Can a California Tenant Withhold Rent?

Reasons Tenants Can Repair and Deduct in California

Picture of California Tenant's Right to Withhold Rent
California Tenant's Right to Withhold Rent. Sawitree Pamee/EyeEm/Getty Images

In California, a tenant may have the right to withhold rent if the rental unit is not meeting certain health and safety standards. The tenant must first provide notice to the landlord regarding the issue that is making their unit or the property “untenantable.” Here are the rules for when a tenant is able to make repairs to the property and deduct rent in California.

Landlord Responsibility to Maintain Premises

Under landlord tenant law, landlords have the legal responsibility of keeping their rental property in a habitable condition.

This not only includes initially installing all facilities at the property correctly, but it also includes maintaining these facilities over time so they continue to meet health and safety standards. In California, a landlord’s maintenance obligations include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Making sure that the rental is waterproof- Which includes roofing, exterior walls, exterior doors and windows.
  • That all plumbing and gas has been done to code and is in good working condition.
  • Tenant has access to proper water supply and waste disposal system.
  • All heating has been done to code and is in good working condition.
  • All electrical has been done to code and is in good working condition.
  • The interior and exterior of the building is clean and free from dirt, debris, rodents and vermin.
  • Landlord supplies appropriate number of trash receptacles and receptacles are in good condition.
  • All stairwells, railings and floors are in good condition.
  • Dead bolts must be installed on all entry doors.
  • Ensuring all windows have proper safety and locking mechanisms.
  • Making sure all common area doors have locks which comply with local fire code.
  • Ensuring that each unit has at least one working telephone jack.

Tenant Must Give Notice

If a tenant notices a health or safety violation at the property that is making the living conditions unfit for the tenant, then the tenant must give the landlord notice.

This notice can be written or oral, but it must inform the landlord that the issue must be fixed.

No Response From Landlord

If the tenant has given written notice to the landlord about a health or safety issue that needs to be fixed, and the landlord has not addressed the problem, the tenant has two options:

1. Repair and Deduct- If the landlord has not fixed the problem, then, in California, the tenant can do the repair themselves or hire someone to do the repair for them. The tenant is then allowed to deduct the cost of the repair from their monthly rent, however, the cost cannot exceed one month’s rent.

2. Vacate the Premises- If the landlord does not fix the issue that is causing the unit for be “untenantable,” then the tenant can vacate the premises. After leaving the rental property, the tenant is not responsible for paying any additional rent. In California, the tenant cannot vacate the premises more than twice during any 12 month period.

Tenant Has Reasonable Time to Take Action

The tenant has a reasonable amount of time to repair and deduct. Under California Code, this reasonable amount of time is 30 days. If the tenant does not take action within 30 days of notifying the landlord of the needed repair, then the burden of proof of explaining why the repair was not completed sooner falls on the tenant.

Tenant Negligence

A tenant forfeits any right to repair and deduct or vacate the premises if the health and safety issue in the rental unit is caused by the tenant’s negligence or failure to follow the tenant’s obligations under California Code 1941.2 or if the tenant’s failure to follow these obligations limits the landlord’s ability to make the needed repair. These include:

  • Keeping the Unit Clean and in a Sanitary Condition
  • Properly Disposing of All Trash and Debris
  • Properly Using All Electrical, Gas and Plumbing Fixtures
  • Keeping All Electrical, Gas and Plumbing Fixtures in a Clean Condition
  • Not Allowing Any Guest to Damage, Deface , Destroy or Remove Any Part of the Dwelling.
  • Only Using Each Area of the Rental for Its Intended Purpose.

California Code on Repair and Deduct

If you would like to read California’s code on a tenant’s ability to repair and deduct, please consult California Civil Code §§ 1941.1, 1941.2, 1941.3, 1941.4, 1942 and 1962.