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California Landlord’s Duty to Repair


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Duty to Repair

The tenant’s responsibility to pay rent depends on the landlord’s fulfilling his legal duty to maintain the property and keep it in good repair. Obviously,

then, keeping up rental property should be something every landlord takes seriously.




There are several state and local laws that set housing standards for residential rental property. These laws require landlords to put their rental apartments and houses in good condition before

renting them, and keep them that way while people live there. Here is a list of the laws you need to know about.

California’s State Housing Law.

Also known as the state building standards Code, lists property owners’ general obligations to keep residential property in livable condition. Health and Safty Code §§ 17900–17997.8, refers to housing standards. contained in the uniform housing Code enforced by local governments, of the city or county where you own rental property to see which local laws apply to your property. Civil Code Sections 1941.1–.3. this state statute lists the minimum legal requirements for a rental dwelling to be “tenantable,” or legal to rent to tenants. If your property doesn’t meet these requirements—for example, if it has a leaking roof—a tenant may be excused by a judge from paying full rent for the period of time the residence was defective.

Civil Code § 1941.1 -.3

This code lists the minimum legal requirements for a residential rental unit, to be tenable. If the property doesn’t come up to these standards by meeting the requirments set down in this statute, the the property is untenable, and cannot be rented without first repairing, and if already occupied then repaired as soon as possible. There are overlapping laws and all of them must be considered and met. For example Civil Code § 1941.1 requires only that “hot water” be available, while the Uniform Housing Code requires that the water heater be able to heat the water to 110° Fahrenheit.)

Civil Code Section 1941.4 and Public Utilities Code Section 788.

These statutes make residential landlords responsible for installing a telephone jack in each of their rental units and placing and maintaining inside phone wiring. Health and Safety Code Section 13113.7. this state statute requires all units in multi-unit buildings to have smoke and carbon dioxide detectors.

Smoke detectors must be installed in every bedroom, and one outside in the hallway. Also one detector must be installed on every level, i.e. upstairs, the main floor and basement.

As of January 1, 2014, all smoke alarms installed in residential rental units must be on the State Fire Marshal’s list of approved devices. In order to be on the list of approved devices, the device must:

  1. Display the date of manufacture on the device
  2. Provide a place on the device where the date of installation can be written
  3. Incorporate a hush feature
  4. Incorporate an end-of-life feature that provides notice that the device needs to be replaced; and
  5. Contain a non-replaceable, non-removable battery that is capable of powering the smoke alarm for a minimum of 10 years (this last requirement applies only if the device is battery operated).

Owners’ Obligations

Under current law, only owners of multi-family rental units are responsible for testing and maintaining the devices, while owners of single family units are under no such obligation. However, as of January 1, 2014, owners of both, multi-family and single family rental units who rent or lease their property will be responsible for testing and maintaining the smoke alarms within all of the units in, or on, their properties. In the case of apartment buildings with two or more units, landlords will be responsible for testing and maintaining the devices in every unit, including vacant units.

In order to facilitate the owner’s obligation to test and maintain the devices, owners or their agents are permitted to enter the unit for the purposes of installing, repairing, testing, and/or maintaining the devices. However, owners are required to provide tenants with reasonable notice, in writing, of their intent to enter the unit prior to going in. Reasonable notice is generally considered to be 24 hours in advance of entering, and entrance may be made only during normal business hours, (generally, Monday

through Friday between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m.). Of course, where a tenant grants permission or requests the landlord to enter on days other than those listed above, it is perfectly acceptable to do so.

Additionally, owners are required to ensure that smoke alarms are operable at the time a new tenancy is created. However, during the course of the tenancy, the tenant has the obligation to notify the owner once the tenant becomes aware of a problem with the smoke alarm and, of course, the owner is then required to correct any reported deficiencies in the smoke alarm.

Tenant’s responsibility for repairs

Tenants are required by law to take reasonable care of their rental units, as well as common areas such as hallways and outside areas. Tenants must act to keep those areas clean and undamaged. Tenants also are responsible for repair of all damage that results from their neglect or abuse, and for repair of damage caused by anyone for whom they are responsible, such as family, guests, or pets.101 Tenants’ responsibilities for care and repair of the rental unit are discussed in detail on pages 26-27.



Under certain circumstances a Tenant can make repairs to the rental unity, and deduct the cost of those repairs from his/her rent.


For a tenant to utilize this law, he/she must give the landlord written notice of the delapidation that renders the Unit uninhabitable. If the landlord fails to make the repairs within 30 days of the notice, then the tenant can make the repairs and deduct the cost from his/her rent. The amount of the cost cannot be more than one months rent, and the tenant can only use this provision twice in a 12 month period.

The 30 day period is a rebuttable presumption that that amount of time is reasonable. This means that the tenant can, under certain circumstances do the repairs quicker than the 30 days if the delapidation is so serious that he/she cannot live with it.

Instead of makeing the “deduct and repairs” the tenant can elect to vacate the premises and not have any further obligation for rent under the lease or rental agreement.

The tenant’s remedy under subdivision (a) shall not be available if the condition was caused by the violation of Section 1929 or 1941.2.



California Landlord’s Discrimination


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   There was a time, not so very long ago, when a landlord could refuse to rent to someone, or to evict a tenant for any reason whatsoever. If he didn’t like the tenant’s skin color, religion, or national origin. all sorts of groups, including african-americans, Asians, Jews, Hispanics, unmarried couples, gays, families with children, and the disabled, were at the mercy of landlord’s prejudices. The days of legal discrimination are no longer tolerated. Federal, State, and local laws provide penalties for landlords who discriminate on the basis of race, religion, sex, age, and a number of other categories. The categories named in the various statutes are not the only groups that are protected The California supreme Court, as the court often does, took on the role of the legislation, and legislated, prohibiting discrimination based on “personal characteristics” or “personal traits,” meaning a person’s geographical origin, personal beliefs, or physical attributes There are legal reasons to turn down prospective tenants, such as a bad credit history or too many tenants for the size of the rental unit. There are special rules applying to landlords who share their premises with tenants. Legal Reasons for Refusing to Rent to a Tenant the most important decision a landlord makes, save possibly for deciding whether to purchase rental property . You are legally free to choose among prospective tenants as long as your decisions are based on valid business criteria, such as an applicant’s ability to pay the rent and properly maintain the property. You can legally refuse to rent to individuals with bad credit histories, unsteady employment histories, or even low incomes that you reasonably regard as insufficient to pay the rent. These reasons are reasonably related to your right to run your business in a competent, profitable manner, or your “legitimate or valid business interests”. If a person who has one or more obvious “bad tenant risk” if the person happens to be a member of a minority group, you are still on safe legal ground as long as you are consistent in your screening and treat all tenants more or less equally—for example,

  • you always require a credit report for individuals applying for the rental unit.

  • you are not applying a generalization about a particular group of peoplel, and

  • you consistently document your legal reasons for not renting to a prospective tenant.

    It is important that you follow the rules, and that if you refuse to rent to a person who happens to be african-american, has children, or speaks only Spanish, be sure you document your legitimate business reasons why this person is not qualified, such as insufficient income, or prior evictions.


    Federal, State and local Fair Housing Administrations, will be knocking at your door if you are turning down qualified individuals in favor of a particular group, or eliminating a particular group of individuals.

    Acceptable Reasons to refuse an applicant

    Acceptable reasons for denial are requirements that you establish before a prospective tenants

    even apply. For example, a requirement had an eviction for nonpayment of rent is “objective”

    because it is a matter of history. This criteria can be answered in the affirmative or negative.i.e. “yes” or “no.”

    Some accepted examples of allowable, objective criteria for choosing tenants:

  • No negative references from previous landlords

  • Sufficient income to pay the rent, and

  • A good credit history

    Married and Un-married couples

    If the applicants are unmarried, be sure to consider both of their incomes. If, however, one has good

    credit, and no evictions, and the other has bad credit and evictions, the bad information may be reason enough to select another person, or couple with good credit.


    Incomplete or Inaccurate Rental Application


    Your application form will provides you with all the necessary information. If a tenant fails to

    complete your application, or lies about a material

    fact, then you are certainly within your rights to refuse to rent to that individual.


    As part of the application, the tenant will have to come up with the legally allowed credit check

    funds, and if the tenant refuses, then again you can

    refuse the applicant.




    There is no law that compels you to rent to a person with a pet. and you can restrict the types of

    pets you accept. Further you can allow some tenants to keep a pet and say no to others—

    because “pet owners,” unlike members of a religion or race, are not as a group protected by

    antidiscrimination laws. The issue of pets is a contractual issue, if your lease states that pets are not allowed then the tenant is in breach of the lease if they obtain a pet. The fact that other tenants have pets is no defense to a 3 day notice to

    comply with the terms of the lease or quit. Keep in mind that you cannot refuse to rent to someone

    with an animal if that animal is a properly trained

    “service” dog for a physically or mentally disabled person.


    Other types of Discrimination


  • Advertising that indicates that the preferred tenant criteria is based on race, religion, or any other protected category;

  • falsely stating that a rental unit is unavailable to a person of a protected class;

  • Having a more restrictive standards for a protected class of individuals.

  • refusing to negotiate for a rental agreement or lease with a person who is a member of a protected class;

  • Providing inferior housing conditions, privileges, or services to a protected class;

  • terminating a tenancy for a discriminatory reason

  • providing or suggesting different housing arrangements

  • refusing to allow a disabled person to make “reasonable medications” to his living space, or

  • Refusing to make “reasonable accommodations” in rules or services for disabled persons.



California Security Deposit

California Landlord Security Deposit


In California the landlord security deposit laws are very clear cut. At the beginning of the tenancy, you most likely will require the tenant to pay a security deposit. You can use the security deposit if the tenant moves out owing rent, damages the rental unit beyond normal wear and tear, or leaves the rental less clean than when the tenant moved in. Under California Landlord Tenant law, a lease or rental agreement cannot say that a security deposit is “nonrefundable.” This means that when the tenant moves, you must return the security deposit, unless you use it for a lawful purpose.

California law specifically allows the landlord to use a tenant’s security deposit for four purposes:

  • For unpaid rent;
  • For cleaning the rental unit when the tenant moves out, but only to make the unit as clean as it was when the tenant first moved in;
  • For repair of damages, other than normal wear and tear, caused by the tenant or the tenant’s guests; and
  • If the lease or rental agreement allows it, for the cost of restoring or replacing furniture, furnishings, or other items of personal property (including keys), other than because of normal wear and tear.

All of these charges are considered to be Security Deposits:

  1. Last month’s rent,
  2. security deposit,
  3. pet deposit,
  4. key fee, or
  5. cleaning fee.

The maximum Security Deposit allowable is two times the monthly rent. The security deposit may be a combination, for example, of the last month’s rent plus a specific amount for security. No matter what these payments or fees are called, the law considers them all, as well as any other deposits or charges, to be part of the security deposit.

The exceptions to this rule are the application fee, and the screening fee.

A landlord can withhold from the security deposit only those amounts that are reasonably necessary for these purposes. The security deposit cannot be used for repairing defects that existed in the unit before you moved in, for conditions caused by normal wear and tear during your tenancy or previous tenancies, or for cleaning a rental unit that is as clean as it was when you moved in.216 A rental agreement or lease can never state that a security deposit is “nonrefundable.”217

California Security Deposit law gives, you 21 calendar days or less after the tenant moves to either:

  • Send a full refund of your security deposit, or
  • Mail or personally deliver to the tenant an itemized statement that lists the amounts of any deductions from the security deposit and the reasons for the deductions, together with a refund of any amounts not deducted.

You also must send copies of receipts for the charges that the you incurred to repair or clean the rental unit and that you deducted from the security deposit. You must include the receipts with the itemized statement.

If you or your employees did the work – The itemized statement must describe the work performed, including the time spent and the hourly rate charged. The hourly rate must be reasonable.

  • If another person or business did the work – You must provide the tenant with copies of the person’s or business’ invoice or receipt. You must provide the person’s or business’ name, address, and telephone number on the invoice or receipt, or in the itemized statement.
  • If you deducted for materials or supplies – You must provide you a copy of the invoice or receipt. If the item used to repair or clean the unit is something that you purchased regularly or in bulk, you must reasonably document the item’s cost (for example, by an invoice, a receipt or a vendor’s price list)
  • If the landlord made a good faith estimate of charges – The landlord is allowed to make a good faith estimate of charges and include the estimate in the itemized statement in two situations: (1) the repair is being done by the landlord or an employee and cannot reasonably be completed within the 21 days, or (2) services or materials are being supplied by another person or business and the landlord does not have the invoice or receipt within the 21 days. In either situation, the landlord may deduct the estimated amount from your security deposit. In situation (2), the landlord must include the name, address and telephone number of the person or business that is supplying the services or materials.
    Within 14 calendar days after completing the repairs or receiving the invoice or receipt, you must mail or deliver to the tenant a correct itemized statement, the invoices and receipts described above, and any refund to which the tenant is entitled.


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California Eviction is an offshoot of Landlord’s Legal Line that was established in 1996, when the internet was still in its infancy.
The concept of the site was and always has been to make the legal aspects of Property Management available to Owners and Property Managers. Giving them the tools to manage their properties in full compliance with the Laws of the State of California. We have arranged the site so that the information is at your fingertips. No more scouring the web for information that may or may not be current. Unlike some sites, we are only for California Landlords.
California Eviction has included articles on subjects that are important, and may not be generally known to Landlords and in many instances even to California Attorneys. The site was built and is managed by Kenneth E. Wimer, Esq., a California Attorney who has been specializing in Landlord Tenant Law since 1979.
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