SECURITY, RESPONSIBILITY FOR REPAIRS

A housing provider and tenant can agree, in writing… to allocate responsibility for minor repairs between them.

Q: I own a 40-unit building in a high crime neighborhood. I have done extensive work on the building to reduce the risk of crime to my tenants. We installed fencing with locked gates, increased the common area lighting and cut back on the shrubbery and vegetation that blocked views in the interior walkways. Last week we started implementing a neighborhood watch program. I was thinking of attracting new residents by advertising my building as a “security” building. Any problem with this?

A: Yes. The improvements that you have made to your building are commendable. Actions like yours and other responsible housing providers will do wonders in the battle against gang-related activity and other criminal conduct. You must be cautious in how you represent your building and the surrounding community to new or existing tenants, however. California courts are quick to saddle housing providers with liability for representing to their current or prospective residents that their complex is “secure” or “crime free”. Courts have held that by advertising or informing residents that they live in a “security” building that the housing provider is held to a higher standard of care in that he is essentially warranting that the tenant will not suffer the effects of crime. It is important that in all your rental advertising, brochures and rental agreement that the housing provider does not create an implied warranty of security.

Q: My tenants and I seem to be able to work out our differences quite easily, but there are times when we disagree as to just who is responsible for making certain repairs to the apartment. Can you give me some guidelines that will help me decide if the repairs are my responsibility or the responsibility of the tenant?

A: Residential rental units must be “habitable.” In legal terms, “habitable” means the rental unit is fit for persons to live in and that it substantially complies with state and local building and health codes that materially affect a tenant’s health and safety. The law makes both housing providers and tenants responsible for certain repairs, but you are ultimately responsible to ensure the unit is habitable. You are not responsible under the “implied warranty of habitability” for repairing damage caused by the tenant, his guests or his pets. You are responsible to take care of the habitability items, but your rental agreement can determine who takes care of the minor repairs.

California law lists several items that are required to maintain a habitable unit. These are effective water proofing and weather protection, including unbroken windows and doors; plumbing in good working order, including hot and cold running water connected to a sewage disposal system; gas facilities, heating, and electrical in good working order; clean and sanitary buildings and grounds; adequate trash receptacles; floors, stairways and railings in good repair. Additionally, each rental unit must have a working toilet, washbasin and a bathtub or shower, operable dead bolts on the main entry doors, window locks, and smoke detectors. A housing provider is also responsible for the installation and maintenance of the inside wiring for one telephone jack.

Tenants must take reasonable care of the rental unit and the common areas. Tenants are responsible for repair of all damage resulting from their neglect, abuse or acts by their family, guests or pets.

Tenants must do all of the following: keep the premises “clean and sanitary,” use and operate gas, electrical and plumbing fixtures properly; dispose of trash and garbage properly; not destroy, damage or deface the property; not remove any part of the structure, dwelling, facilities or equipment; must use the premises as a place to live, and use the rooms for their intended purpose, and notify the housing provider when dead bolts and window locks don’t operate properly.

Q: What types of repairs can I require the tenant to take responsibility for?

A: A housing provider and tenant can agree, in writing by the rental agreement, to allocate responsibility for minor repairs between them. Often housing providers and tenants may agree that certain items, amenities, will be the tenant’s responsibility to maintain. These may include refrigerators, washing machines, pools or spas, air conditioning, and minor plumbing issues.

This article is presented in a general nature to address typical landlord tenant legal issues. Specific inquiries regarding a particular situation should be addressed to your attorney. Stephen C. Duringer is the founder of The Duringer Law Group, PLC, one of the largest and most experienced landlord tenant law firms in the country. The firm has successfully handled over 285,000 landlord tenant matters throughout California and has collected over $200,000,000 in debt since 1988. The firm may be reached at 714-279-1100 or 800-829-6994. Please visit www.DuringerLaw.com for more information.