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Is It Legal to Withhold Rent Until Repairs are Done?

Is It Legal to Withhold Rent Until Repairs are Done?

Is It Legal to Withhold Rent Until Repairs are Done?


Is It Legal to Withhold Rent Until Repairs are Done?

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.

Understanding Tenant’s Rent Withholding Rights in California

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:

  • Lack of access to hot, cold, and potable water
  • Broken heaters
  • Sewage leaks and unusable plumbing
  • Broken stairwells, railings, and floors
  • Substantial leaks in roofs and windows
  • Vermin and pest infestations
  • Garbage overflow and unsanitary property conditions
  • Serious health and safety concerns, like hazards from building materials or other apartments

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.

When is it Legal to Withhold Rent in California?

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.

Remedies when San Francisco Landlords Refuse to Make 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.

Our Bay Area Breach of Habitability Lawyers are Here for You

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.

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For more information or to discuss your legal situation, call us today at (415) 649-6203 for a phone consultation or submit an inquiry below. Please note our firm can only assist tenants residing in San Francisco, Oakland & Berkeley.

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