With its perennially cool conditions, adequate heat is crucial in San Francisco homes.  Although entitled to heat by law, many San Francisco tenants live without adequate heat.  The law is clear: San Francisco tenants are entitled to heat in every habitable room.  Continue reading to find out what constitutes adequate heat, and what steps San Francisco tenants can take to obtain heat in their homes.

All California Tenants Entitled to Heat

California tenants are entitled to adequate heat. In 1974, the California Supreme Court decided the landmark case Green v. Superior Court of San Francisco, 10 Cal. 3d 616 (1974), recognizing that antiquated landlord-tenant laws were ripe for modernization in light of California’s increasingly urbanized population.  Because the contemporary tenant leased their unit for residential living, and not for farming, the California Supreme Court reimagined the landlord-tenant relationship as a purchaser and seller, respectively.  In doing so, the Court concluded that – through a warranty of habitability implied in all tenancies – landlords are required to provide adequate heat to California tenants.

San Francisco Tenants Have Minimum Heating Requirements

In addition to the general right to adequate heat, San Francisco tenants are entitled to minimum heating requirements.  The San Francisco Building Code provides tenants with the right to heat capable of maintaining a room temperature of 70 degrees three feet and above the floor in all habitable rooms.  San Francisco Building Code § 701(a).  Additionally, landlords cannot provide space heaters.  Instead, the heating unit must be permanently attached and wired correctly in a safe manner.  San Francisco Building Code § 701(b).  San Francisco tenants are provided these protections by right.

For San Francisco tenants living in hotels, the minimum heating requirements vary slightly.  While hotel landlords must provide adequate heat from a permanently attached heating unit, the heating unit need only be capable of maintaining room temperature of 68 degrees at a point midway between the heating unit and the furthest wall three feet above the floor.  San Francisco Building Code § 701(c).  Further, the hotel need only make heat available to occupied rooms for 13 hours, between 5:00 a.m. and 11:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m. and 10:00 p.m.  Id.

Where San Francisco tenants cannot control heat from within a unit or room, the rented space must contain a sensor regulating the temperature so that the San Francisco tenant’s room meets San Francisco’s minimum heating requirements. San Francisco Building Code § 701(d).

What Steps Can San Francisco Tenants Take To Get Their Landlord To Restore Heat?

Although the law is clear, it is not often clear what a tenant can do when their unit lacks heat or the heater is malfunctioning.  First, the tenant should complain to their landlord or property manager, preferably in writing.  Since adequate is essential, the landlord must act quickly to restore or provide heat to all habitable rooms.  It is reasonable to expect the landlord to repair the lack of heat within two days.  If the landlord does not respond, the tenant can take any of the following steps:

  • Contact the local code enforcement or building department to obtain a Notice of Violation;
  • For units covered by a local rent ordinance with a rent board, file a decrease in services petition;
  • Request a mediation with the landlord;
  • Hire a repairperson and recover the cost from the landlord affirmatively; and,
  • File a complaint in court for damages.

Heat is integral to California tenants.  A landlord’s failure to provide heat is a significant health and safety issue, and exposes them to damages and penalties.  If your landlord refuses to provide heat or repair a malfunctioning heater, do not delay in documenting the problem and notifying them.  If they do not respond, consider pursuing more drastic measures.  As the California Supreme Court made clear thirty-five years ago in Green v. Superior Court, landlords bear the primary responsibility for maintaining safe, clean, and habitable housing, including providing heat.