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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.


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.   Look up your local city, town or county government office to see if thee are any housing building/code inspectors they can provide for an on site inspection.
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

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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.