Minimum Standards for Rentals

What are the Minimum Standards a Landlord Must Provide a Tenant in California?

This is part of our larger Guide to Tenants Rights in California.

Here are the basics about minimum standard of living requirements for apartments and other rental housing in California. In general, any unit for rent in California must be “habitable” (livable), and well maintained. Also, tenants have a right to “quiet enjoyment” of their unit. More about these below.

Does my landlord need to provide me with basic necessities as part of my tenancy?

Yes, your landlord must provide certain necessities and maintenance as part of your tenancy, and comply with the building code, which includes the following:1Civil Code 1941.1-1914.4

  • plumbing with hot and cold running water, connected to a sewage disposal system
  • electricity and lighting
  • gas
  • heating in the winter
  • waterproofing and weather protection of roof and exterior walls, including unbroken windows and doors
  • building, grounds, and all areas under control of the landlord, kept in every part clean, sanitary, and free from all accumulations of debris, filth, rubbish, garbage, rodents, pests, bugs and other vermin
  • an adequate number of appropriate receptacles for garbage
  • floors, stairways, and railings maintained in good repair
  • bathroom with toilet, sink, and bath or shower
  • kitchen sink
  • deadbolt lock on the main entry door, and locking windows
  • natural lighting in every room through windows or skylights: Windows in each room must be able to open at least halfway for ventilation, unless a fan provides mechanical ventilation
  • safe fire or emergency exits leading to a street or hallway: stairs, hallways, and exits must be kept litter-free2Health and Safety Code Sections 17900-17995
  • storage areas, garages, and basements must be kept free of combustible
    materials3Health and Safety Code Sections 17900-17995
  • working smoke detectors in all units of multi-unit buildings. Apartment complexes also must have smoke detectors in common stairwells.4Health and Safety Code 13113.7
  • locking mail box for each unit: the mail box must be consistent with the U.S. Postal Service standards for apartment housing mail boxes5Health and Safety Code Section 17958.3; Civil Code Section 1941.1(i)
  • install and maintain the inside wiring for one telephone jack6Civil Code Section 1941.2(a)(5)
  • free from mold and methamphetamine contamination7Moskovitz et al., California Landlord-Tenant Practice, Section 3.11B (Cal. Cont. Ed. Bar 2009); see Health and Safety Code Sections 25400.10-25400.46, effective January 1, 2006

The landlord must maintain all these things in good working order. But the tenant is also responsible to reasonably maintain the unit and not damage anything or cause any of the issues such as mold.

As to utilities, including gas and electricity, landlords do not have to actually pay for these, but must at least make them available for tenants to pay for.

If the landlord substantially fails to provide any of these things, the unit may be considered “untenantable” or “uninhabitable” (unlivable), and the landlord is not allowed to collect rent or evict the tenant for not paying rent.8Civil Code 1942.4 The tenant can also sue the landlord for violation of the “warranty of habitability.” (But as always, talk to a lawyer before taking any such actions). Also note that this list is not exclusive, and additional problems could also qualify as making the apartment at least partially “uninhabitable.”

Is the landlord required to provide a working refrigerator?

Although surprising to many people, landlords are not legally required to provide a refrigerator for their tenants, unless it is specifically mentioned in the lease.9California Department of Real Estate publication 26 A fridge is considered an “amenity” and does not mean the unit is uninhabitable.

Is the landlord responsible for making repairs?

Yes, although if the landlord does not do so within a reasonable amount of time after the tenant notifies the landlord, the tenant may conduct the repairs and deduct the cost from the rent.10Civil Code 1942 But if the damage is the tenant’s fault, or the fault of the tenant’s family, guests or pets, then the landlord may charge the tenant for the repairs. For example, if the landlord can prove you clogged the pipes with excessive hair or food, then it’s on you.

Is the landlord responsible to deal with a pest infestation?

Generally, yes, a landlord is required to pay for an exterminator or other professional to get rid of bugs, mice, rats, roaches, or other pests. But if the landlord can prove that the problem is due to your failure to keep the place clean or otherwise is your fault, the landlord can legally charge you for the costs to mitigate or abate the pest problem.

Is the unit required to be a minimum size?

Yes. The simple rule of thumb is that there should be no more than 2 occupants or residents per bedroom, plus one additional occupant (“two plus one” formula). So, a 1 bedroom apartment would have a max of 3 occupants, and a 2 bedroom apartment would have a max of 5 occupants.

However the actual restrictions are a bit more complicated, and are based on square footage. Every residential rental unit must have at least one room that is at least 120 square feet; other rooms used for living must be at least 70 square feet; and any room used for sleeping must increase the minimum floor area by 50 square feet for each occupant in excess of two. Different rules apply in the case of “efficiency units.” 11Health and Safety Code Section 17922. See 1997 Uniform Housing Code Section 503(b); Health and Safety Code Section 17958.1.

Is the landlord responsible for anything else other than the minimum?

Other than the specific items listed above, and generally making sure the unit is habitable and in good repair, the landlord is generally has no further obligations as to the condition of the unit unless it is stated in the lease. So if possible, before signing the lease (or consider this for your next lease), make sure you negotiate for any other things you may want or need.

Some examples of things the landlord is usually NOT legally obligated to provide (unless it is in the lease):

  • Lightbulbs, HVAC (A/C) filters, batteries (even for smoke alarms)

Here are some things the landlord usually must handle in a multi-unit building, but NOT in a single family house:

  • Lawn/garden maintenance, including trimming trees and hedges, mowing the lawn
  • Snow shoveling
  • Generally keeping the outside area clean

Is the tenant responsible for normal wear and tear on the apartment?

No, normal wear and tear is the responsibility of the landlord. Wear and tear includes things like minor nicks or marks on the walls, floors and ceiling. Major holes or gouges are beyond normal wear and tear.

Also see our Guide to Security Deposits.

Is the landlord responsible for excessive noise?

Every tenant in California has the right to “quiet enjoyment” of their unit. This is also known as the “covenant of quiet enjoyment.”

This means that the tenant has the right to enjoy their rental unit without “substantial interference” from the landlord. It ensures that tenants benefit from the full use and enjoyment of their rental unit.

Landlords who do not provide tenants with quiet enjoyment as specified in California Civil Code section 1927 may be liable to tenants for a refund of all or part of the rent paid for the period during which the landlord was notified of the offending activity but failed to properly deal with it.

In order to prove that a landlord breached the covenant of quiet enjoyment, you must be able to prove that (1) the activity was caused by the landlord or by someone under the landlord’s control, which may include other tenants, and (2) the interference was substantial; Minor inconveniences or annoyances are not enough.

So, if the unit next door throws loud, crazy parties all the time, and your landlord knows about it and won’t do anything, you may have a claim that your landlord breached the covenant of quiet enjoyment.

If you believe your landlord has breached the covenant of quiet enjoyment, you should  request in writing that the landlord stops the behavior interfering with your enjoyment of the rental unit.

If this does not work, you may want to discuss with a landlord-tenant lawyer.

Further Resources

For a much more detailed guide to the California state laws for renters, see the publication by the Department of Consumer Affairs Tenants’ Guide.

For assistance with any of these issues, talk to a landlord tenant lawyer.

See more about Laws for Tenants in California.

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