Landlords in California are required to maintain livable conditions in any apartment they rent. When they don’t, state law also allows tenants to make necessary repairs and deduct the cost from their rent.
California doesn't lay out a strict timeline for the repair and deduct process, meaning that tenants may have to wait as long as a month after notifying their landlord of the problem before dealing with it themselves. That being said, tenants are allowed to spend up to one month's rent on the repair—a higher cap than in many other states.
Only certain issues qualify for repair and deduct
Tenants cannot deduct just any repair from their rent. The issue must be a breach of California's implied warranty of habitability,1 which means whatever is broken somehow affects a tenant’s health or safety and makes the apartment unlivable. This includes electrical issues, broken windows, and even rat infestations.
If a tenant or someone who visited their apartment caused the issue that needs repair, the repair and deduct remedy no longer applies.2 The same is true if a pet caused the damage.
Tenant must notify their landlord before using repair and deduct
Before making any repairs, a tenant must inform their landlord that something needs fixing so they have a chance to make the repairs themselves or hire someone to make them. A tenant should tell a landlord what items need repair and the estimated cost of the repair.
Although notice can be given to a landlord orally or in writing,3 as a rule of thumb, a tenant should give notice in writing so there’s proof that a landlord was notified in the case of a dispute. A tenant's best bet is sending a letter by certified mail, with return receipt requested.4
Landlords have up to 30 days to make a repair
Once a landlord is aware of the needed repairs, they have a reasonable time in which to make them.5 While 30 days is often considered a reasonable amount of time, a shorter period can also be considered reasonable depending on the specific case. For example, if there is a hole in a tenant’s roof and the weekend forecast says rain, then a reasonable amount of time for the repair may be only one day.
Tenants can't spend more than one month’s rent on repairs
If a landlord ignores the request for repairs and it falls on a tenant to make them, they can only spend up to one month’s rent either making the repair themselves or hiring a professional to do it.6 When the next rent payment is due, a tenant can deduct the actual cost of repairs. It’s a good idea for a tenant to make a copy of any receipts or invoices and submit it with rent when claiming a deduction.
It should be noted that a tenant in California can only use the repair and deduct remedy two times within a year.7 As an alternative, a tenant can choose to break the lease and move out of the apartment.8
Tenants can be sued or evicted if the issue is not severe enough
There are risks to a tenant if they try to claim a deduction for a repair that didn’t affect their health or safety:9
- A landlord can sue a tenant to get any deducted money back
- A landlord can evict a tenant for failing to pay the full rent
Likewise, if a tenant didn’t give a landlord notice or wait a reasonable amount of time before making the repair and claiming a deduction, they may be court-ordered to pay the rent in full.10
The information provided on this website does not, and is not intended to, constitute legal advice.