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What is Habitability?

In California, landlords enter into something called an “implied warranty of habitability” when they sign a lease with you (Hinson v. Delis). This means they promise that the home you’re renting is safe, livable, and meets California’s requirements on buildings built for people to live in. Landlords are required to keep the premises habitable (defined below) throughout the tenancy. Even if you knew the home was uninhabitable when you first rented it, that does not release your landlord from their responsibilities. This does not change even if your lease says that the landlord does not have to provide a habitable home. Your landlord or property manager cannot evict you because you complain about dangerous or substandard conditions. This could be considered retaliation, which is prohibited (more about retaliation).  

A habitable home is kept up to standards that comply with state or local code requirements. These include requirements such as how buildings are built, their upkeep, and the state of included amenities like heat, plumbing, and electricity.   

An uninhabitable home does not meet standards that comply with state or local code requirements.

Habitability requirements are detailed in the following laws:

Habitability Standards:

The structure 

All load-bearing parts of the home – including floors, walls, partitions, ceilings, fireplaces, and chimneys – must be built strongly enough to support loads applied to them and be maintained in good repair. Stairways and railings must be maintained in good repair. Entry doors must have deadbolt locks and accessible windows must also have locks. The roof and exterior walls must have effective waterproofing and weather protection, including unbroken windows and doors. There should be no holes in the interior floors, walls, or ceiling.

Water and sewage

The home must have a water supply capable of producing hot and cold running water that can be under the control of either the tenant or the landlord. The water must be supplied to appropriate fixtures (a sink, not a garden hose) and connected to a sewage disposal system. Sewage and water systems have to conform to building codes. The home must have a properly installed kitchen sink and bathroom facilities.

Utilities and Facilities

The home must have heating facilities, electric lighting, and plumbing or gas facilities maintained in good working order. Older facilities are allowed as long as they are up to the installation requirements of the time when they were put in. Required ventilation systems (such as in a bathroom with no window to release moisture) must operate properly. The home must have adequate fire extinguishing equipment or be built to resist fire. Single-unit buildings must have carbon monoxide detectors in good repair. Multi-unit buildings must have smoke and carbon monoxide detectors.

Sanitation and trash

At the beginning of the rental agreement, the building and the property it’s on must be entirely clean and sanitary. In addition, it must be free from things like construction debris, garbage, or pests. In particular, there can be no accumulation of material likely to cause or increase the severity of a fire or explosion. Rooms in the building should not be damp or show visible mold growth, except for mold that is minor and present on surfaces that accumulate moisture as part of their normal use. The landlord must make appropriate containers for trash or other waste available to the tenant. The containers have to be clean and in good repair. The landlord is responsible for replacing, repairing, and maintaining containers under their control.

According to the Uniform Housing Code, the property must also have the following: 

  • Working toilet, bathtub/shower in room that is ventilated and private
  • Kitchen with a sink area not of an absorbent material like wood
  • Natural lighting in every room of an area of at least one-tenth of the room’s floor area with a minimum of 12 square feet.
  • Windows that open at least halfway for ventilation, unless there is a fan.
  • Safe fire or emergency exits leading to a street or hallway.
  • Stairs, hallways, and exits must be litter free.
  • Storage areas, garages, and basements must be free of combustible materials.
  • Every apartment building having 16 or more units must have a resident manager.

Though the property owner is supposed to do most maintenance on a building, tenants have their own responsibilities to maintain their home. Tenants must:

  • Keep the rental clean and sanitary
  • Dispose of rubbish, garbage and waste in a sanitary manner
  • Properly operate electrical, gas and plumbing fixtures and keep them clean and sanitary. 
  • Not permit people or animals on the property to damage it.
  • Use the property only for its intended purpose as a home. For example, let’s imagine that you run a restaurant out of your home. The kitchen and toilet facilities will be used to serve far more people than live in the home. This amount of use might damage the facilities or plumbing, but that damage would likely not be the owner’s responsibility to fix.

Who Takes Care of Problems?

In general, it is the property owner’s responsibility to maintain your rented home. For example, let’s say a serious mold problem develops in your bathroom, which doesn’t have a ventilation system fan or windows to allow airflow. It would probably be the owner’s responsibility to address the mold issue in this case. However, if a repair issue arises out of your actions or negligence, you will be responsible for repairs. If, for example, you consistently forget to take out the trash and an ant infestation develops, you could not expect the owner to deal with the ants for you.

For information about your rights and having repairs made, go to Habitability and Repairs Part 2: Addressing Habitability Issues.