Pursuant to California Civil Code _ 1941, landlords have a duty to maintain
residential property in a condition "fit for human occupation."
Landlords must not let conditions exist that render the property "untenantable."
Such conditions may include lack of weather protection, broken windows,
doors, or locks, plumbing or gas problems, lack of hot or cold water,
electrical problems, or unclean, unsanitary conditions. (Parallel duties
may also exist under the rental agreement and the common law.)
If a landlord fails to remedy an untenantable condition, the tenant may
undertake repairs and deduct the cost from the rent, but only under certain
Initially, the tenant must give the landlord "reasonable" notice
that an untenantable condition exists and that it requires fixing. Although
this notice may be oral, it should be in writing. Thirty (30) days is
presumed to be a "reasonable" amount of time, however it can
be much less depending on the type and severity of the condition.
After the notice period expires and the landlord fails to correct the condition,
the tenant can vacate the property with no further obligation or the tenant
may repair the condition and deduct the cost of the repair from the next
month's rental payment.
There are two significant limitations to the right to "repair and
deduct": (1) the tenant can deduct a maximum of one month's rent
and (2) a tenant can only utilize this procedure two times in any 12-month period.