If you live in California and your landlord is ignoring or refusing your request to make a repair, you have several legal options available to you. The least serious course of action is referred to as "repair and deduct"—a process where you make the necessary repairs and subtract the cost from your next rent payment. This isn't a step to take lightly, however. If you don't follow the steps laid out by state law, you could be evicted by your landlord.
What repairs are covered?
The big thing to understand about repair and deduct is that it can only be used for serious problems. Is the bathroom doorknob loose, or the paint is cracking on one wall? Those issues aren’t major enough to warrant using repair and deduct. Now, if your stove has stopped working, or there’s a hole in one of your windows—those are big enough to qualify. In legal terms, the problem has to be a breach of something called the implied warranty of habitability. Luckily for you, California law is very specific about what’s considered a breach.
Also, dust off your lease and take another look! If the repair is your landlord’s responsibility according to the lease, then you’re allowed to repair and deduct—even if it’s not a breach of your state’s warranty.
If you (or any of your family members, pets, or guests) caused the damage to the rental property, you can't repair and deduct. Sorry.
How much can I spend on the repair?
In California, you can’t deduct more than one month’s rent for a repair. For bigger, more expensive repairs, you may have to withhold rent or move out.
Do I have to hire a professional to make the repair?
California law doesn’t require you to hire a professional. But if you do the work yourself you can’t charge for it. You could only charge for the cost of materials or the parts. From a legal perspective, it’s generally better to hire a licensed repair person.
What process should I follow to repair and deduct?
It’s really important that you carefully follow the process laid out by the law. If you don’t, you could be ordered by the court to pay your rent in full—even if the issue would have qualified for repair and deduct otherwise. In California, the law requires you to follow these steps to legally repair and deduct:
- Notify your landlord of the problem. Do this in writing, ideally by certified mail with return receipt requested.
- Give your landlord a “reasonable” amount of time to make the repair.
- If your landlord hasn’t fixed the problem after a reasonable amount of time, hire someone to make the repair (or make the repair yourself).
- Deduct the cost of the repair from your next rent payment. Include an itemized bill.
Document everything. If your landlord ends up taking you to court, you want to present the judge with a rock-solid case that proves you deducted a fair amount of rent. Take before and after pictures of the area of the apartment that was repaired; keep copies of any letters or emails you send to your landlord; and hold onto all the receipts from the repair work.
What’s considered a “reasonable” amount of time in California?
Unfortunately, there isn’t a clear-cut answer in California. State law says 30 days is often considered a reasonable amount of time. But it also depends on your specific situation. If the issue is a serious threat to your health or safety, you can make a good case that waiting 30 days would be too long. For instance, if your apartment was broken into and the front lock was destroyed, a reasonable amount of time to wait for a repair might closer be 24 hours.
Is there a limit on how many times I can repair and deduct?
Yes. California law also states that you can only use repair and deduct twice in one 12-month period.
Are there any risks to using repair and deduct?
Short answer: yes. Your landlord might sue you to get back the missing rent. Or they could file an eviction notice based on nonpayment of rent. If the problems with your apartment weren't serious enough to justify using repair and deduct—or if you didn't give the landlord enough notice or a reasonable amount of time to make repairs—the court will likely rule that you have to pay the full rent, or even that the eviction process can continue. It's always a good idea to talk to a lawyer or a tenant's rights association before trying to repair and deduct.
Do I have any other options besides repair and deduct?
As a tenant in California, you have a few different options if your landlord has breached the warranty of habitability. If the repair would cost more than a month’s rent, you could instead stop paying rent until your landlord makes the fix. This is known as “rent withholding,” and is a more serious approach than repair and deduct. Your final resort as a tenant is claiming constructive eviction and abandoning your rental entirely.
The information provided on this website does not, and is not intended to, constitute legal advice.