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A rental unit must meet certain minimal livability standards. The legal term for the minimum standard is “habitable,” which means that the rental unit is fit for living and that  it substantially complies with state and local building and health codes that might affect health and safety.

All landlords are ultimately responsible to ensure that the dwellings they rent are habitable.

Landlord’s Responsibilities

Every rental unit in California must be maintained in a safe living condition, or “habitable.”  Additionally, while the unit is being rented, the landlord must repair problems that make the rental unit unfit to live in, or “uninhabitable.”

In Green v. Superior Court, the California Supreme Court stated that all residential leases and rental agreements contain an implied warranty of habitability. Under the “implied warranty of habitability,” the landlord is legally responsible for repairing conditions that seriously affect the rental unit’s habitability. That is, the landlord must repair substantial defects in the dwelling and substantial violations of state and local building and health codes. However, the landlord is not responsible to repair damage  caused by the tenants or the tenants’ guests or pets.

Conditions That Render a Unit Legally Uninhabitable

There are many kinds of defects that could make a rental unit unlivable. The implied warranty of habitability requires landlords to maintain their rental units in a condition fit for the “occupation of human beings. “136 In addition, the rental unit must “substantially comply” with building and housing code standards that materially affect tenants’ health and safety.137

A rental unit may be considered uninhabitable (unlivable) if it contains a lead hazard that endangers the occupants or the public, or is a substandard building because, for example, a structural hazard, inadequate sanitation, or a nuisance endangers the health, life, safety, property, or welfare of the occupants or the public.138

A dwelling also may be considered uninhabitable (unlivable) if it substantially lacks any of the following:

  • A water-tight dwelling with unbroken windows and doors
  • Hot and cold running water, natural gas, and a sewage disposal system
  • Heat
  • Electricity
  • Sanitary premises free from debris, filth, rubbish, garbage, rodents, and vermin
  • Trash & waste receptacles
  • All floors, stairs, and railings must be maintained
  • Toilet, sink, and tub or shower
  • A kitchen with a sink
  • Natural lighting in every room through windows or skylights and a mechanical vent or  windows must open.
  • Clean stairs, hallways, and exits
  • Dead-bolt locks on the main entry doors and locks or security devices on windows.
  • Locking mailbox for each unit of an apartment complex
  • Unit must be free of mold conditions or other toxic substances that make the unit unsafe or unhealthy

Habitability Is a Minimum Livability Standard

The landlord does not have to ensure that the unit is perfect or make every repair the tenant demands. aesthetically pleasing condition. The implied warranty of habitability is not violated if there are minor housing code violations, which, standing alone, do not materially affect habitability.

Telephone Jack

A landlord must install and maintain the inside wiring for at least one telephone jack by statute, but failure to do so is not necessarily a habitability violation.

Tenants’ Responsibility to Maintain Unit

Tenants are required by law to take reasonable care of their rental units, as well as common areas such as hallways and outside areas. Tenants must act to keep those areas clean and undamaged. Tenants also are responsible to repair all damage caused by neglect or abuse, and for repair of damages caused by thier guests or pets.