A Tenant’s Guide: How Long Do Landlords Have to Fix Problems in California?

3 Mar, 7:31 am

 RightsAre you a tenant in California experiencing maintenance problems in your rental unit? Do you find yourself wondering what rights you have and how you can address these issues effectively? 

You’ve come to the right place. 

This comprehensive guide aims to empower tenants like you by providing valuable information on how to navigate the process of resolving problems with your landlord in California.

We will provide insights into specific timelines landlords have to address repairs and maintenance problems, both urgent and non-urgent. 

Furthermore, you will discover various options available to you, such as withholding rent, submitting repair requests, utilizing the repair and deduct remedy, and withholding rent for urgent repairs. 

Understanding Landlord Obligations

 

Landlords have the responsibility to keep their rental property, whether it’s an apartment building or a single-family home, habitable. 

California law imposes certain legal obligations on landlords on rental property.  This ensures that rental units are maintained in a habitable condition. This duty is known as the implied warranty of habitability. [1]

The implied warranty of habitability means that landlords are legally obligated to ensure that the rental unit meets basic health, safety, and livability standards. 

Some key aspects covered by this warranty include:

  1. Health and Safety: California tenants have the right to a rental unit that is free from hazards and conditions that could pose a threat to the tenant’s health or safety. This includes addressing issues such as mold, lead paint, infestations, faulty electrical systems, and plumbing problems.  These problems are governed by health codes.
  2. Structural Integrity: The rental unit must be structurally sound, with a roof, walls, and floors in good condition. Structural issues, such as leaks, cracks, or instability, must be promptly addressed by the landlord.
  3. Utilities: Landlords are responsible for ensuring that essential utilities, they must fix hot water issues, heating, and electricity, are in good working order. Hot water should be available for tenants to use.
  4. Maintenance and Repairs: Landlords must address necessary repairs promptly. This includes fixing broken appliances, addressing plumbing or electrical issues, and repairing any damage that affects the habitability of the unit.
  5. Repair Responsibilities: Don’t automatically assume that landlords are responsible for the cost of repairs. Review your lease and local regulations for any repair cost responsibilities of the tenant. Maintenance requests may be treated as “extra” and not vital and the tenant will be billed and the same is true for minor repairs.

Some issues and repairs may require the landlord to provide alternative accommodation for tenants whilst issues are being handled. Understanding Tenant Rights as a renter of property is important as it will save you headaches and frustration throughout your stay.

Examples of  Tenant Responsible Repairs

  1. Minor Repairs: Tenants are generally responsible for minor repairs considered part of regular maintenance, such as changing light bulbs, replacing air filters, and unclogging drains caused by regular use.
  2. Damage Caused by Tenant: Tenants are usually responsible for repairing damage caused to the rental property beyond normal wear and tear. This may include repairing holes in walls, damage to fixtures or appliances, or broken windows.
  3. Maintenance of Appliances: Tenants may be responsible for maintaining and repairing appliances provided by the landlord (refrigerators, microwaves, dishwashers, washing machines, etc.) if misuse or negligence causes damage.
  4. Ensuring Habitability: Tenants have a right to a habitable living environment, and if a repair is necessary to maintain habitability, the landlord is typically responsible for the cost. This includes repairs to essential services like plumbing, heating, and electrical systems.
  5. Notification of Repairs: Tenants are required to promptly notify the landlord of any needed repairs to prevent further damage. Failure to report repairs promptly could make the tenant responsible for any resulting damages.

Further reading: When does a landlord have to pay for a hotel room in California?

 

landlord dealing with the repair of applicances in LA
Courtesy of Canva/GettyImages

A Tale of Two Repairs: Major Repairs vs. Non-urgent 

 

Not all repairs are created equal. Essential repairs, such as a sudden lack of hot water or a broken heating system in winter, should be dealt with immediately, typically within 24 to 72 hours. 

In contrast, for non-urgent repairs, which may include things like a broken dishwasher, broken heater, air conditioner faults, or a faulty light fixture, California law provides landlords with a “reasonable” timeframe. 

This is generally understood to be up to 30 days, depending on the specific issue and its impact on the habitability of the rental unit.

Here are some examples of the two types of repairs:

 

Non-urgent repairs

Landlords are typically expected to address non-urgent repairs within 30 days after receiving a written notice from the tenant. This timeframe may vary depending on the complexity of the repair and the availability of necessary materials or the need to hire contractors.

Non-functional appliances:

If essential appliances provided by the landlord, such as a refrigerator, stove, or dishwasher, are not working properly or are in need of repair

Minor plumbing issues: 

Issues such as a slow-draining sink, dripping faucet, or running toilet that doesn’t pose an immediate threat to health and safety are considered non-urgent repairs. 

Non-emergency electrical problems: 

Electrical issues that do not present an immediate danger, such as malfunctioning light switches, non-working outlets, or flickering lights.

Non-structural repairs: 

Cosmetic damages to walls, ceilings, or flooring, fall under non-urgent repairs. 

Non-functional or inadequate heating and cooling systems: 

If the heating or cooling system is not working optimally but does not pose an immediate threat to health and safety, it would be considered a non-urgent repair. 

 

tenant dealing with thermostat problems in LA

Courtesy of Canva/Studioroman

Urgent Repairs

Urgent repairs that affect the habitability of the rental unit, such as a lack of heating, hot water, or working plumbing, require immediate attention from landlords. In such cases, tenants should notify the landlord immediately and, if necessary, follow up with a written notice.

Landlords are expected to act promptly, usually within 24 to 72 hours, to address urgent repairs.

Lack of heating during cold weather: 

If the heating system in the rental unit is not functioning properly or not providing sufficient heat during cold weather, it is considered an urgent repair. 

Lack of hot water: 

The absence of hot water in a rental unit is considered an urgent repair. Access to hot water is essential for basic hygiene and daily activities, such as bathing and washing dishes. 

Lack of air conditioning: 

In California, the requirement for providing air conditioning in rental properties can depend on various factors, including the rental property’s location and local housing codes and building codes. In some regions, particularly those with hot climates, local ordinances may mandate that rental properties have adequate cooling systems, especially in areas where temperatures can reach extreme levels.

Plumbing leaks: 

Significant plumbing leaks that cause water damage, flooding, or persistent dripping require immediate attention from landlords. These issues can lead to further damage and mold growth if not addressed promptly.

Electrical hazards: 

Any electrical problems that pose a safety risk, such as exposed wires, sparking outlets, or frequent power outages, should be considered urgent repairs. These issues can present fire hazards and endanger the tenant’s well-being.

Gas leaks: 

The presence of a gas leak, indicated by the smell of gas or hissing sounds near gas appliances, is an emergency situation. In such cases, tenants should evacuate the premises immediately and contact their landlord and the appropriate gas utility company.

Structural damage: 

Significant structural damage, such as a collapsed ceiling, severe cracks in walls or floors, or compromised structural integrity, requires urgent attention from landlords. These issues can jeopardize the safety and stability of the rental unit.

Pest infestations: 

Severe pest infestations, such as extensive bed bug or rodent problems, should be addressed urgently by landlords. These infestations can affect the health and well-being of tenants and require prompt pest control measures.

Lotus West Properties offer landlords an alternative to personally dealing with problems in rental units.  Hiring a professional property management company to help you manage your property and the tenants, may be just what you need.  

 

Laws governing tenant and landlord rights in rental properties in LA
Courtesy of Canva/GettyImages

 

Your Role in the Repair Requests Process

 

When you encounter a problem in your rental unit, your first step should be to send a repair request to your landlord.

It’s essential to document these interactions, noting the date of the request and the nature of the issue. This not only provides a record of your attempts to rectify the situation but also establishes a timeline that can be essential if the landlord refuses or fails to make the needed repairs within a reasonable time.

Landlord Refuses to Act: What’s Next?

 

If your landlord refuses to act on your repair requests, it can be a stressful situation. Despite this, remember that California law is on your side. For instance, you can sue for the difference between your rent payment and the rental unit’s reduced value due to the unrepaired condition.

When your landlord fails to make timely repairs, you may wonder whether you are allowed to withhold rent or do you continue to pay rent despite the landlord’s failure to meet his/her obligations.

Californian statutes allow tenants to stop paying rent for a time if it can be proven that every effort was made to notify the landlord and pursue a solution.  Rent withholding is a short-term remedy to empower tenants to exercise their legal right of living in a habitable dwelling. 

Another legal remedy is the ‘repair and deduct’ method, where you, as a tenant, pay for the repairs and then deduct the cost from your next month’s rent. 

However, you can only do this if the cost of repairs does not exceed one month’s rent, and you haven’t used the remedy more than twice in the last 12 months.  Always ensure you keep all receipts and records of the repairs and their costs.

 

Final Thoughts

 

By understanding your rights and following the appropriate steps, such as submitting repair requests in writing, documenting communication with your landlord, and being aware of reasonable timeframes for repairs, you can take control of the situation and work towards a resolution. Remember to consult local laws and regulations, as well as any specific guidelines in your city or county, to ensure compliance with applicable requirements. 

Additionally, seeking legal advice or assistance from local tenant organizations can provide further support and guidance tailored to your specific situation.

By maintaining thorough documentation and keeping a record of all communication regarding repair requests, you strengthen your position and have evidence to support your claims if disputes arise. This documentation will be valuable if you need to pursue legal action or file a complaint against a non-compliant landlord.

Lotus West Properties offers our tenants the security of having a professional property management company on their side.  Our rental units are checked for habitable living conditions and regular maintenance and repair work are done on all units.  Our in-house maintenance team is on stand-by for emergency repairs, giving both tenants and landlords much-needed relief from stressful situations.  

We have properties all around the Los Angeles area.   Have a look at our featured properties in MalibuKoreatown and Culver City.  

 

Footnotes:

 

  1. Warranty of habitability