Under California law, landlords must conduct periodic health and safety inspections for rental properties. These inspections ensure the properties are safe for tenants and protect the landlord’s financial investment. These inspections will save landlords money and headaches by checking on structural items and other portions of the properties.
Before giving possession to a tenant, the landlord must conduct a reasonable inspection of the property for unsafe conditions and take reasonable precautions to prevent injuries from conditions that were, or reasonably should have been, discovered during this inspection. A landlord owes a duty to maintain the property in a safe condition. Portillo v. Aiassa (1994) 27 Cal.App.4th 1128, 1134. The inspection should include common areas (such as hallways, stairs, elevators, or outdoor areas) under the landlord’s control. This duty to safely maintain the property also extends to people who visit the property. Ann M. v. Pacific Plaza Shopping Center (1993) 6 Cal.4th 666, 675.
Even after a tenant takes possession of the property, a landlord must take steps to prevent injuries due to unsafe conditions the landlord knows about, or reasonably should have known about, at the property. Day v. Lupo Vine Street, L.P. (2018) 22 Cal.App.5th 62, 69. Since the landlord has a duty to keep the property in a safe condition, the landlord must inspect the premises periodically to ascertain the conditions at the premises. Portillo, 27 Cal.App.4th at 1134. A landlord does not escape liability for failing to maintain a property in a safe condition by delegating this duty to independent contractors or other third parties. Srithong v. Total Investment Co. (1994) 23 Cal.App.4th 721, 726.
To comply with the duty of care owed to tenants, landlords should perform health and safety inspections of their rental properties at least once a year. The health and safety inspection will assist landlords with the following:
- Confirm the habitability of rental units for tenants: Landlords must adequately maintain a rental property as part of the implied warranty of habitability owed to a tenant. California Civil Code section 1941. This warranty requires landlords make rental units habitable prior to, and during, the tenancy. These conditions include ensuring proper electric, gas, and plumbing utilities; ensuring the property is free from debris, mice, and insects; and ensuring all floors, stairways, and railings are well-maintained. Any unsafe or unsanitary condition arising during the tenancy must be corrected by the landlord when noticed. If a landlord fails to properly maintain the property, a tenant may perform the necessary repairs and subtract the cost from the rent owed, or the tenant may vacate the premises and be free from paying the rent. Civil Code section 1942.
- Confirm the rental property is safe and secure for tenants: Landlords are legally obligated to take necessary measures to secure the property to prevent any foreseeable criminal acts. Civil Code section 1714. A failure to do so may create liability for failing to reasonably protect the tenants. This includes landlords must provide a working dead-bolt lock on each main entry door to any rental unit and must provide locking devices for all windows capable of being opened. Civil Code section 1941.3. Proper lighting in walkways and common areas must also be provided.
- Assist the Landlord in providing mandatory disclosures to tenants: Inspections provide landlords information to provide accurate mandatory disclosures to tenants under California law. At present, landlords must provide tenants with disclosures including whether a property has lead-based paint (42 USC section 4852d), whether a property has asbestos or carcinogenic materials (Health & Safety Code sections 25915, 25249.6), whether mold is present (Health & Safety Code section 26147), or whether bed bugs are present (Civil Code section 1954.603).
- Determine that Smoke Alarms and Carbon Monoxide Detectors work properly: A landlord is required to install, maintain, and test smoke alarms for rental properties. Health & Safety Code section 13113.7. Landlords must ensure smoke alarms are operable when a new tenancy is created and during the tenancy. Smoke alarms must be installed on each floor and in each bedroom. Landlords are also required to install and maintain carbon monoxide detectors in every dwelling unit intended for occupancy. Health & Safety Code sections 13260, et. seq. If it is discovered smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors are not properly working, landlords could face serious fines or serious liabilities in the unfortunate event of a fire or other event.
- Complying with Senate Bill 721: California Senate Bill-721 requires landlords to conduct inspections for a building’s balconies, decks, porches, stairways, walkways, and entry structures which extend beyond the exterior walls of a building, and which have any walking surfaces which are elevated more than six feet above ground level. These inspections must be done for any multi-unit buildings with three or more units. The inspections must be performed by a licensed architect, civil or structural engineer, or building contractor, or a certified building inspector. A written report must be done within 45 days of the inspection. Any part of the building found to need repair or replacement must be corrected. The building owner must apply for a permit for the corrective work within 120 days of the owner’s receipt of the report. Landlords who fail to do these inspections, or complete the repair work, by January 1, 2025, may face fines or penalties.
- Safeguarding the value of the property: Inspections can make certain your financial investment is protected. Discovering signs of minor property damage early will prevent them from growing into larger problems down the line. Letting property conditions slip over time will lead to more expenses, lower the property’s value, and dissuade tenants from staying. Inspections allow the landlord to make sure tenants are treating the property with respect and care. Periodic inspections provide an incentive to tenants to keep the property in good condition as they know the landlord is actively involved with managing the property.
- Controlling insurance costs: Annual health and safety inspections assist landlords in controlling their insurance costs on properties. These inspections allow landlords to repair issues before they turn into major problems at properties. In recent years, insurance companies have substantially raised insurance premiums, or refused to renew insurance policies, on properties with structural issues, water problems, or other maintenance issues.
James F. Henshall is General Counsel and Chief Financial Officer for CFG Investments, Inc., a property management and real estate sales company for income properties. Mr. Henshall can be reached at (714) 557-1430 or [email protected]