According to California law, a rental unit must be fit to live in, or 'habitable.' The landlord is responsible for repairing conditions that seriously affect the rental unit's habitability as well as materially affecting tenants' heath and safety. For less serious repairs, the rental agreement may state that the landlord or the tenant is responsible for maintenance.
In order to be habitable, the unit must meet these basic requirements:
- Roof and walls must not leak
- Doors and windows must not be broken
- Plumbing and gas must work
- Hot and cold water must be provided
- Sewer and septic system must be connected and operating
- Heater must work and be safe
- Floors, stairways, and railings must be maintained and safe
- Lights and wiring must work and be safe
- Can or bins with covers must be provided for trash
- Upon move-in, the rental unit must be clean, with no trash, rodents, or other animals or pests
If you believe your rental unit needs repairs and that the repairs are the landlord's responsibility, you should notify your landlord by telephone and by letter. Keep a copy of the letter for your records. In most situations, you should allow the landlord 30 days to make the repair(s). If the landlord does not make the repairs, and does not have a reasonable justification for not doing so, you may pursue one of these options:
File a petition for a rent adjustment.
The San Francisco Rent Board has the authority to adjust a tenant's rent based on a lack of repairs and/or maintenance. For more information, go to www.sfrb.org/index.aspx?page=982.
Call the city building inspector.
You may file a complaint with the San Francisco Department of Building Inspection regarding the necessary repairs/maintenance in your unit. If the repairs/maintenance are necessary for making the unit habitable, the city building inspector will require the landlord to complete the repairs. For information on how to file a complaint, go to www.sfdbi.org/index.aspx?page=266.
Repair and deduct.
If you notify your landlord with a letter of needed repairs and the landlord does not respond within 30 days, you may make the repairs yourself and deduct the cost of the repairs from your rent, provided they do not cost more than twice your monthly rent. You may only exercise this option twice in a 12 month period. Be sure to keep detailed documentation of all repairs made, including letters, photos, and receipts.
- Seek legal counsel.
Some organizations offer legal advise at low- or no-cost. Here are some websites to visit:
Whatever happens, you should never stop paying your rent even if your landlord does not make the needed repairs. If you do stop payment, your landlord may have grounds to evict you.
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