This legal guide will introduce the reader to what is known as “the implied warranty of habitability," found in all residential leases. This guide will provide an overview of applicable codes that mandate the landlord/owner maintain in good repair those areas of the rental unit directly affecting the health and safety of the tenant.
Applicable California Law
Under California Civil Code Section 1941 “Lessor to make dwelling-house fit for its purpose," the landlord is obligated to maintain his rental units which are intended for human occupation (this means that commercial rentals do not hold this implied warranty) in a tenantable condition. This obligation is always present, even if the lease does not mention it, unless there is an agreement within the lease that states the tenant will be responsible for maintaining certain features of the unit that affect the unit’s habitability that the landlord would otherwise typically maintain. The specific language of Section 1941 is as follows: "The lessor of a building intended for the occupation of human beings must, in the absence of an agreement to the contrary, put it into a condition fit for such occupation, and repair all subsequent dilapidations thereof, which render it untenantable, except such as are mentioned in section nineteen hundred and twenty-nine."
The common questions then arises: What are those conditions that affect the habitability of a rental unit? This question is the most common of questions pertaining to the implied warranty of habitability because often-times tenants believe that an unrepaired condition in their unit affects their habitability when in reality it doesn’t; it may just cause an inconvenience. Fortunately, the California Civil Code has included the following language identifying those conditions that directly affect the habitability of a rental unit. This language is found in California Civil Code Section 1941.1. "Untenantable dwelling":
"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.
(i)A locking mail receptacle for each residential unit in a residential hotel, as required by Section 17958.3 of the Health and Safety Code. This subdivision shall become operative on July 1, 2008."