Does My Apartment Have a Habitability Problem?

Under the basic tenets of tenant law, there are many reasons that either the landlord or the tenant may break a lease. In some instances, the conditions created by the tenant may afford the landlord the right to seek eviction of the tenant from their property. However, there are also several ways in which Los Angeles tenant law affords the tenant the right to withhold rent and even break a lease. One of these instances is when the landlord fails to provide a habitable environment in the rental property.

What is Habitability?

The landlord has specific obligations to the tenant regarding the rental property. One of the essential requirements is that the property in question must qualify as habitable. Habitability is a measure of whether or not the rental property has the vital, fundamental elements associated with a rented domicile. Included among these requirements is access to working electricity, access to both cold and hot running water, and either air conditioning or heating in locations with extreme temperatures outside. When a landlord does not provide these essential elements, then the rental property may not qualify as habitable.

What Violates the Standards of Habitability?

In addition to providing access to essential elements like water and electricity, the landlord also owes a duty to the tenant to ensure that certain health hazards and other dangerous conditions do not exist in the rental property. These conditions can include the presence of hazardous mold or algae growth, infestations of insects or rodents, or the presence of other potentially harmful conditions that the landlord are aware (or should be aware) present a threat to the health of the tenant or the health of the tenant’s guests.

How Can a Tenant Deal with an Uninhabitable Property?

If a tenant is unable to move (or they do not want to move) and attempts to live with the uninhabitable conditions in a rental property, the landlord is responsible for fixing the circumstances that make the property uninhabitable. If, after being properly notified of the unsafe or unacceptable conditions that exist, the landlord refuses to make the necessary repairs to render the property habitable, a tenant is permitted to withhold rent until the landlord makes the repairs. To successfully demonstrate that withholding rent is justified, proper documentation of the uninhabitable conditions (as well as the attempt to notify the landlord of the condition) is of paramount importance. To properly document unlivable living conditions, the tenant should take photographs of the hazardous conditions, as well as make a note of the time and date of the occurrence of any significant issues that arise and any attempts to contact the landlord to remedy the uninhabitable situation.

What About Eviction?

While a tenant may be justified in withholding rent because a rental property is uninhabitable, the landlord does have the right to initiate eviction proceedings when rent is not delivered. For this reason, many tenants seek the advice of a qualified legal team, like the one at Tenants Law Firm, to ensure that they can best defend their rights as tenants.