Below are questions asked by rental property owners regarding California rent control laws followed by answers provided by Attorney Franco Simone.
Q: My rental property has a significant amount of deferred maintenance. I do not have money to fix the property and so I make sure to include in my leases that the property is rented “as is.” I am now receiving notice from one of my tenants that the house has habitability issues. What are habitability issues? What are my responsibilities when the tenants sign an agreement to rent the house “as-is”?
A: Under California law, you as a landlord are required to make the unit habitable so that the tenant has a safe and healthy place to live. The “implied warranty of habitability” cannot be waived by the tenant or contracted around. Civil Code Section 1941.1 details examples of items that can make a residential unit “untenantable” or uninhabitable. All agreements to rent a residential property includes the “implied warranty of habitability.” This means that you have a responsibility to your tenant to keep the rental unit “habitable,” or fit for human occupancy and that the unit complies with all state and local building and health codes. Renting the property in “as-is” condition does not waive the tenants right to habitable dwelling.
Q: My tenant reported to me that flooring in the living room is no longer secure and is creating a habitability issue. When I entered the unit to inspect, I saw obvious signs that the tenant’s dog was scratching at the corner of the room pulling up the carpet. The carpet is only a year old and should not be having these issues. Do I have to repair the carpet?
A: California law, does specifically require flooring to be maintained for a residential rental property to be habitable. However, you are not legally responsible to fix any habitability issues caused by your tenants, their family members, guests, or pets. That being said, you need to make sure to document the damage to the carpet and repair the carpet so that it is not a tripping hazard. Once the repair is complete you can request the tenant reimburse you for the cost of the repair or deduct it from their security deposit.
Q: All of my rental properties are in central San Diego and I have not maintained the heating units because it never gets cold enough to need a heater. One of my tenants is requesting a working heater and told me that it is a habitability issue. I called SDGE and they cannot come out to service the heater for three weeks. Can I buy space heaters for each room in the unit until I can get the heater repaired?
A: California landlords are required to keep heating facilities in good working order and make sure their installation conform with all applicable laws. Yes, you can buy space heaters to solve the heating problem temporarily. However, your unit must have a permanent heating facility in good working order. You must repair or replace the central heater within a reasonable time after you receive notice of the problem.
Q: My tenant told me that the sink in the kitchen was not draining properly over a month ago. I have been dragging my feet getting it repaired because I am tight on cash. Now my tenant is threatening to withhold rent because the plumbing problem is a habitability issue and I did not repair it timely. Can my tenant withhold rent for this?
A: Yes, California law requires landlords keep the plumbing facilities in good working order. You must repair the plumbing issue within a reasonable time after you receive notice of the problem. What is considered a reasonable amount of time depends on the situation. Thirty days is usually considered reasonable in most situations. If a landlord fails to repair a habitability issue within a reasonable amount of time the tenant can 1) repair and deduct or 2) withhold rent. For example, the tenant can repair the plumbing issue himself and deduct the cost from his monthly rent payment. However, if the cost of repairing or replacing the unit costs more than a month of rent the tenant has the option to just withhold the rent rather than attempt to make the repairs. Thus, your tenant might be justified in withholding his rent payment and you should repair the plumbing issue as soon as possible.
Q: My tenants complained that there are roaches in their unit. I sent out pest control immediately and provided rat bait and spray. A few months have gone by and now the tenants are complaining again. The tenants are very messy and leave dog food out that attracts the roaches and rats. Do I need to send out pest control again?
A: Yes, you should send pest control to the property again. Pest such as roaches or rats are habitability issues. However, it does appear that the tenants’ living conditions might be causing the issues with the pests. Just as you have responsibilities to the tenant, the tenant has responsibilities to you as well under California law. Since pests are a habitability issue, you need to do your best to keep the unit free of them. However, if the tenant fails to perform his responsibilities and that is a substantial cause of the condition or the tenant has interfered with your ability to rectify the issue, you will not be held responsible for the habitability issue. Thus, if the pests returned to the unit solely because the tenant leaves dog food and feces on the floor and/or leaves trash all over a dirty unit, he would not be justified in withholding rent.
Attorney Franco Simone, of Simone & Associates and The Landlords’ Legal Center, has been doing evictions for over 20 years. He is also an adjunct law professor at the University of San Diego. Mr. Simone’s office is open Monday – Friday from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM. Tel: 619-235-6180, website: www.landlordslegalcenter.com or email [email protected].