THE IMPLIED WARRANTY OF HABITABILITY
Under California law, a landlord is required to provide a safe living environment for residential tenants. The failure of the landlord to provide a safe living environment can be a violation of law and the landlord may be civilly and criminally liable. If a landlord fails to provide a safe living environment, the lessee has the option of making the repairs themselves and deducting the cost of repair from rent or vacate the premise with no constraints. Not mentioned in the statute, but rather in case law, the landlord is liable for results of criminal acts suffered by tenants caused in part by a failure to provide adequate lighting and lock systems.
California’s Habitability Statute:
In order for a landlord to place a rental unit on the market, the landlord must meet the conditions laid out by California Civil Code §1941.1:
(a) A dwelling shall be deemed untenantable for purposes of Section 1941 if it substantially lacks any of the following affirmative standard characteristics or is a residential unit described in Section 17920.3 or 17920.10 of the Health and Safety Code:
(1) Effective waterproofing and weather protection of roof and exterior walls, including unbroken windows and doors.
(2) Plumbing or gas facilities that conformed to applicable law in effect at the time of installation, maintained in good working order.
(3) A water supply approved under applicable law that is under the control of the tenant, capable of producing hot and cold running water, or a system that is under the control of the landlord, that produces hot and cold running water, furnished to appropriate fixtures, and connected to a sewage disposal system approved under applicable law.
(4) Heating facilities that conformed with applicable law at the time of installation, maintained in good working order.
(5) Electrical lighting, with wiring and electrical equipment that conformed with applicable law at the time of installation, maintained in good working order.
(6) Building, grounds, and appurtenances at the time of the commencement of the lease or rental agreement, and all areas under control of the landlord, kept in every part clean, sanitary, and free from all accumulations of debris, filth, rubbish, garbage, rodents, and vermin.
(7) An adequate number of appropriate receptacles for garbage and rubbish, in clean condition and good repair at the time of the commencement of the lease or rental agreement, with the landlord providing appropriate serviceable receptacles thereafter and being responsible for the clean condition and good repair of the receptacles under his or her control.
(8) Floors, stairways, and railings maintained in good repair.
(9) A locking mail receptacle for each residential unit in a residential hotel, as required by Section 17958.3 of the Health and Safety Code. This subdivision shall become operative on July 1, 2008.
[CA Civil Code Sec. 1941.1]
Tenant Duties and Landlord Exemptions:
A landlord may be exempt from his or her duty to maintain the premises if the tenant substantially contributes to the destruction of the property. Under California Civil Code Section 1941.2, a tenant has the duty to:
(1) To keep that part of the premises which he occupies and uses clean and sanitary as the condition of the premises permits.
(2) To dispose from his dwelling unit of all rubbish, garbage and other waste, in a clean and sanitary manner.
(3) To properly use and operate all electrical, gas and plumbing fixtures and keep them as clean and sanitary as their condition permits.
(4) Not to permit any person on the premises, with his permission, to willfully or wantonly destroy, deface, damage, impair or remove any part of the structure or dwelling unit or the facilities, equipment, or appurtenances thereto, nor himself do any such thing.
(5) To occupy the premises as his abode, utilizing portions thereof for living, sleeping, cooking or dining purposes only which were respectively designed or intended to be used for such occupancies.
Legal Remedies for Tenant:
If the landlord fails to maintain the property and conduct repairs upon request of the tenant, the tenant may perform the repairs themselves and subtract the cost from the rent owed, or they may vacate the premises and be freed of obligations under the lease. [CA Civil Code Sec. 1942]. If the tenant opts to make the repairs themselves, they must be reasonable in estimating the cost of repair. Landlords may not collect rent for a property they have substantially failed to maintain. [CA Civil Code Sec. 1942.4].