Habitability & Repairs
Tips for tenants and owners on how to avoid habitability problems, and what to do when they arise or cannot be resolved.
State and local law requirements for rental units
Under California Civil Code Sec. 1941.1, a rental unit is considered “untenantable” (unsafe for living) if it substantially lacks any of the following:
- Effective waterproofing and weather protection of roof and exterior walls, including unbroken windows and doors
- A functional sewer system
- Hot and cold running water
- A functional heating system
- A functional electrical system
- Building and grounds free of debris, garbage, rodents, and other pests
- An adequate number of garbage containers
- Floors, stairways, and railings maintained in good repair
Other requirements for rental units under state and local law include:
- A working phone jack
- A resident manager if the building has 16 or more units
- Smoke detectors
- Operable windows
- Appropriate door locks
- Easy access to exits
Section 8 housing guidelines may be different. Contact the Berkeley Housing Authority for more information at (510) 981-5470.
Avoiding and resolving habitability and repair problems
- Inspect the unit at the start of the tenancy and tell the owner about problems in writing.
- Keep the rental unit clean and sanitary.
- Expect your unit to be inspected by the owner for compliance with the Rental Housing Safety Program by July 1 every year. Review the certification and contact your building’s owner and the City of Berkeley if it is wrong.
- Request repairs in writing immediately when a problem arises. Keep copies of all communications.
- Allow the owner to enter the unit to make repairs during normal business hours (see owner’s right to enter below).
- Do not make changes to the unit or any structure on the rented property without written permission from the owner.
- Arrange for repairs right away when contacted by the tenant.
- Give tenants 24 hours’ written notice before entering a unit to make repairs (see owner’s right of entry below).
- Complete the Rental Housing Safety Program certification by July 1 each year. Give a copy to the tenants. You may wish to send it with a Certificate of Mailing for proof that the inspection was performed timely.
- Comply with the City noise standards when making repairs. Respect the tenant’s right to quiet enjoyment.
- Always get necessary permits when making repairs.
Owner’s right to enter the tenant’s unit to make repairs
Under state law, owners must give 24 hours’ written notice stating one of six permissible purposes for entry and the time period of entry. The time period must be during normal business hours. The tenant may be present when the owner enters, but the owner may enter when the tenant is not in the unit if the owner has provided proper notice. (CA Civil Code Sec. 1954.)
Options if you are unable to resolve a habitability or repair issue
- Request a housing code enforcement inspection. Show the inspector all the problems in the unit, and ask them to make note of each problem in their report even if it is not considered a code violation.
- File a petition with the Rent Board for a rent reduction if the owner has failed to provide adequate housing services or to comply with housing codes or the warranty of habitability, or if substantial deterioration of the unit has occurred.
- Repair and deduct in accordance with CA Civil Code Sec. 1942. This remedy is limited and comes with risks. Please see below for important information.
- File a claim in Small Claims Court if the matter can’t be resolved directly with the owner.
- Request that the City do the Rental Housing Safety Program certification if the tenant will not allow entry for the inspection to be performed.
- Use the City's tenant relocation program as a resource to determine your obligations when extensive repair work is necessary and may require the tenant to move out.
- For tenant damage to the unit, document the damage with photos and/or video and make a written request for payment for the reasonable cost of the repairs you make. While deduction from the security deposit is allowed for damage, consider filing a claim in Small Claims Court for earlier restitution. If a tenant causes damage and refuses to pay for the repairs, this could be a good cause for eviction.
Mediation: The Rent Board offers mediation services for landlords and tenants in units that are fully covered by the Rent Ordinance or registered under Measure MM. Mediation may help resolve repair disputes.
Repair and deduct method - use caution!
California Civil Code section 1942 allows tenants to make repairs and deduct the cost from their rent in certain circumstances. Use of this remedy is limited and comes with risks. Please speak with a housing counselor about your situation before attempting to use this remedy.