When your landlord doesn’t cooperate or follow through with repairs, it’s understandable to feel frustrated. You are expected to make every effort to uphold your responsibilities as a tenant, so why shouldn’t the landlord do the same? In this situation, it may seem tempting to stop paying rent until your landlord completes the repairs. However, simply stopping payment is rarely a good choice, and it’s important to understand that you may have other, more effective methods available to resolve the problem.
As experienced tenant lawyers in the Bay Area, we’ve seen landlords use every tactic imaginable to skirt their legal responsibilities and force tenants to vacate rent-controlled units, including avoiding or improperly handling repairs. While it is true that California tenants have the right to use their rent for certain serious repairs or to vacate the property if it becomes uninhabitable, there are many specific requirements that must be met to withhold rent legally, which can vary by city, and the consequences for improperly withholding rent can be serious. Do not stop paying rent before speaking with a dedicated tenant rights lawyer, like the team at Wolford Wayne LLP.
Minor repairs, like a leaky faucet or broken cabinet door, do not justify withholding rent, no matter how long they persist or how annoying they may be. These issues are governed by your tenancy agreement. More serious repairs, however, are covered by Cal. Civil Code § 1941.1, which lays out what is traditionally known as the warranty of habitability – the basic structural and safety requirements for all acceptable housing units. This statute requires landlords to address, immediately if necessary, broken utilities and structural issues, including:
If a repair issue makes it impossible to live safely in the home, then in some cases a tenant may be justified in withholding rent to pay for the repair or finding suitable alternate housing.
Before you can consider withholding rent legally, you must inform your landlord of the necessary repairs and give them time to fix the conditions. We always recommend that you make these requests in writing and keep a record. Landlords must respond to the request and make essential repairs within a reasonable time, but this time frame varies based on the condition. To lawfully withhold rent in California, the property condition must violate the general warranty of habitability, and the landlord must be beyond the reasonable repair time.
Although tenants cannot withhold rent for the landlord’s failure to make minor repairs, they may still have options to seek relief. Our Bay Area tenant’s rights attorneys have helped hundreds of renters successfully bring claims against landlords in court or the rent board to address needed repairs.
Cal. Civ. Code § 1942 gives tenants a few options if landlords refuse to make essential and timely repairs: (1) stop paying rent and move out, or (2) use up to one month’s rent to make repairs. Note that the amount withheld has to be based on the cost of an actual repair and cannot exceed the amount of one month’s rent. Tenants might also take their claims to the local rent board or court, though generally, the remedies available will be in the form of a reduction in rent. Tenants may also file a complaint with a city’s Building Department (in San Francisco, the Department of Building Inspection or “DBI”). Note also that the law only allows tenants to use the withheld rent to make the repair, not as a threat or ultimatum until the landlord repairs the premises. However, serious habitability violations may trigger grounds to move out and file a lawsuit for constructive eviction.
If your landlord refuses to make essential or quality repairs, you have the right to take action, which may include withholding rent. Only certain conditions trigger these rights, however, so it’s important to follow specific legal procedures to avoid potential non-payment evictions. And if you’re dealing with serious habitability issues that may warrant a lawsuit, we urge you to discuss your case with the dedicated San Francisco tenant rights attorneys at Wolford Wayne LLP immediately by calling (415) 649-6203 or contacting us online.
Recovered on behalf of a San Francisco couple who were forced to give up their home of over twenty years after their landlord’s dog attacked and killed their dog.Read More
Recovered on behalf of an Oakland tenant who suffered a serious injury due to her landlord’s negligent maintenance of her home.Read More
Recovered on behalf of a San Francisco tenant who suffered personal injuries and was forced to vacate his home of fifteen years after dealing with many months of environmental contamination and disruptive and nuisance construction conditions.Read More
Recovered on behalf of a group of 30 tenants living in an SRO in San Francisco who were living with horrendous conditions in their rent controlled apartments, including rodents, bedbugs, mold, water leaks and harassment.Read More
Recovered on behalf of three families living in a building in San Francisco’s SOMA neighborhood who were forced to live with substandard conditions for years as a result of their landlord’s negligence, including issues with lack of heat, lack of hot water and cockroach/rat infestations.Read More
Recovered on behalf of a couple living in a rent-controlled home in the outer Sunset neighborhood. Our clients were forced to vacate after the landlord served them with an Owner Move-In Eviction Notice. After the landlords failed to move into the property, our clients filed suit for wrongful eviction.Read More
Recovered on behalf of a San Francisco tenant in Russian Hill. Tenant was forced to vacate her illegal apartment in retaliation for reporting unlawful rent increases to the San Francisco Rent Board.Read More
Recovered for a single long-term tenant in San Francisco. Our client was forced to move out of his apartment as a result of extreme landlord harassment.Read More
Recovered on behalf of three long-term tenants in San Francisco’s Castro neighborhood who were constructively evicted due to noise and nuisance conditions created by their downstairs neighbors, which the owner refused to address.Read More
Recovered on behalf of elderly, disabled tenant who was forced to move out of her rent-controlled San Francisco apartment of 50 years after landlord/owner failed to resolve numerous building code violations that remained outstanding for over a decade.Read More
Recovered on behalf of seven tenants living in a makeshift boarding house in East Palo Alto.Read More
Recovered on behalf of two former San Francisco tenants who were evicted via an Owner Move-In Eviction and owner failed to occupy the unit as her primary place of residence.Read More
Recovered on behalf of an elderly long-term tenant who was forced to vacate her long San Francisco apartment as a result of her landlord’s refusal to address longstanding defective conditions, including lack of heat, mold, rodent infestations, and defective plumbing. Read More
Recovered on behalf of a San Francisco tenant who was forced to vacate his home as a result of ongoing, disruptive construction and the owners’ refusal to provide him with alternative housing. Read More
Recovered on behalf of a San Francisco family that was constructively evicted from their home in the Richmond District as a result of unlawful rent increases, defective conditions and tenant harassment.Read More
Recovered on behalf of a tenant living in an illegal “in-law” unit. In this case, a new owner purchased the building and then demolished our client’s unit without permits while she was displaced for seismic retrofitting.Read More
Recovered on behalf of two long term San Francisco tenants who were fraudulently evicted from their home of over twenty years under the pretext of an owner move-in eviction.Read More
Recovered for tenant who was injured when their stairway railing collapsed at the tenant’s Mission District apartment building.Read More
Recovered in action for a group of tenants forced to vacate their San Francisco apartment house due to severe habitability defects including mold and water leaks.Read More