 days of the lease’s termination, or the landlord will be required to refund the entire security deposit amount to the tenant.

Sources

  1. Nolo, “Overview of Landlord-Tenant Laws in California.”
  2. California Department of Housing and Community Development, “California Tenants:  A Guide to Residential Tenants’ and Landlords’ Rights and Responsibilities.”
  3. SFGate, “Basic Tenants’ Rights in California.”
  4. Nolo, “California Tenant Rights to Withhold Rent or ‘Repair and Deduct’.”

Read About the Warranty of Habitability in Other States