There is a warranty of habitability implied in every California residential rental agreement. This warranty of habitability, outlined in Civil Code 1941.1, exists whether or not the rental agreement specifically mentions it. To be sure, in the court case of Green v. Superior Court in 1974, the California Supreme Court held that a “warranty of habitability” is implied in all residential rental agreements. The implied warranty of habitability requires residential landlords to maintain their rented properties in a habitable condition. So, what exactly is the implied warranty of habitability outlined in California Civil Code 1941.1, and what does it mean in the landlord/tenant context?
According to California Code 1941.1,
(a) 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:
(1) Effective waterproofing and weather protection of roof and exterior walls, including unbroken windows and doors.
(2) Plumbing or gas facilities that conformed to applicable law in effect at the time of installation, maintained in good working order.
(3) 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.
(4) Heating facilities that conformed with applicable law at the time of installation, maintained in good working order.
(5) Electrical lighting, with wiring and electrical equipment that conformed with applicable law at the time of installation, maintained in good working order.
(6) 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.
(7) 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.
(8) Floors, stairways, and railings maintained in good repair.
(9) 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.
(b) Nothing in this section shall be interpreted to prohibit a tenant or owner of rental properties from qualifying for a utility energy savings assistance program, or any other program assistance, for heating or hot water system repairs or replacement, or a combination of heating and hot water system repairs or replacements, that would achieve energy savings.
In sum, Civil Code 1941.1 says that a unit “shall be deemed” to be “untenantable” i.e. uninhabitable, if the unit lacks the following or is a substandard unit described in Health and Safety Code 17920.3 or contains lead hazards as described in Health and Safety Code 17920.10: weather protection, plumbing and gas that was up to code at the time of installation and maintained in good working condition, hold and cold running water, heating that was installed per code and maintained in good working condition, electricity, including lighting, wiring, and equiment, maintained in good working condition, clean and sanitary premises, trash facilities, floors, stairways, and railings maintained in good working order, and locking mail receptacles for residential hotels. Furthermore, landlords should provide locking windows and doors, but whether locking windows and doors would be a breach of the warranty of habitability is debatable.
A landlord’s breach of the warranty of habitability is a defense to an unlawful detainer (eviction) case based on non-payment of rent, because a tenant’s obligation to pay rent and the landlord’s warranty of habitability are mutually dependent. Before a landlord files an eviction case based on non-payment of rent, the landlord should take steps to ensure the property is habitable.
Nothwithstanding the above, it is the tenant’s duty and obligation not to damage the property and must maintain ordinary care of the property per Civil Code 1929.
Note that the implied warranty of habitability applies only to residential rentals and not to commercial rentals. Note also that residential landlords cannot avoid the warranty of habitability by “contracting around it.” The warranty of habitability is non-waivable per Civil Code 1942.1, unless the landlord and tenant agreed that the tenant shall make repairs as part of the consideration for renting the property (but this is not advisble).
This article only lists some of the warranty of habitability concerns in California tenancies. A lawyer should be consulted regarding your specific case.
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