A landlord’s duty to maintain a habitable unit can morph as the winter months approach here in California. What makes a unit habitable in the summer months can change with the seasons and the drop in temperature. In our recent California Landlord Basics webinar on December 16 (view replay here), we discussed the statutory requirements for a residential unit to be considered habitable (See Cal. Civ. Code § 1941.1).
As discussed in our webinar, habitability is determined based on “reasonableness”. A landlord has a duty to repair defects that make a unit uninhabitable (See Green v. Superior Court (1974) 10 Cal. 3d 616). Typically, a landlord has 30 days to repair a defect that affects habitability, but this is not a set requirement. The court has discretion to determine if the landlord acted reasonably, despite the 30 day repair standard.
While issues with a unit’s water heater or furnace in July wouldn’t necessarily warrant an emergency fix, a lack of heat and hot water in the bitter cold temperatures of December might. A broken water heater and furnace at this time of year would certainly require a shorter time-frame for repair. Also, defects in the roofing and windows of a unit can be particularly uncomfortable for a tenant in the winter. These defects specifically related to the winter months not only affect the tenant’s comfort, but could also cause health concerns. Proactive landlords should consider these 5 tips during the winter months to prevent headaches, excessive repairs costs, and legal fees later on:
- Minimum Temperature
The California Department of Housing requires existing residential units to be capable of maintaining a minimum room temperature of 70° F at a point three feet above the floor in all habitable rooms ( See 25 CCR § 34). Check in with your tenant to make sure the heater is working adequately. http://www.hcd.ca.gov/codes/state-housing-law/shlstatutes.htm
- Water Heater Repair
A water heater check-up may be wise to avoid an emergency repair situation during the colder months. As mentioned in our webinar, the required repair time for a water heater is much shorter than the typical 30 day standard (more like 1-3 days).
- Roof inspection
Winter usually means more severe weather, including rain and snow, depending on where in California you are located. Civil Code § 1941.1 requires the unit to have a weather-protected roof. Ensuring that the roof of your rental unit is in good condition by having it inspected could save thousands in future emergency repair costs.
- Weather Stripping Unit
Keep your tenants happy by keeping their energy bills down. Inspect windows and doors to make sure they are not allowing cold air inside. Weather stripping the unit helps keep the tenants costs down, and also makes the unit more eco-friendly.
- Travel and Frozen Pipes
Advise tenants to keep the heater on, even minimally, if they are travelling for the holidays. When temperatures drop below 30° F, and the heater is left completely off, pipes have the potential to freeze. Keeping the heat on, even on a low setting, could help prevent freezing. The American Red Cross recommends setting the thermostat while you are travelling at no lower than 55° F. (See http://www.redcross.org/get-help/prepare-for-emergencies/types-of-emergencies/winter-storm/frozen-pipes)