You are, apparently, a good friend of this tenant. I think he may have recourse to legal help.
The premises appear to violate the statutory requirements for habitability, and the landlord appears to have violated his duties as landlord (Civil Code sections 1941, 1941.1,1941.3). Inspection by a housing authority might be required to provide authoritative evidence of the dilapidation.
If this case goes to court, judgment for the tenant would seem to be a slam dunk if the case is competently presented to the judge. But if your tenant cannot afford an attorney, you may still be able to obtain one, because Section 1174.2 provides for an award of attorney fees and costs if the tenant prevails. In addition, the judge can reduce the rent due in the past, can reduce the rent due in the future, can order the landlord to make the required repairs, and can retain jurisdiction until the repairs are made. That means that an attorney who takes the case can get his fees and costs back. He can also feel some satisfaction in obtaining justice for an abused tenant.
I suggest that you contact local attorneys, find someone who has argued a number of unlawful detainer cases. If there is a legal aid office in the area, they would, I am sure, be glad to represent your man. A little publicity could put some pressure on the owner to rectify the situation.
Best of luck!
If the rental dwelling is truly uninhabitable, the tenant has no obligation to pay rent. Uninhabitability would be a defense to non-payment of rent. (Terminal illness would not be a viable defense). It is unlikely the tenant would be able to recover back half of the rent already paid over the past 5 years. Nevertheless, the landlord would still be able to evict the tenant and recover possession of the premises due to non-payment of rent over the past several months.
Frank W. Chen has been licensed to practice law in California since 1988. The information presented here is general in nature and is not intended, nor should be construed, as legal advice for a particular case. This Avvo.com posting does not create any attorney-client relationship with the author. For specific advice about your particular situation, please consult with your own attorney.