In California, every residential tenancy contains an implied warranty of habitability requiring landlords to maintain rental units in a habitable condition during the tenancy.  Green v. Superior Court (Sumski), 10 Cal. 3d 616, 629 (1974).  The warranty of habitability demands landlords keep rental units in, “a condition fit for such [residential] occupant, and repair all subsequent dilapidations thereof, which render it untenantable.”  California Civil Code § 1941.

Can California Tenants Waive the Warranty of Habitability? 

No, California tenants cannot be forced to avoid the warranty of habitability by waiving it, either verbally or in a written lease agreement.  California Civil Code § 1942.1.  The law is clear, California tenants’ right to habitable housing is nonwaivable.  Id.  Therefore, a landlord cannot make a tenant pay for repairs in California.

When Are California Tenants Responsible for Repairs?

California tenants are responsible for repair costs under certain circumstances, including but not limited to:

  • California tenants must pay for repairs to damage they caused. California Civil Code §§ 1929, 1941.2;
  • California tenants must pay for repairs to their property kept in the rental unit.

Must The Landlord Still Make Repairs When California Tenants Are Behind on Rent?

Yes, the warranty of habitability continues even when a California tenant is behind on rent.  Fairchild v. Park, 90 Cal. App. 4th 919, 925-28 (2001) (The landlord’s duty to repair habitability defects is not excused by the tenant’s rent being in arrears.).

What is the Landlord Responsible for Repairing in a California Tenant’s Rental Unit?

Under the warranty of habitability, the landlord must repair:

  • The California tenant’s rental unit;
  • Waterproofing and weather protection of the roof, walls, windows, and doors;
  • Plumbing and gas;
  • Water supply that produces hot and cold running water;
  • Heating;
  • Locking mail receptacles;
  • Security devices, such as door and window locks, and deadbolts;
  • Lead hazards, such as lead-based paint chips;
  • Electricity, including lighting, and wiring;
  • Sanitation;
  • Floors, stairs, and railings maintained in good repair;
  • Mold and airborne contaminants;
  • Trash facilities, including providing an adequate number of appropriate garbage receptacles; and,
  • Common areas, such as the hallways, stairways, and common grounds.

What Options Are Available for California Tenants with Habitability Issues?

California tenants living in uninhabitable conditions should complain to their landlord or property manager, preferably in writing.  Where the landlord fails to fix the repair defect adequately, timely, or at all, the California tenant should escalate the matter by obtaining a violation notice from one or more of the following entities:

  • Local code enforcement agency;
  • Local public health department;
  • Local fire department;
  • Local police department for security issues leading to theft or crime;
  • Local utility company; and/or,
  • Private inspector.

California tenants may recover for their damages – including rent overpayment, compensation for property damage or property loss, emotional distress damages, penalties, and punitive damages – by filing a claim in court.  Alternatively, California tenants residing in cities with a rent ordinance, such as San Francisco, Oakland, or Los Angeles, may file a petition for a reduction in services at their local rent board.  However, before taking either action, the California tenant should consider mediating the matter, either directly or through retaining a neutral third-party, in an attempt to resolve the matter early and efficiently.