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In California, the law requires a landlord, in a residential tenancy, to maintain the dwelling so as to keep it in a habitable condition.  The landlord is also generally responsible for other "non-habitability" item repairs.  The tenant will be responsible for damages they caused by abuse or misuse of the property beyond normal wear and tear.

Habitable, or "Tenantable" means the dwelling is free from substantial defects (including  MOLD ) that affect health and safety.  Cosmetic defects generally do not qualify as habitability items.

Some rental agreements attempt to make the tenant responsible for this maintenance.   These provisions are generally not valid although under very limited circumstances, a tenant may accept a rental with certain defects in exchange for compensation.

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To protect yourself, consider the following:

1.  Do a check-in sheet upon moving in noting pre-existing problems, or potential ones.
2.   Make sure the items you control are properly maintained and not abused.
3.   When a repair is needed, document it in a written note to the landlord (politely) asking for the repair.  If the problem is serious, you must insist on a rapid response to that request.
4.   Cooperate with the Landlord in allowing access into the home for the repair.

If you do not get a favorable response,

1.   Take photos in case a dispute later arises.
2.   Contact your local housing building/code inspector for an on site inspection for building code or safety violations.
3.   Document the need for repairs in a letter to the landlord and that they have not been done despite your request.
4.   After a reasonable time, if the landlord does not repair the item, repair it and deduct the cost from the rent (limited to one month's rent -- see Civil Code 1942).
5.  Withhold the rent pending repairs.
6.  Move out and declare the lease to be terminated.
Regarding options  #4, #5 or  #6 above:
Action like this should NOT be taken without the specific advice of an Attorney to be sure they apply to any specific situation..  An error in analysis by the Tenant may result in a swift eviction and a very bad mark on their credit.  When the items in need of repair do not affect habitability, they do not lend themselves to this type of action.  The Landlord, however, may still be in breach of contract giving rise to certain other rights in favor of the tenant.

The general standards for habitability are set out in a law known as Civil Code section 1941.1 which states

A dwelling shall be deemed untenantable for purposes of Section 1941 if it substantially lacks any of the following affirmative standard characteristics or is a residential unit described in Section 17920.3 or 17920.10 of the Health and Safety Code:
(a) Effective waterproofing and weather protection of roof and exterior walls, including unbroken windows and doors.
(b) Plumbing or gas facilities that conformed to applicable law in effect at the time of installation, maintained in good working order.
(c) A water supply approved under applicable law that is under the control of the tenant, capable of producing hot and cold running water, or a system that is under the control of the landlord, that produces hot and cold running water, furnished to appropriate fixtures, and connected to a sewage disposal system approved under applicable law.
(d) Heating facilities that conformed with applicable law at the time of installation, maintained in good working order.
(e) Electrical lighting, with wiring and electrical equipment that conformed with applicable law at the time of installation, maintained in good working order.
(f) Building, grounds, and appurtenances at the time of the commencement of the lease or rental agreement, and all areas under control of the landlord, kept in every part clean, sanitary, and free from all accumulations of debris, filth, rubbish, garbage, rodents, and vermin.
(g) An adequate number of appropriate receptacles for garbage and rubbish, in clean condition and good repair at the time of the commencement of the lease or rental agreement, with the landlord providing appropriate serviceable receptacles thereafter and being responsible for the clean condition and good repair of the receptacles under his or her control.
(h) Floors, stairways, and railings maintained in good repair.

 

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California law for San Diego is applied in these pages.  Such laws may or may not be applicable in other jurisdictions.  The information provided herein is of a general nature and is not intended to be taken as specific legal advice.  For legal advice in a particular situation, promptly consult with an appropriate attorney.