The majority of property owners and landlords perform regular maintenance and necessary repairs immediately upon request. Unfortunately, some landlords have little regard for the health and safety of tenants, causing rental properties to fall into states of disrepair and become uninhabitable. California laws mandate that rental properties must comply with state and local building and health codes. Landlords are legally responsible for maintaining habitability standards and maintaining a safe and healthy living environment for tenants. Prior to entering into a lease or rental agreement, a prospective tenant should perform a careful inspection of the premises and document needed repairs. It is especially important to note:
- Cracks or holes in the floor, walls or ceiling which may be indicative of a rodent or pest infestation;
- Signs of leaking water or water damage in the walls, floor and ceiling which can precipitate the growth of bacteria;
- Signs of decaying lead pipes which may be evidenced by rust in tap water;
- An offensive odor emanating from the rental unit may be an indication of inadequate ventilation.
- Chipping or cracked paint;
A prospective tenant should examine the rental unit for damaged carpets or flooring, inadequate lighting and defects in electrical wiring or plumbing. A responsible landlord should be willing to complete repairs and cure defects prior to the tenant’s occupancy.
All landlords must comply with building safety standards established by California law.
All rental units must contain basic amenities required for safe and healthy living conditions. Under California law, a unit is unfit for human occupancy if it substantially lacks any of the following:
- Effective waterproofing and weather protection of roof and exterior walls, including unbroken windows and doors;
- Plumbing or gas facilities that conformed to applicable law in effect at the time of installation, maintained in good working order;
- A water supply approved under applicable law that is under the control of the tenant, capable of producing hot and cold running water, or a system that is under the control of the landlord, that produces hot and cold running water, furnished to appropriate fixtures, and connected to a sewage disposal system;
- Heating facilities that conformed with applicable law at the time of installation, maintained in good working order;
- Electrical lighting, with wiring and electrical equipment that conformed to applicable law at the time of installation, maintained in good working order;
- Building, grounds, and surrounding areas which are kept clean, sanitary, and free from all accumulations of debris, filth, rubbish, garbage, rodents, and vermin;
- An adequate number of appropriate receptacles for garbage and rubbish, in clean condition and good repair at the time of the start of the lease or rental agreement, with the landlord providing appropriate serviceable receptacles thereafter and being responsible for the clean condition and good repair of the receptacles under his or her control;
- Floors, stairways, and railings maintained in good repair;
- As of July 1, 2008, landlords must provide locking mail receptacles for each residential unit in a residential hotel.
Further, a building is deemed substandard under California law if any portion of it contains any of the following conditions and the conditions pose a risk to life, health, property, safety or welfare of the public or the building’s occupants:
- Inadequate sanitation, which includes:
- Lack of, or improper water closet, toilet, or bathtub or shower in a residential unit.
- Lack of, or improper water closets, lavatories, and bathtubs or showers per number of guests in a hotel.
- Lack of, or improper kitchen sink.
- Lack of hot and cold running water to plumbing fixtures in a hotel.
- Lack of hot and cold running water to plumbing fixtures in a dwelling unit.
- Lack of adequate heating.
- Lack of, or improper operation of required ventilating equipment.
- Lack of minimum amounts of natural light and ventilation required by this code.
- Room and space dimensions less than required by this code.
- Lack of required electrical lighting.
- Dampness of habitable rooms.
- Infestation of insects, vermin, or rodents as determined by the health officer.
- 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 the health officer.
- Structural hazards including, but not be limited to:
- Deteriorated or inadequate foundations.
- Defective or deteriorated flooring or floor supports.
- Flooring or floor supports of insufficient size to carry imposed loads with safety.
- Members of walls, partitions, or other vertical supports that split, lean, list, or buckle due to defective material or deterioration.
- Members of walls, partitions, or other vertical supports that are of insufficient size to carry imposed loads with safety.
- Members of ceilings, roofs, ceilings and roof supports, or other horizontal members which sag, split, or buckle due to defective material or deterioration.
- Members of ceiling, roofs, ceiling and roof supports, or other horizontal members that are of insufficient size to carry imposed loads with safety.
- Fireplaces or chimneys which list, bulge, or settle due to defective material or deterioration.
- Fireplaces or chimneys which are of insufficient size or strength to carry imposed loads with safety.
- Wiring which did not conform to all applicable laws in effect at the time of installation and/or which is not currently in good and safe condition and working properly;
- Plumbing which did not conform to all applicable laws in effect at the time of installation and/or which has not been maintained in good condition, and free of cross connections and siphonage between fixtures;
- Mechanical equipment, including vents, which did not conform with all applicable laws in effect at the time of installation and/or that has not been maintained in good and safe condition,
- Faulty weather protection, including but not limited to:
- Deteriorated, crumbling, or loose plaster.
- Deteriorated or ineffective waterproofing of exterior walls, roof, foundations, or floors, including broken windows or doors.
- 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.
- Broken, rotted, split, or buckled exterior wall coverings or roof coverings.
- Any building or portion thereof, device, apparatus, equipment, combustible waste, or vegetation that, in the opinion of the chief of the fire department or his deputy, is in such a condition as to cause a fire or explosion or provide a ready fuel to augment the spread and intensity of fire or explosion arising from any cause;
- Premises on which 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;
- Any building or portion thereof that is determined to be an unsafe building due to inadequate maintenance, in accordance with the latest edition of the Uniform Building Code.
- All buildings or portions thereof that are not provided with the fire-resistive construction or fire-extinguishing systems or equipment required by law, except those buildings or portions thereof that conformed with all applicable laws at the time of their construction and whose fire-resistive integrity and fire-extinguishing systems or equipment have been adequately maintained and improved in relation to any increase in occupant load, alteration or addition, or any change in occupancy.
- All buildings or portions thereof occupied for living, sleeping, cooking, or dining purposes that were not designed or intended to be used for those occupancies.
Additionally, landlords are required to:
(1) Install dead bolts on apartment entry doors: Install and maintain an operable dead bolt lock on each main swinging entry door of a dwelling unit. Existing doors which cannot be equipped with dead bolt locks may satisfy the requirements under the law if the door is equipped with a metal strap affixed horizontally across the midsection of the door with a dead bolt which extends 13/16 of an inch in length beyond the strike edge of the door and protrudes into the doorjamb.
(2) Install operable window security: Install and maintain operable window security or locking devices for windows that are designed to be opened. Louvered windows, casement windows, and all windows more than 12 feet vertically or six feet horizontally from the ground, a roof, or any other platform are excluded from this requirement.
(3) Locking mechanisms must comply with fire and safety codes: Install locking mechanisms that comply with applicable fire and safety codes on the exterior doors that provide exit or entry to common areas with access to dwelling units in multifamily developments. The installation of a door or gate where none existed on January 1, 1998 is not required, though.
Remember, you have the right to safe, habitable housing, and have many rights and remedies under California law. Under certain circumstances, a landlord may not collect or demand rent if the building’s conditions violate legal standards of habitability, and you may be entitled to compensation for damages suffered as a result of the uninhabitable conditions. If your landlord refuses to make repairs, you have legal options. Please see our page on Landlord Won’t Make Repairs.