Uninhabitable Conditions and Constructive Eviction in California

jared-erondu-8130-copy-300x200California law guarantees tenants habitable conditions when they rent or lease from a landlord.  It is possible, due to the conditions of the rented unit, that a tenant will determine he or she simply can not live there anymore and vacate the unit. What rights does the tenant have if this occurs?

Guarantee of Habitability

California law guarantees that a landlord only rents or leases units that are considered habitable. This simply means that the dwelling is fit for a person to live there. However, the law is quite specific as to what it means for a dwelling to be considered “habitable.” California Civil Code requires that landlords must ensure that certain conditions exist before leasing a unit to a tenant including:

  • Effective waterproofing of the roof and exterior walls
  • Well-maintained plumbing and gas facilities that were up to code at the time of installation
  • A water supply that produces both hot and cold water
  • Appropriate heating facilities
  • Well maintained lighting
  • Building and grounds are kept sanitary and free from debris and pests
  • Sufficient trash cans or dumpsters
  • Well-maintained floors, stairways, and railings
  • Appropriate locks which includes a dead bolt lock on each main entry door and window security for any window that can open

The landlord is required to make any repairs to ensure that these conditions exist unless the tenant fails to keep the unit clean, fails to dispose of garbage properly, improperly uses the utilities, allows guests to damage the property, or uses the property in a manner for which it was not designed (for example, using a residence as a commercial property or the like).

Landlord’s Responsibility to Maintain

As everyone knows, houses and apartments suffer wear and tear, and eventually, parts of them quit working properly. Water heaters break down and roofs leak: It is a fact of life. Normally, if something breaks, you request that your landlord takes care of it, and it gets fixed. Ordinarily, your landlord has a grace period to take care of any repairs, which is usually 30 days from the time of the request. What are the options for a tenant if the landlord fails to take care of the problems in a reasonable time and the property becomes uninhabitable?

Uninhabitable Conditions

What conditions rise to the level of being uninhabitable? Each situation is based on the facts at hand, but generally, there must be serious risks to health and safety of the tenants to be considered as making the unit uninhabitable. A small leak in the roof ordinarily would not qualify as making the premises uninhabitable, but if the small leak creates a situation in which the unit is overgrown with a toxic mold, that would be considered uninhabitable.

Constructive Eviction

When the conditions reach the point that the premises are no longer habitable and the landlord has not fixed the underlying issues, Section 1942 of the California Civil Code allows the tenant to abandon the property under the principle of constructive eviction. This merely means that the landlord has effectively evicted the tenant by not ensuring that the premises are habitable. This remedy is not something to be undertaken lightly, however, as the tenant will be held accountable to the lease if the situation does not warrant abandonment of the property.

Landlord and tenant law can be complex. It often requires thorough documentation and a precise understanding of the issues at hand. An experienced and skilled attorney is often necessary to preserve a tenant’s rights and ensure that a favorable outcome is obtained. If you are facing uninhabitable conditions and your landlord is not cooperating, you may need an attorney to help you. The legal professionals at Willoughby Brod have helped tenants in the San Francisco area get the results they deserve for years. Set up your initial consultation by calling us at 800-427-7020 or by clicking here to see what we can do for you.

(image courtesy of Jared Erondu)