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 16201 Whittier Blvd. Whittier, CA 90603

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Repairs And Habitability of Rental Property

All rental units must be fit to live in; that is, it must be habitable. In legal terms, "habitable" is defined when a rental unit is fit for occupation by human beings and that it substantially complies with state and local building and health codes that materially affect tenants' health and safety.

When referring to a residence, “habitable” means that it is safe and can be occupied in reasonable comfort. This is important in landlord-tenant disputes or in government actions to force a landlord to make the premises livable and to correct the deficiencies. California law makes both landlords and tenants responsible for certain kinds of repairs, but ultimately landlords are legally responsible for making sure that their rental units are habitable.

What areas of maintenance are a landlord legally responsible for?

by: Candy Livesey, IPU Contributing Writer, April 20, 2013

LANDLORD’S RESPONSIBILITY FOR REPAIRS:

Before renting a rental unit to a tenant, a landlord must make the unit fit to live in, or habitable. In addition, while the unit is being rented to the tenant, the landlord must repair problems which make the rental unit uninhabitable. In the California Supreme Court case, called Green v. Superior Court,

it was held that the landlord has the duty to make repairs because all residential leases and rental agreements contain an implied warranty of habitability. The landlord is legally responsible for repairing conditions that seriously affect the rental unit's habitability under "implied warranty of habitability". Thus the landlord must repair substantial defects in the rental unit to comply with state and local building and health codes. However, the landlord is not responsible under the implied warranty of habitability for repairing damages which were caused by the tenant, the occupants of the rental unit, the tenant's family members, guests of the tenant, or pets.

 

The landlord must also do maintenance work which is necessary to keep the rental unit in a liveable condition. Whether or not the landlord or the tenant is responsible for making less serious repairs that do not affect habitability is usually outlined in the rental or lease agreement. California Landlord/Tenant Law is very specific as to what kinds of conditions make a rental uninhabitable. These are discussed in the section below.

 

CONDITIONS OF A LEGALLY UNINHABITABLE RENTAL UNIT:

There are many kinds of deficiencies that can make a rental unit unlivable. The implied warranty of habitability requires landlords to maintain their rental units in a state fit for the "occupation of human beings." The rental unit must also "substantially comply" with building and housing code standards that materially affect tenants' health and safety. A dwelling where a tenant resides may be considered uninhabitable or unlivable if it substantially lacks any of the following:

• Effective waterproofing and weather protection of roof and exterior walls (this also includes unbroken windows and doors).

• Plumbing facilities in proper working order, including hot and cold running water, connected to a sewage disposal system.

• Gas facilities in working order.

• Heating facilities in suitable working order.

• An electric system, including lighting, wiring, and equipment, in proper working order.

• Clean and sanitary buildings, grounds, and appurtenances (for example, a garden or a detached garage) that are free from debris, filth, rubbish, garbage, rodents, and vermin.

• Adequate trash receptacles in sufficient repair.

• Floors, stairways, and railings in proper repair.

 

In addition to the requirements listed above, each rental unit is required to have all of the following:

• A working toilet, sink, and bathtub or shower located in a room that is properly ventilated and allows privacy.

• A kitchen that has a sink (the sink cannot be made of an absorbent material such as wood).

• Natural lighting through windows or skylights in every room. The windows in each room must be able to open at least halfway for ventilation, unless ventilation is provided mechanically by a fan.

• Safe emergency or fire exits leading to a street or hallway. All stairs, hallways, and exits must be kept free of litter. All storage areas, garages, and basements must be kept free of combustible materials.

• An operable deadbolt lock on all main entry doors of the rental units and operable locking or security devices on all windows.

Working smoke detectors in all rental units. Apartment complexes are also required to have smoke detectors in common stairwells.

• The implied warranty of habitability is not violated merely because the rental unit is not in faultless, aesthetically pleasing condition. Nor is the implied warranty of habitability violated if there are minor housing code violations, which, standing alone, do not affect habitability of the rental unit. For example, it is the landlord's responsibility to install and maintain the inside wiring for one telephone jack in each rental unit. The landlord's failure to do so probably does not violate the implied warranty of habitability.

 

LIMITATIONS ON LANDLORD’S DUTY TO KEEP RENTAL UNITS HABITABLE:

A landlord may not be legally required to repair the condition of a unit if the tenant has not fulfilled the tenant's own responsibilities, even if a rental unit is unlivable because of one of the conditions listed above. In addition to generally requiring a tenant to take reasonable care of the rental unit and common areas, the law lists specific things that a tenant must do to keep the rental unit in a liveable condition. Tenants are required to do all of the following:

Keep and maintain the premises "as clean and sanitary as the condition of the premises permits."

Properly use and operate gas, electrical, and plumbing fixtures. (Examples of improper use include overloading electrical outlets; flushing foreign objects down the toilet; and allowing any gas, electrical, or plumbing fixture to become filthy.)

Dispose of all trash and garbage in a clean and sanitary manner.

Not to destroy, damage, or deface the premises, or allow any others to do so.

Not remove or alter any part of the structure, dwelling unit, facilities, equipment, or appurtenances, or allow anyone else to do so.

Use the premises as a place to live, and use the rooms for their intended purposes. For example, the bedroom must be used as a bedroom, and not as a kitchen.

Notify the landlord when the dead bolt locks, window locks, or security devices don't operate properly.

If a tenant violates these requirements in some lesser way, the landlord is still responsible for providing a habitable dwelling and may be prosecuted for violating housing code standards. If the tenant fails to do one of these requirements, and the tenant's failure has either substantially caused an unlivable condition to occur or has substantially interfered with the landlord's ability to repair the condition, the landlord does not have to repair the condition. In addition, a tenant cannot withhold rent or sue the landlord for violating the implied warranty of habitability if the tenant has failed to meet these requirements.

 

As for less serious repairs, the rental agreement or lease agreement may require either the landlord or the tenant to fix or repair a particular item. Items covered by the rental or lease agreement might include refrigerators, washing machines, parking places, or swimming pools. These items are usually considered "amenities," and their absence does not make the rental dwelling unit unfit for living. The enforcement of these agreements to repair is also outline in the rental or lease agreement.

 

Stay tuned for the next article, in which I will further discuss the tenant’s responsibilities to maintain the premises.

 

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If you have a question about managing property and would like Property Management Expert Candy Livesey to answer it, call her at (562) 236-0102, or click here to email her. Candy works for Ambassador Property Management, a professional management company specializing in the care and maintenance of investment property.

Resident property management expert explains maintenance responsibilities.

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