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Tenant’s Rights to LandLord Repairs

Landlord-Tenant Attorney in San Francisco, California

In California, all tenants have the right to live in a safe and habitable home. Residential landlords must ensure that certain conditions are met, making the rental units clean, safe, sanitary, and habitable for potential renters. Part of this responsibility is to make timely and appropriate repairs. Suppose the landlord has refused to make repairs to increase the habitability of your rental unit. In that case, it is highly advisable to consult a seasoned San Francisco landlord-tenant lawyer to help you take legal actions and fight for your rights as a tenant. At Steven Adair MacDonald & Partners, P.C., we are dedicated to protecting our clients’ rights throughout the Bay Area in a wide range of residential and commercial landlord-tenant matters. We are here to advocate for you and to represent you in your habitability issues and landlord-tenant disputes.

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Breach of the Warranty of Habitability

Under California state law, landlords must keep their rental units in habitable condition and comply with all state and local health and safety codes. This is generally known as the “warranty of habitability.” In California, the implied warranty of habitability cannot be waived. Therefore, tenants are guaranteed a habitable rental home. In most states, an implied warranty of habitability means that landlords have the following responsibilities:
  • Effective waterproofing and weather protection
  • Keep electrical, sanitary, plumbing, heating, ventilating systems, and elevators in good working order
  • Keep the structural elements of the building safe and secured
  • Maintain public areas safe and clean
  • Floors, stairways, and railings are in good repair
  • Supply hot and cold water at all times
  • All areas are maintained free of garbage, rodents, and vermin
When a California landlord refuses to provide these basic requirements or fails to make repairs when necessary, the implied warranty of habitability has been breached. A tenant may have the right to sue the landlord in these situations. If you believe your landlord has breached the implied warranty of habitability under California law, seek legal advice from a reliable San Francisco landlord-tenant attorney to help you explore your options and determine your best course of action.

Tenant Options If the Landlord Refuses to Make Repairs

Sometimes, landlords intentionally neglect to perform necessary repairs, hoping that tenants in rental units will leave. This is a form of landlord harassment and you do not have to put up with it. As a tenant, you should not be afraid to enforce your right to reside in a safe and livable unit. A top-ranking landlord-tenant lawyer in San Francisco can help you know and fight for your rights as a tenant. You have several options for forcing a landlord to make necessary repairs, including:

Make a Written Request

If you have any repair issues in your rented home, you must inform your landlord of the issue in writing. The written request should state what repair is needed, what impact the defect has on the tenant, and whether the repair needed is urgent. It is important to document all repair issues in your unit and all communications you have with your landlord. You should keep a copy of the request and take photographs of the areas needing repair. These documents will prove that you have requested the repairs if there is a dispute later on.

Repair and Deduct

Depending on where you live, you might be eligible to use a legal procedure called “repair-and-deduct.” Under California Civil Code 1942, a tenant is allowed to repair and deduct. Tenants can only invoke the repair and deduct remedy when they meet specific criteria. If the tenant has already requested the repairs, but the landlord did not respond within the reasonable time frame, the tenant may make the repairs themselves and deduct the cost from the following month’s rent. There are limitations to this solution: you can’t deduct more than one month’s rent and you can only do this twice within 12 months. However, renters should be cautious when choosing this option. Some landlords may use it as an excuse to attempt an eviction for nonpayment of rent. Any tenant considering this option should consult a credible San Francisco landlord-tenant lawyer.

Call the Appropriate Code Enforcement Agency

If your landlord does not respond to your written requests for repairs, you may call the appropriate code enforcement agency to arrange a home inspection. Assuming the inspector finds code violations during the inspection, your landlord will be issued a Notice of Violation and be obligated to make the repairs or face monetary fines. Furthermore, it is also advisable to keep a copy of the inspector’s report for your records.

Withholding Rent

If your landlord has not met the responsibility of keeping your rental unit habitable, you might be able to stop paying any rent to the landlord until the repairs are made. It is also called rent withholding or rent escrowing. A tenant who plans to withhold some or all of their rent should notify the landlord of their intent. Before escrowing rent, tenants can cover their legal bases by making repair requests about all habitability conditions in specific, clear, and detailed language, ideally with multiple copies and photo evidence. Most states allowing rent withholding have very specific requirements. Tenants can withhold rent under the following circumstances:
  • The rental unit has become unlivable due to a lack of maintenance or repair.
  • The landlord was notified about the problem and failed to fix it within a reasonable time required by state law.
  • The tenant or a guest did not cause the problems.
Withholding rent is risky because failing to pay rent can be one of the grounds for your landlord to file an eviction lawsuit. If this happens and the judge decides that you weren’t justified in withholding rent, you can be evicted. This option must only be considered in the most serious situations. Before withholding rent, it is highly recommended to seek legal advice from a knowledgeable San Francisco landlord-tenant attorney because a landlord faced with a rent strike may attempt to evict for nonpayment.

File a Petition With the Local Rent Board

If you are rent-controlled under the San Francisco Rent Ordinance, you can file a petition with the San Francisco Rent Board claiming a “Decrease in Housing Services”. Such a petition demands that a tenant’s monthly rent be decreased to compensate for the reduced habitability of the rental unit. Rent Boards can also help oblige a landlord to make repairs by ordering additional rent reductions to continue until the landlord makes the necessary repairs. This is the safest option to use to get repairs as it does not entail the risks of rent withholding, but it can take months to get a hearing and your rent may be reduced less than you think it should be.

Vacate or Abandon the Premises

Generally, you have to give 30 days’ notice to end a monthly tenancy. Under California Civil Code 1942, if your rental unit is already considered uninhabitable and repairs haven’t been made despite your requests, you have the right to temporarily or permanently move out. This drastic action can be justified only when serious problems are involved in the rental unit, such as lack of essential services, presence of environmental health hazards, or the total or partial destruction of the premises. Suppose you’re considering moving out due to uninhabitable conditions. In that case, you should immediately speak to a skilled San Francisco tenant rights attorney before giving the landlord a notice of an intent to vacate.

Real Estate Disputes?

Whether you're dealing with a landlord-tenant dispute or addressing a real estate concern in California, our San Francisco real estate attorneys are here to protect your rights.

Call Our Experienced San Francisco Landlord-Tenant Lawyers Today!

Landlords are obligated to provide a habitable rental unit to all potential renters. This means it must be not only structurally sound, but also sanitary and safe. As a tenant, understanding your legal rights to a livable place in California will help you motivate your landlord to comply with the laws. Suppose your landlord is not making necessary repairs to make your residential unit habitable. In that case, it is highly recommended to seek legal assistance from our competent San Francisco landlord-tenant attorneys at Steven Adair MacDonald & Partners, P.C. Our landlord-tenant law firm has extensive experience in handling failure to repair cases, breach of the warranty of habitability, unjust eviction, and other landlord-tenant disputes. We will help you navigate the complex landlord-tenant laws in California. Schedule a consultation about the tenant’s rights to landlord repair issues in the Bay Area. We will review your case thoroughly and recommend the right course of action for your situation.
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