California Repair and Maintenance Laws: Rights and Responsibilities

This complete guide will teach you everything you need to know about California’s repair and maintenance laws. From landlord responsibilities to tenant’s rights to repairs and a habitable dwelling, you’ll learn the regulations crucial to building an unbreakable tenancy and maintaining a rental property in the Golden State.

Rachel Robinson
Last Updated
January 22, 2024
California Repair and Maintenance Laws: Rights and Responsibilities

In the realm of California real estate, the landmark case of Green v. Superior Court set a critical precedent: landlords are obligated to ensure that their rental properties are not only in good repair but also meet fundamental structural, health, and safety standards. Understanding California's repair and maintenance laws is vital for landlords and tenants alike, as these regulations define their duties and rights, forming the backbone of unbreakable tenancies.

For landlords, staying abreast of your duties in keeping properties up to code is not just about compliance with state laws; it's a commitment to providing habitable living spaces, key to nurturing positive relationships with tenants.

On the flip side, renters are entitled to a home that meets basic standards of habitability. They must be knowledgeable about their own responsibilities and aware of the steps to take should the property fall short of these requirements.

This guide unravels the complexities of California's repair and maintenance statutes, shedding light on the responsibilities, required standards, and the options available for addressing repair issues. Embark on this journey with us as we navigate essential aspects that mold the landlord-tenant relationship in the Golden State.

California landlord responsibilities for repairs

California rental owners are responsible for repairing any issues that may threaten health or safety in a rental unit, but they are specifically required to keep the following amenities in good working condition:

  • Heating and other electrical systems.
  • Hot and cold potable water.
  • Plumbing fixtures.
  • Wiring.
  • Required ventilation and lighting.
  • Smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors.
  • Weather protection on exterior doors/window seals.
  • Common areas in an apartment building and other multi-unit properties.
  • Anything that may make the rental property damp/moldy.
  • Adequate garbage storage.
  • Exterior locks.

It's important to note that if any of these amenities stop working properly, the landlord is responsible for making repairs.

California tenants' responsibilities for repairs

Generally, California renters are obligated to keep rental units in a clean and sanitary state. This includes handling minor necessary repairs, like changing light bulbs and ensuring the space remains neat. For more substantial issues, tenants are expected to quickly inform the landlord.

Tenants are also responsible for repairing any damage they cause to the property through deliberate or careless actions. This may include damage caused by lack of cleanliness or misuse of any of the rental property's amenities or fixtures.

Repair and maintenance timeline

Landlords are legally required to act on maintenance requests within a certain number of days. This prevents tenants from living in potentially uninhabitable conditions for extended periods of time, and, in many cases, also allows the issue to be taken care of before it has the opportunity to get worse.

Repair requests

To make a repair request, California renters must notify the landlord, in writing or verbally, of the amenities that require maintenance. It should be noted that written notices carry more weight in the eyes of the law than verbal notices.

Making the repair

After receiving reasonable notice from a tenant, California rental owners have 30 days by default to make the requested repairs [California Civil Code § 1942(b) (2021)]. However, landlords or tenants may request less time for repairs, such as in emergency situations, if there is a valid, documentable reason.

California tenant rights if repairs aren't made

If the landlord fails to make the requested repair in a reasonable time (30 days by default), tenants can take several actions:

  • Utilize the repair-and-deduct approach if the costs of the legally required repairs do not exceed one month's rent, and deduct the repair's expenses from the next rent payment. This method can only be used twice in any 12 months [Cal. Civ. Code § 1942 (2021)]. If tenants do not follow California's strict repair and deduct regulations, they risk an eviction lawsuit.
  • File an injunction against the landlord, forcing the landlord to make the repairs and/or recovering the cost of damages.
  • Abandon a rental unit if its condition violates the implied warranty of habitability, breaking the lease and relieving the tenant from future rent obligations.
  • Withhold rent or stop paying rent when the landlord's failure to repair damage affects safety and health codes, and thus, basic habitability. However, tenants withholding rent are still required by California law to pay rent money, even if not directly to the landlord. Rent, instead, can be paid into an escrow account as established by the court.

Landlord retaliation in California

Like in many other states, it's illegal for California landlords to retaliate against tenants for taking protected actions including:

  • Good-faith complaints about health, safety, or maintenance violations.
  • Participation in a tenant union or organization.
  • Winning a habitability case.
  • Exercising any legal or contractual right.

Raised rent, reduced services, denied access, and disclosed immigration status when rent is current are all considered forms of retaliation in California.

Timely repairs for successful tenancies

In California, the harmonious balance between tenant welfare and landlord responsibilities hinges on adhering to the state's repair and maintenance laws. Landlords must be responsive to repair requests, as required by California law, to ensure the tenant's health and safe living conditions. If repairs aren't made in the default period, tenants have the legal right to take action, including methods like the repair-and-deduct remedy, suing the landlord, or withholding rent.

This mutual understanding and adherence to repair regulations is key to fostering sustainable landlord-tenant relationships. It's a dual commitment: landlords protect their investments and uphold legal standards, while tenants enjoy a secure and habitable environment. Embracing these responsibilities paves the way for successful, long-lasting tenancies in the Golden State.

Interested in learning about additional landlord-tenant laws in California? Check out our comprehensive guide on California's rental housing regulations, including security deposit laws, mandatory disclosures, lease terms, entry laws, and much more.

California repair and maintenance laws FAQ

Can a landlord refuse to make repairs in California?

No, California landlords cannot refuse to make repairs that are required by the law or rental agreement, even if the tenant is behind on rent or in violation of the lease's terms. If the landlord refuses to make repairs, they may be penalized.

How long does a landlord have to make repairs according to California law?

California landlords have 30 days to make repairs after receiving verbal or written notice of the issues from the tenant. However, tenants or the landlord can request a shorter time period if there's a documentable, valid reason, such as in the case of urgent repairs.

Do California landlords have to pay for an alternative accommodation during repairs?

No, California landlords are not required to pay for tenant's alternative accommodations while repairs are being made on the rental property. However, repairs that require tenants to vacate the rental unit will usually reduce or altogether eliminate the tenant's legal duty to pay rent.

Can California tenants report a landlord for health and safety code violations?

Yes, California tenants can report landlords to government authorities, such as the local inspections or code enforcement department, for code violations that affect health and safety. If an inspecting officer finds a violation, the renter may choose to cancel the rental agreement or sue to force the landlord to make repairs.

What can a tenant repair and deduct in California?

California tenants are only permitted to use the repair-and-deduct method for repairs landlords are legally required to make. Additionally, the repairs must be less than one month's rent and can only be used up to twice in any consecutive 12-month period.

Disclaimer: The information provided in this post does not, and is not intended to, constitute legal advice; instead, all information, content, and materials are for general informational purposes only. This content may not constitute the most up-to-date legal information. No reader, user, or browser of this article should act or refrain from acting on the basis of information herein without first seeking the advice of a legal professional.

Important Note: This post is for informational and educational purposes only. It should not be taken as legal, accounting, or tax advice, nor should it be used as a substitute for such services. Always consult your own legal, accounting, or tax counsel before taking any action based on this information.

Rachel Robinson

Rachel Robinson has 6 years of experience in writing, editing, and SEO, specializing in rental property and real estate. She excels in market trends and landlord-tenant dynamics, producing content that drives traffic and informs. Outside of work, she enjoys climbing Colorado's granite boulders.

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