GETTING REPAIRS MADE

Habitability. One term you need to be familiar with is “habitability”. This is legal shorthand for “there are certain minimum health and safety requirements the landlord has to provide in any rental house or apartment”. A “habitable” place does not mean you get the blinds or drapes or carpet of your choice. It does not mean that the air conditioner has to work or there can’t be a few chips in the tile.

What kinds of repairs must a landlord make?
Landlords must provide tenants with a safe and sanitary dwelling. This means landlord must repair conditions which make the unit unlivable, or what is legally termed “uninhabitable”. This includes some conditions set out in the California Civil Code or specific local Building and Safety, Fire, Health and Safety or Housing codes.

We can start by looking at the law. California Civil Code §1941.1says:

A dwelling is not “habitable” if it has serious conditions. The law does not require your landlord to paint your home every year or give you new drapes or new rugs. But the landlord must provide these basic ser vices:

  • Effective water proofing roof and walls, unbroken windows and doors.
  • Plumbing/gas facilities installed correctly and maintained in good w or king order.
  • Hot and cold running water,
  • Heating facilities correctly installed and maintained in good working order.
  • Electrical lighting, wiring and electrical equipment installed correctly, maintained in good working order.
  • Building, grounds and common areas kept clean, sanitary, and free from accumulations of debris, garbage, rats, roaches and other insects
  • Enough garbage cans, in clean condition and good repair
  • Floors, stairways, and railings maintained in good repair.

A shorthand way of looking at it is a home that has the following problems:

  • Damp / leaking ceiling / walls
  • Ho le (s) in walls / floor / carpet
  • Falling plaster / peeling paint
  • Lack of / inadequate heat
  • Lack of / inadequate hot water
  • Defective / leaking plumbing
  • Missing / broken windows
  • Missing / broken smoke detectors
  • Infestation of roaches / rodents / insects / vermin
  • Common areas unclean
  • In adequate trash collection
  • Un safe stairways / railings
  • In adequate security / locks
  • Defective electrical / wiring

The local health and safety or other codes may have other requirements.

What are my responsibilities as a tenant?
The law requires a tenant to pay the rent on time, and take care of the rental unit. This means keeping the place clean, using all appliances and fixtures in a proper manner, and not making significant changes to the structure without the landlord’s permission. It also means using the rental unit for the purpose for which it was rented. If you rented the apartment to live in, there are probably zoning restrictions against you using the dwelling for certain kinds of businesses. In any case, regardless of what you do as a tenant, the landlord is required to maintain the rental unit in a habitable condition.

What kinds of repairs does the landlord NOT have to make?
The landlord does not have to repairs conditions that are caused by the tenant, the tenant’s children, or the tenant’s guests. The tenant is responsible for what their guests do in that if a tenant has a party, and a guest breaks a window, the tenant is ultimately responsible to repair or pay for the repairs of the window.

How do I get my landlord to make repairs?

Whichever method you choose, you are going to have to prepare and lay the groundwork first. This is the most important work you can do to get the repairs made.

  • Tell the landlord in writing about the problems. See the sample letter in “Forms and Attachments”
  • Take photographs of the problems. Write on the back of the photo the date you took the photo and the room (“north wall bedroom”)
  • Give the landlord reasonable time to fix the problem. The law says 30 days is reasonable, but emergencies may require less time. Do NOT interfere with the landlord making repairs from 8:30 to 5:00, Monday through Friday.

Where can I report problems with my house/apartment?

City of Los Angeles Code Enforcement Department (213) 847-7577

City of Los Angeles Health Department
Downtown/Pico (213) 351-5110         South Central (323) 846-4173
Hollywood (323) 871-4353                  East Downtown (213) 744-3160
Culver/Inglewood (310) 419-5358       Wilshire District (323) 351-5132
East Los Angeles (323) 780-2272      West Los Angeles (310) 315-4579

Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety – (213) 368-7562

Fire Department (213) 485-5977

If you live in the CITY of Los Angeles, call the Housing Code Enforcement free Tenant Hotline at (888) 345-9342. They may help you mediate your dispute with the landlord, or direct you to other agencies that can help you with getting repairs done.

OK, so what is my next step?
There are several remedies that tenants may use to force their landlord to repair their apartment or home.

  1. Call the free Tenant Hotline
  2. Systematic Code Enforcement Program (SCEP)
  3. Rent Escrow Account Program (REAP) City of Los Angeles
  4. Housing Enforcement Program (HEP) – City of Los Angeles
  5. Repair and Deduct
  6. Small Claims lawsuit
  7. Rent withholding

IMPORTANT! Before or while using these remedies, tenants should seek legal advice and file complaints with code enforcement, the local health department, building and safety, housing and/or fire department. You also need to do some ground work if you want repairs done. These include taking clear photos of the problems (straighten up first), giving the landlord a reasonable time to fix the problems, letting the landlord make repairs, and, if necessary, contacting government inspection agencies. Choosing to repair and deduct, or withhold rent can result in the landlord trying to evict you so you should speak with an attorney before trying these remedies.

Call the Tenant Hotline
In some areas of the City of Los Angeles, community groups are helping tenants and landlords mediate their problems. The groups also help tenants contact everyone in the building and organize to get repairs made. Call (888) 345-9342, Monday through Friday from 9:00 to 4:00.

SCEP – Systematic Code Enforcement Program
This program generally applies to all rental property of 2 units or more in the City of Los Angeles. All units are scheduled to be inspected ever 3 years and the landlord has to pay a $12 yearly fee.

The inspectors will identify any problems and issue an order to the owner to correct the problem in 2, 5, 14, or 30 days depending on the problem.

If the problem still is not corrected, the General Manager of the program will hold a hearing and may

  • order a rent reduction,
  • order the property into REAP (see below),
  • impose inspection fees,
  • order the owner to attend management classes,
  • refer the case to the City Attorney for prosecution
  • order the owner to pay relocation benefits to displaced tenants, etc.

If the General Manager has a hearing and makes an order, the landlord can only evict the tenant for causes listed in the Los Angeles Rent Control ordinance until the landlord has complied AND for 180 days after the compliance date. This is true even if the property is not under rent control.

Rent increases are prohibited to all existing tenants for a period of one year after the Housing Department has confirmed that the landlord has complied with the General Manager’s orders.

HEP – Habitability Enforcement Program
This program was established to enforce “habitability” requirements which are under Rent Control. This program allows tenants to file a complaint and the program can reduce rent and order rent to be paid into escrow in a short time than other programs.

Under the HEP program, tenants who are subject to Rent Control:

  1. Tenant or an enforcement agency files a complaint with the Los Angeles Housing Department. Tenants must prove that they gave the landlord 20-day’s written notice to landlord requesting specific repairs. This applies to any violation of California Civil Code §1941.1.
  2. File HEP complaint with the Los Angeles Housing Department (LAHD) if repairs are not completed after 20 days. The tenant has to sign a declaration stating that all information in the complaint is true.
  3. LAHD will investigate your complaint and will conduct a hearing.
  4. If LAHD finds that a habitability violation exists, they will hold a hearing within 30-45 days. If the Department finds that there is a substantial violation, they can order your landlord to make the necessary and give you a rent reduction until the repairs are completed.
  5. The tenant must pay the reduced rent into the HEP escrow account and not to the landlord. If you have other questions about this program, you can call (213) 367-9349, or (800) 994-4444 or go to the office at 111 N. Hope Street, Los Angeles, CA 90012.

This program was created to enforce habitability requirements in residential units subject to the Los Angeles Rent Stabilization Ordinance.

Repair and Deduct
Under California law, tenants may repair certain serious conditions yourself or have someone else do them, and then deduct the cost from the rent.

You cannot use this remedy for cosmetic problems like replacing a dirty carpet, installing mini blinds, or repairing one cracked tile. The problems must be serious and relate to the unit’s habitability.

This law has strict requirements. In order to use it you must:

  1. Give your landlord notice in advance of the conditions you want repaired.
  • A notice you can use is in this website under “Forms and Attachments” called “Notice of Intent to Repair and Deduct”. DATE IT, SIGN IT AND KEEP A COPY FOR YOUR RECORDS.
  • Give the notice personally to the landlord and/or manager and mail it certified with return receipt requested. Do NOT send the notice only by regular mail.
  1. Give your landlord reasonable time to do the repairs him or herself. “Reasonable time” usually means one month, but it depends upon what needs repairs. Obviously if you have running sewage in your apartment, the time will be less.
  2. Make the repairs and save the receipts of what you spent. If possible, save the old parts. Take pictures of the problem before and after the repairs.
  3. Send a demand letter to the landlord asking him to refund you the money or allow you to reduce your rent.

IMPORTANT! You can only spend up to one month’s rent two times per year if you repair and deduct. If you can get your apartment repaired using repair and deduct, do so first. This method is useful for smaller things like repairing windows, unplugging drains, repairing electrical outlets, etc. However, if something larger is wrong with your apartment – like a leaky roof which requires expertise – then repair and deduct probably will not amount to enough money to get the problem repaired in a safe and workmanlike manner. In that case, you may have to use another strategy. Remember that this method cannot be used to repair conditions that you caused. Also, you always leave yourself open to the landlord serving a 3-day notice to pay rent or quit, so follow all the steps above to protect your tenancy.

Small Claims Lawsuit
You can make repairs yourself and sue your landlord in small claims court for the costs of the repairs. Or you can sue the landlord in small claims court for the “reduced rental value” of your apartment. This means that if the apartment rents for, say, $500 per month, but it has rats, roaches, holes in the walls, no heat and a leaky roof, the place is probably only worth $250 or $300 per month. You will need to prove your case, and need to show evidence to the court.

You might want to use this method if:

  • You are concerned that your landlord will attempt to evict you for nonpayment of rent if you repair and deduct or withhold rent
  • You don’t want to fight an eviction
  • You have sufficient money to both pay your rent and make the repair, you can elect to make the repairs yourself and sue your landlord in small claims court for the costs of the repair.

In order to use this remedy you must:

  • Give your landlord notice in advance of the conditions you want repaired.
  • Keep a copy of the notice for your records. Give the notice personally to the landlord and/or manager. Mail it certified with return requested AND send a copy by regular mail.. Be specific about the problem and what kind of repair is needed, if you know.
  • Give the landlord reasonable time to do the repairs him/herself.
  • Get estimates of the cost to repair.
  • Write a demand letter to the landlord.
  • Get a building department, health department or housing department to do an inspection of the conditions. Get a certified copy of the report.
  • Discuss the suit with an attorney or investigator for the Department of Consumer Affairs.
  • Sue your landlord in small claims for the costs of repairs and/or reduced rental value of your apartment.

REMEMBER – if you use this method, keep paying your full rent on time.

RENT WITHHOLDING
WARNING!!! THIS SHOULD BE USED AS A LAST RECOURSE BECAUSE YOUR LANDLORD WILL PROBABLY TRY TO EVICT YOU AND YOU NEED TO PREPARE YOUR CASE WELL IN ORDER TO WIN. YOU SHOULD CONSIDER TALKING TO A LAWYER FIRST.

The California Supreme Court says you have the legal right to withhold your rent if:

  1. You have informed your landlord about SERIOUS defective conditions and
  2. Your landlord has not done the repairs.
  3. Serious defective conditions include significant plumbing problems, electrical problems, holes in walls, leaky walls or ceilings, rats, roaches, other insects, etc. See the “Statutes and Ordinances” part of this website, particularly California Civil Code §1941.1 which lists the requirements of a habitable house or apartments.
  4. You have not interfered with the landlord’s attempts to make the repairs.

How Do I Withhold Rent?

  • Give your landlord notice in advance of the conditions that you want repaired.
  • A notice you can use is in the “Forms and Attachments” section, called “Notice of Intent to Withhold Rent”.
  • Keep a copy of the notice for your records.
  • Give the notice personally to the landlord and/or manager and mail it certified with return receipt requested AND by regular mail.
  • Give the landlord a reasonable time and opportunity to do the repairs him/herself. Reasonable time usually means one month, but it depends upon what needs repair.
  • Call the appropriate governmental agency (see attached list) and get them to inspect your unit and get a CERTIFIED copy of their report.
  • Get the inspection done before you withhold rent. You will need the report for your trial.
  • Take clear pictures of the defective conditions. Straighten up your home first, if necessary.
  • If the defective conditions are not repaired, do not pay the landlord the rent.
  • HOLD ONTO THE RENT MONEY. DO NOT SPEND IT. Remember, withholding your rent does not mean you do not owe the rent to your landlord. You, as a tenant, will probably have to pay the landlord some or all of the rent after the landlord makes the repairs. The court will probably reduce the amount of rent you need to pay, but you will not know how much until you go to trial. If you are serious about withholding rent, save the money in a special bank account or buy money orders payable to your landlord every month and keep them until the repairs are completed. If you are buying money orders, make sure to get them from a place that puts the date stamp on the money order. That way you can prove that you had the money at the time the rent was due. If you buy the money order from a store that does not print the date on the form, ask the cashier or owner to fill in the date and put his/her initials next to the date.

What happens if I win my case, Do I have to pay the rent?
If you are able to convince the judge at your trial that the landlord knew about the defective conditions and would not repair them, and that the conditions w re dangerous to your health and safety, you should win your case and keep possession of your home. However, that does NOT mean you don’t have to pay the back rent. In fact, the judge will decide how much you DO have to pay considering the condition of the apartment. Most tenants get around 20% of the rent reduced; that means you will still have to p ay 80 %, or whatever the judge decides, of our back rent to the landlord. The judge has the authority to order the landlord to make repairs to the apartment, reduce the monthly rent until all re pairs are made, and to retain jurisdiction of the case until all repairs are made. If you win, you will have 5 days to pay the reduced rent to the landlord. If you do not pay on or before the time se t by the judge, then the landlord automatically wins with out even having to g o to court again. Save your rent money, so you will have it at trial.

WHAT ARE SOME WAYS TO PROVE DEFECTIVE CONDITIONS?

  1. Photos: This shows the judge the conditions you have been living in. When you take the photos, make sure you get a clear shot of what is wrong, but that everything else is clean and neat. You need to show the judge that you are a good tenant and that bad housekeeping is not the cause of the problems.
  2. Official records: If the Health Department, Building and Safety, Housing Department or Section 8 inspected you r unit, there is an official record of the inspection. Call the Agency and ask for a “certified ” copy of the report. Ask how to get it If the report is no t certified, it cannot be used as evidence in court. It only costs a few dollars to get a certified copy of the record.
  3. Witnesses: Witnesses may include yourself, neighbors and friends, so long as they have personally served the conditions you are complaining about.

How Can I Prove the Landlord Knew about the Problem?
Hopefully, you wrote a letter to the landlord, sent it by regular and certified mail and kept a copy. This is you r proof. You can testify that you told the manager or the landlord of the defective condition. If some one was with you on an occasion when you complained, have that person testify as a witness to your complaint.

If you have any copies o f letters written by you to your landlord complaining about conditions that is your evidence. Your governmental agency inspection report is also evidence of notice to your landlord since the inspection agency always sends a copy of the inspection report to the owner.

Organizing Your Case for Trial
Whether you sue you r landlord in small claims court, or are defending an eviction action, you need to prepare your case. Everyone who testifies in court is nervous, so begin making a list no w so you will not forget to tell the judge something. The list might look like this:

PROBLEM

LL KNEW

When LL knew

Repaired

Leaky ceiling

I told him

6/20/09

No

Cockroaches

Showed LL when he picked up rent

Every month

No

Hole in wall

Wrote a letter

6/20/09

Partial

 

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