California Repair and Maintenance Laws for Tenants and Landlords in 2024

Published on Jun 14, 2024


California Repair and Maintenance Laws for Tenants and Landlords in 2024

California: where the weather's perfect, the lifestyle to die for, and landlord-tenant laws have you wishing you lived…anywhere else.

It ain’t all bad, though—whether you're a landlord or a tenant, we’re here to make navigating California’s repair and maintenance laws feel easier than a day at Santa Monica Beach.

Landlord Responsibilities in California

Being a landlord in California isn’t all about collecting rent and sailing off into the sunset. You've got a legal obligation to keep your property in good repair.

Let's break down what that means for you:

General Maintenance and Repair Obligations

California law is strict about keeping rental properties in top shape. California Civil Code Section 1941.1 spells out exactly what you, as a landlord, are responsible for.

Basically, your rental has to be habitable. That means watertight roof and exterior walls, functioning plumbing and gas systems, a reliable water supply (with hot AND cold water), and safe electrical systems. And don't forget about providing trash receptacles—like any household, your tenants need to be able to dispose of their trash curbside.

Now, let's talk timelines. Under California Civil Code Section 1942, if something breaks due to normal wear and tear, you are responsible for fixing it. How fast? The code gives you a “reasonable time,” which usually means up to 30 days for most repairs. But that can mean acting immediately for urgent repairs like a broken heater or a severe water leak.

Health and Safety Standards

Beyond just fixing a leaky faucet, under the Health and Safety Code (HSC), Californian landlords have a legal duty to ensure their rentals meet strict health and safety standards.

Here's a sneak peek of what California law demands in terms of health and safety:

  • Properties rented in CA need functioning plumbing, a working toilet and shower, running water, and a proper connection to a sewage disposal system.

  • Rentals need proper heating and ventilation to ensure a comfortable living environment. This includes making sure vents are working correctly, and there's no excess moisture or dampness in habitable rooms.

  • This is non-negotiable—you're responsible for keeping both the unit and common areas clean and free of any health hazards, including visible mold growth, vermin, and pest infestations.

  • Rentals also need to be structurally sound, with a solid foundation, sturdy floors, and safe stairways and railings. Walls, partitions, and supports should not be split, leaning, or buckling, and ceilings and roofs should not sag, split, or buckle.

  • Electrical systems must be up to code and in good working order. The same goes for gas facilities—safety first.

  • Make sure your property has accessible fire exits, operable deadbolt locks on main entry doors, and locking or security devices on windows. All areas should be free of combustible materials, and you must install working smoke detectors in all sleeping areas.

  • Each room should have natural lighting through windows or skylights, and windows must be able to open at least halfway for ventilation.

Implied Warranty of Habitability

In California, there's a legal concept called the “implied warranty of habitability.” This warranty, established in the landmark case Green v. Superior Court, means that even if it's not explicitly written in the lease, landlords are legally obligated to provide a livable space.

In Green v. Superior Court, the California Supreme Court ruled that all residential leases contain an implied warranty of habitability, meaning landlords must maintain their properties in a condition fit for people to live in. It was a landmark ruling for California renters, as it gave them legal recourse to ensure their rental properties were maintained in a livable condition.

Following the Green v. Superior Court decision, the principles of the implied warranty of habitability were codified in various sections of the California Civil Code, including the two aforementioned civil codes, 1941.1 and 1942.

The Code states that if your property doesn't meet these standards, your tenant has options. They can request repairs, withhold rent, or even sue you.

Retaliation Laws

State law is crystal clear: landlords cannot retaliate against tenants who request repairs, report code violations, or join a tenant's organization. Retaliation against a tenant for exercising those rights is illegal and can land you in hot water.

What does that mean for you? If a tenant does any of the above, you cannot respond by raising their rent, threatening eviction, or reducing their services. California Civil Code 1942.5 is clear on this: any action you take within 180 days of a tenant exercising their rights is presumed to be retaliatory and could land you in hot water with code enforcement.

This means the burden of proof is on YOU to show you had a valid reason for your actions, not on the tenant to prove you were retaliating. So, even if you have a legitimate reason for raising the rent or ending a tenancy, the timing could make it look suspicious.

Learn more: Steps to becoming a landlord.

Tenant Responsibilities in California

California tenants, like landlords, have their own set of responsibilities. It's not just about paying rent on time—you've got a role to play in keeping the property in good shape. After all, it's your home, even if you don't own it.

As outlined by the California Civil Code 1941.2, you’re legally required to keep the parts of the property you occupy clean. This includes disposing of rubbish, garbage, and waste and preventing damage caused by neglect.

The Code also requires tenants to be mindful of how they use the property and avoid causing damage beyond normal wear and tear. That means proper use of all electrical, gas, and plumbing fixtures.

Invitees are also mentioned. Any invited onto the property is not permitted to “destroy, deface, damage, impair or remove any part of the structure or dwelling unit or the facilities, equipment, or appurtenances.”

If you cause damage (or someone you’ve invited onto the property does), you're on the hook for repairs, and the cost could come out of your security deposit or, at worst, result in an eviction lawsuit.

Tenant Rights Under California Law

California law gives tenants some serious firepower when it comes to repairs and maintenance. If your landlord isn't holding up their end of the bargain, know that you've got options.

Repair and Deduct

Think your landlord is dragging their feet on a much-needed repair? California law gives you the right to repair. If your rental needs a fix that impacts habitability (and it's not your fault), you can get it repaired yourself and deduct the repair cost from your rent. This is called “repair and deduct” and has been codified under California Civil Code Section 1942.

But hold your horses—there are a few clauses you’ll need to take into consideration:

  • The repair can't cost more than one month's rent. So, if your rent is $1,500, you can't deduct $2,000 to replace a heating system.

  • You can only use this remedy twice in a 12-month period. Choose your battles wisely.

  • You must give your landlord written notice of the problem and a reasonable amount of time to fix it before you whip out your toolbox. Remember, 30 days notice is reasonable.

Learn more: California tenant rights for required repairs.

Withholding Rent

If your rental becomes unlivable due to serious, neglected repairs, you've got a powerful tool in your arsenal: rent withholding. Yup, you can legally stop paying rent until the issue is fixed. Just understand that this is a high-stakes move.

California Civil Code 1942 lays out the rules:

  • It’s gotta bad. We're not talking about a chipped paint job here. The problem has to be serious enough to make the place uninhabitable.

  • Thirty days apply here, too, so you can't just stop paying rent out of the blue. You need to give your landlord written notice of the problem and a reasonable amount of time to fix it.

Withholding rent is a last resort for a reason. If you don't follow the housing codes carefully, your landlord could try to evict you. And if the court doesn't agree that the issue was serious enough, you could be on the hook for all that back rent, plus potential legal fees.

So, before considering withholding rent, we recommend you talk to a lawyer. They’ll help you decide on the right course of action.

Breaking the Lease

If withholding rent isn’t a path you’d like to follow, Code 1942 also allows tenants to break their lease early due to the landlord's failure to maintain habitable conditions. The code allows tenants to vacate the premises and be discharged from further rent payments or performance of other conditions stipulated in the lease agreement.

Sure, a drastic step, but it's a legal option if your property owner neglects serious repairs that make the property unlivable.

Learn more: Understanding residential leases.

Repair Request Procedures and Timelines

Here's the smart way to handle repair requests in California:

  1. A text or phone call might seem easier, but a written request is your proof. There is no official documentation you need to fill out here. In writing, simply describe the problem, when it started, and any impact it's having on your living situation.

  2. Note the date you sent the request, establishing a timeline if your landlord doesn’t get the problem rectified in a “reasonable time.”

  3. A picture's worth a thousand words, especially in landlord-tenant disputes. Document the issue with clear photos or videos. They’ll help prove the severity of the problem and can be useful evidence later if needed.

  4. If you haven't heard back within a few days, don't be afraid to follow up politely. Keep a record of all communication, including emails, texts, and phone calls.

  5. If your landlord ignores your requests or takes an unreasonable amount of time (longer than 30 days), read up on the housing codes and know your rights.

Learn more: How to request repairs from your landlord.

How to Resolve Disputes

Unfortunately, even with the best intentions, disagreements can arise between landlords and tenants over repairs and maintenance. Before things escalate, here are some tips for both landlords and tenants for resolving disputes:

  1. Often, misunderstandings are at the root of the problem. A calm, respectful conversation can go a long way in finding a solution that works for both parties.

  2. We mentioned it for the tenants, but the same goes for landlords. Keep records of all repair requests, communication with the other party, and any relevant photos or videos. Documentation can be invaluable if the dispute escalates.

  3. If you can't agree, consider mediation. This involves a neutral third party who helps facilitate a conversation and find common ground. It's often less costly and stressful than going to court.

  4. Small claims court can be an option for smaller disputes (under $12,500 in California). It's a less formal setting where you can present your case without needing a lawyer.

  5. If you're a tenant and can't afford an attorney, legal aid organizations can provide free or low-cost assistance.

Additional Considerations

California's repair and maintenance laws are pretty comprehensive, but there are a few extra wrinkles you should know about, especially if you're dealing with unique properties or specific local rules.

Unique Rental Properties

Not all rental housing is created equal. If you're dealing with a rent-controlled property in a city like Los Angeles, there might be additional regulations on top of the state laws. These could impact everything from how much notice you need to give for repairs to what types of upgrades you're allowed to make. Historic properties might also have special rules to preserve their character. It's always wise to check the local ordinances to make sure you're in compliance.

Local Variations

California has a lot of cities and counties, each with its own personality and, sometimes, its own set of rules regarding real estate. While state law provides the foundation, local ordinances can add extra layers of complexity. Before you finalize any rental agreement, do your homework on the local rules—it could save you a lot of trouble down the line.

Insurance and Liability

Insurance is a must-have for both landlords and tenants. For landlords, it protects your investment from damage caused by things like fire, natural disasters, or even a tenant's negligence. For tenants, renter's insurance covers your personal belongings and can protect you from liability if you accidentally cause damage to the property.

Here's the thing: insurance policies and requirements can vary. Some landlords might require tenants to carry a certain amount of liability coverage, while others might include some coverage in the rent. It's important to understand what your policy covers (and what it doesn't) to avoid any nasty surprises down the road.

Learn more: How to manage properties as a first-time landlord.

Ensure Your Property Meets California's Standards

There you have it, folks—the Golden State’s rental repair and maintenance laws in a nutshell.

If you're still feeling overwhelmed or unsure about how to navigate these laws, don't worry—you're not alone. Many California landlords choose to partner with professional property management companies, ensuring their rentals are always up to code and occupancy is kept to a minimum.

Ziprent's experienced property managers understand the nuances of California's complex rental laws. We handle everything from routine maintenance and emergency repairs to annual property inspections.

Ready to simplify your life and maximize your rental income?

Don't navigate California's tricky rental laws alone. Get proactive with Ziprent's property management services.


What repairs are landlords responsible for in California?

In California, landlords are responsible for maintaining habitable living conditions. This means fixing anything that affects the tenant's health and safety, like broken plumbing, heating issues, or pest infestations. They're also responsible for repairs due to normal wear and tear, like a leaky roof or faulty wiring.

How long does a landlord have to fix a maintenance issue in California?

The timeframe for repairs depends on the severity of the issue. For emergencies that pose a health or safety risk, landlords must act immediately. Non-emergency repairs typically have a “reasonable” amount of time, usually considered to be 30 days.

What repairs are tenants responsible for in California?

Tenants are responsible for keeping the rental unit clean and sanitary and properly using appliances and fixtures. They must also repair any damage they cause beyond normal wear and tear.

What are three rights tenants have in California?

  1. Implied Warranty of Habitability: The right to a safe and livable dwelling.

  2. Request Repairs: The right to request repairs and have them completed in a timely manner.

  3. Protection from Retaliation: The right to exercise their legal rights without fear of retaliation from the landlord.

When can a tenant repair and deduct?

If a landlord fails to make necessary repairs within a reasonable time, tenants can sometimes fix the issue themselves and deduct the cost from their rent. This is called “repair and deduct,” and it's subject to specific conditions like the cost not exceeding one month's rent.

When can a tenant lawfully withhold rent in California?

Tenants can withhold rent if the rental unit becomes uninhabitable due to the landlord's failure to make necessary repairs. However, this is a risky move and should only be done after careful consideration and, ideally, with legal advice.

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