Generally, the implied warranty of habitability requires a landlord to maintain a rental property in a manner that makes it livable. However, each state interprets the warranty differently. California law is much more specific than many other states about what's required for a rental unit to be habitable. It also gives tenants a wide range of options to deal with a breach of the warranty.
California’s implied warranty of habitability is very specific
The California Code has very detailed laws that specifically define the obligations of a landlord or renting agency.1 To be considered habitable under state law, a rental unit must have:
- Waterproofed and weather-protected roof and exterior walls
- Unbroken doors and windows
- Plumbing or gas facilities in good working order
- A water supply that produces hot and cold running water and is connected to a sewage disposal system
- Heating facilities in good working order
- Electrical lighting with proper wiring
- A building and grounds that are free of garbage and pests
- An adequate number of garbage cans in good condition
- Well-maintained floors, stairways, and railings
- A locking mail receptacle for each unit in all "residential hotels" (that is, buildings with six or more guestrooms2)
Because of the specificity of the California Code, there has been little need for courts to weigh in on what issues would be considered a breach of the warranty. Keep in mind, however, that the warranty of habitability does not apply if any of the above issues are caused by either the renter or the renter’s invited guests.
Landlord are allowed a “reasonable” amount of time to fix the issue
California law does not specify the exact amount of time the landlord has to resolve a breach of the warranty. That means it falls under “reasonable person” standard. A reasonable person would expect broken plumbing to be fixed very quickly, for instance, whereas a lack of garbage cans could be dealt with over a longer period of time.
If the tenant notified the landlord of the issue, and a repair wasn't made within 30 days of that date, there is a “rebuttable presumption” that the warranty of habitability was violated. In a legal sense, this means that the renter wouldn’t have to introduce any evidence if the case went to court—instead, the burden of proof would be exclusively on the landlord. But even if it’s been fewer than 30 days since the landlord was notified, a tenant can still consider using one of the legal tactics described below. A renter is never required to stay in a rental for 30 days if a serious health risk exists.
Tenants have several options to deal with a breach of the warranty
California law provides renters with a lot of protection. Its code is quite liberal in terms of the remedies it allows (that is, the actions a tenant can take if their landlord has violated the warranty).
For instance, California allows a remedy of “repair and deduct,” meaning tenants can make the repairs themselves and deduct the cost of such repairs up to one month’s rent.3 Courts in California have also ruled that a tenant's duty to pay rent is dependent upon the residence being habitable.4 So, if the necessary repairs would cost more than a month’s rent, it’s legal for tenants to withhold a portion of their rent until the issue is resolved. Finally, renters may walk away from their lease completely if the repairs are not made after a reasonable period of time—a process referred to as “constructive eviction.”
California has several of the largest cities in the country, and each city may have its own local ordinances. Tenants should consider consulting with an attorney before taking any of the steps mentioned above to ensure they understand the laws where they live.
 Cal. Health & Safety Code § 50519
The information provided on this website does not, and is not intended to, constitute legal advice.