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Warranty of Habitability

DEFINITION

Implied promise by the landlord that the property meets the minimum building and housing standards according to the specifications of the law.

EXPLANATION

When a tenant leases a residential property in California, it is done with an implied warranty of habitability. An implied warranty of habitability promises that a property is habitable in its current condition.

Habitability refers to a property that has met the minimum living standards of a reasonable person. Generally, this means a property must be safe, provide shelter from the elements, and be free from pests and harmful elements.

A landlord’s specific responsibilities for ensuring habitability include:

Safe, functioning gas facilities

Safe, functioning heating and cooling system

Safe, functioning electrical system (including wires)

Functioning plumbing facilities

Functioning smoke detectors

Flooring, railing, and staircases are built and maintained to city codes

Functioning water system

Roof does not leak

No pests, mold, or other potentially harmful elements

Property maintenance (such as trees, brush)

Windows are sealed and have a lock mechanism

Each building must conform to the building codes and safety laws set forth by the local county. A landlord of a property that does not meet local standards cannot collect rent, issue a notice of rental increase, or initiate an eviction process (Civil Code 1942.4).

If a landlord breaches the implied warranty of habitability, the landlord must promptly resolve the issue. If the landlord does not do so, a tenant can seek an unlawful detainer against the landlord. In this case, a court will set the proper rental amount that the landlord can charge. Any previous payments by the tenant must be refunded by the landlord within five days after the court’s ruling of the new rental rate (Civil Code Section 1174.2).

Once a landlord repairs the breach in the implied warranty of habitability, he or she can return to charging the original rent in the lease.

In a situation where an unlawful detainer of residential real estate occurs by the landlord, the landlord will be liable for all costs to the tenants, including attorney fees and potential damages.

A tenant is not protected when a property’s habitability is affected by the tenant’s actions.

Landlord Obligations

A landlord handles upholding all applicable housing and building standards as directed by city coding regulations. Although most, if not all, lease agreements will not include any provisions which relate to city coding, landlords are still expected to abide by all city, state, and federal habitability standards. The provision which all landlords are expected to follow is the warranty of habitability. This warranty indicates that landlords must keep the property in habitable condition even if the lease does not specifically state so. This includes the landlord’s responsibility to make repairs to maintain minimum habitation standards.

Case Review: Hyatt v. Tedesco (2002)

The case, Hyatt v. Tedesco (2002) 96 Cal.4th.Supp. 62., involved a dispute regarding a breach of implied warranty of habitability.

A tenant (Tedesco) lived in a building owned by a landlord (Hyatt). Tedesco’s apartment was not properly waterproofed and the roof had severe leaking. Consequently, Tedesco stopped paying rent. Hyatt filed an unlawful detainer action against her, seeking to terminate the lease agreement, get past due rent, and  repossess the property. Tedesco countersued.

The Superior Court determined that the defects in Tedesco’s apartment were not substantial. Therefore, Hyatt should only be required to reduce the rent for one month and retain full possession. Tedesco appealed. The Court of Appeals argued that the property had not only cosmetic defects, but also issues that affected Tedesco’s health and safety. It ruled that such evidence proved a substantial breach of implied warranty of habitability. The court ordered Hyatt to reduce Tedesco’s rent until the necessary repairs were made.

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