Addressing Habitability Issues
If you’re facing any of the habitability issues mentioned in Part 1, you have a right to request that your landlord fix them. Many people are concerned about facing rent increases or eviction after requesting repairs, which is understandable. As a reminder, it is illegal for your landlord to end your tenancy because you complained that your home needs necessary repairs. Visit Retaliation and Your Rights Against It for more information.
To get repairs made, we recommend that you first:
1. Document the problem.
It is always important to record the details of the issue that needs repairs. Write down a description, take photographs, or make a video.
2. Communicate with the landlord about the problem, in writing.
We recommend sending an email or letter, but a text also works if necessary. Make sure you keep a copy of the communication. This will increase the likelihood that your landlord will take your issues seriously. Records can also help to protect you if the situation escalates. Make written records of any verbal communication with your landlord as well. Include the date, time, and information about what you discussed. Do not electronically record your verbal conversations without the other party’s consent.
3. Request that they fix the problem.
Try to be as specific as possible in your request. Explain the problem, its effect on you, what you would like to be done about it, and when. Date your request. If your landlord provides a repair request form, use it and keep a copy for yourself. If your landlord does not reply, try again, mention the number of times you’ve already asked for repairs, whether the problem is getting worse, and whether you’ve tried to address the problem yourself. If you would like a form letter to use in communicating with your landlord, go to our Letters page.
If your landlord doesn’t deal with the issue you raise after a reasonable amount of time, there are other options available to you. Each has different risks and potential positive outcomes.
Other Options to Get Repairs:
Repair and deduct (CA Civil Code 1942)
Tenants in California are allowed to make repairs themselves and deduct the cost of those repairs from their next rent payment. This can only be done twice in a twelve month period and the cost of the repair cannot be more than 1 month’s rent. We recommend consulting with an attorney before deciding to go forward with this method. If you don’t pay the full rent, your landlord could try to evict you. However, repair and deduct is a protected activity and a court should not allow the landlord’s eviction case to proceed. Here are some things to consider before moving forward with repair and deduct:
- Have you communicated with the landlord about the need for repairs?
- Have you waited a reasonable amount of time for the landlord to make the repair?
- How much does the repair cost? You cannot spend more than one month’s rent to make the repair.
- How many issues do you need fixed? You can only use this remedy twice in any twelve month period.
- Have you spoken with an attorney or Tenant Sanctuary to make sure you understand this right?
Contact City Code Enforcement or the County
Code Enforcement is a city department that enforces building codes and permit requirements. If your landlord refuses to make repairs, you can contact Code Enforcement, who will then inspect your home. If they find violations of building or health and safety codes, they will work to get the owner to fix these issues.
You can use the Community Request for Service Portal for complaints. An inspector will respond within:
- 24 hours for imminent threats to your health or safety.
- 48 hours for unsafe structures.
- 2 weeks for substandard structures.
- 4 weeks for all other issues.
If the problems can be resolved while you still live in the home, Code Enforcement will order the landlord to make repairs. However, if your home is not permitted, presents an immediate threat to your health, or repairs can’t be made while you live there, Code Enforcement may tell the owner to stop renting it. In this case, you will be instructed to move out of the home and will be given relocation assistance. If you have more than 30 days to leave, the property owner is obligated to give you relocation assistance equal to 3 months rent. If you have fewer than 30 days to leave, you must receive 4 months rent.
City Code Enforcement does not deal with insects, rodents, or other pests. You must contact the County’s Environmental Health department for assistance with those issues.
Santa Cruz Environmental Health
Main Phone: (831) 454-2022
Fax: (831) 454-3128
If local government intervention does not solve the repair issue or is not the appropriate remedy for you, there are other strategies to get repairs made. These involve some more risk and potential conflict with the property owner. To learn about these methods, please go to Habitability and Repairs (Part 3: Riskier Methods to Get Repairs Made)
- CA Civic Code 1942
- Portman, J., & Weaver, S. (2020) California Tenants’ Rights (22nd Edition). NOLO.