The relationship between tenants and their landlords can be complicated. Often what one person in the relationship thinks of as fair, the other considers the short end of the stick. It’s not unusual for tenants to get so fed up with a landlord, that they decide to force the landlord into taking action by withholding rent. While withholding rent until repairs have been made is allowed, in California, the laws surrounding the decision are complicated.
When can a Tenant Withhold Rent
H&S §17920.3 which is also called California’s State Housing Law, is a law that has been adapted by nearly all of California’s cities as well as the state’s legislators. The law clearly stipulates the minimum requirements the landlords must do with regards to things like:
- Overall condition of the structures on the property
- Heating/cooling systems
Additional California state law, Civil Codes § 1941.1 and § 1941.3 stipulates the bare minimum amenities the landlord must provide each of their tenants. Issues addressed by Civil Codes § 1941.1 and § 1941.3 include:
- Weather protection
- Maintenance for basic safety features including floors, rails, and stairways
- Sanitary issues (including trash receptacles, rodent control, and debris removal)
- Locks for doors and windows
If the minimum requirements laid out in H&S §17920.3 and Civil Codes § 1941.1 and § 1941.3 aren’t meant, the tenant should contact the landlord and make them aware of the situation. If the landlord doesn’t respond or make any effort to bring the building up to code, the tenant can choose to withhold rent until something gets done to bring the building up to code. However, before you stop paying your rent, there are few legal technicalities you need to be aware of.
Hoops Tenants Have to Jump Through Before They can Legally Withhold Rent in California
You can’t simply decide that you’re going to withhold your rent until your landlord takes care of a problem that you’ve been complaining about. The California court system has some requirements you have to meet first.
These requirements include:
You have to prove that the repair you require is in clear violation of H&S §17920.3, Civil Codes § 1941.1 or § 1941.3 You can’t withhold rent simply because you’re annoyed about something. When you decide to withhold rent, you have to be able to prove to the court that:
- You weren’t the cause of the problem.
- That the problem is clearly a health or safety hazard
- That you reported the issue to your landlord and also provided them with a reasonable deadline for making the repair, a deadline that they blatantly ignored. The amount of time to provide the landlord to correct the problem often depends on the problem itself. For some repairs, the state of California allows the landlord up to a month to repair the issue, but for other issues, such as a broken door or window lock, the problem needs to be corrected right away.
When you decide that you are going to withhold rent in order to get repairs done on the property, you should be prepared for your landlord to react badly. They may even try to evict you. If this happens, you’ll need to appear in court and provide the judge with evidence that you adhered to all local laws.
Before withholding rent, you need to contact the local court system for your county or city. Different cities have different rules about rent. It’s not unheard of for a city to require the rent that you’re not paying the landlord be directed to a city escrow account.