A comprehensive and legally sound lease is one of the most basic necessities for successful landlords in California. Most landlords are concerned about what the lease says, but what about what it doesn’t say?
There are two implied covenants in every California lease that landlords need to be aware of:
You will be hard pressed to find a lease agreement that spells out exactly what those two phrases mean, so we will tackle them here. These are essentially “common sense” laws that are supported by both civil codes and case law. Whether you have them written into your lease agreements or not, they apply and you need to abide by them at all times.
The Covenant of Quiet Enjoyment
You may have also heard of this as the tenant’s right to quiet enjoyment. When you turn over your home to a tenant that has signed a lease and paid a security deposit and first month’s rent, you are transferring legal possession of the property to that tenant.
Many landlords assume that since they own the property, they can show up whenever they want or even use their key to access it to make sure the tenant is “taking care of the property.” That’s your right as the property owner, right?
Wrong. In fact not only is it not your right to do that, it’s a violation of the tenant’s rights. California law dictates when a landlord is allowed to enter a rental property, such as emergencies or to show the property to prospective buyers with reasonable written notice. But reasons such as “I was just in the neighborhood so I thought I would stop by” are never reasonable and are actually illegal.
Other violations of quiet enjoyment include:
Harassing the tenant.
Discontinuing essential services (such as utilities) while the tenant is living there.
Unreasonable restrictions on the use of the property, such as having guests for short periods of time.
Failure to reasonably control nuisances.
Failure to maintain the property in a habitable condition.
That last one is a double whammy because it also falls under the second implied covenant, the warranty of habitability.
While it may sound complicated, ensuring you are not in violation of the covenant of quiet enjoyment is really very simple if you just apply the “Golden Rule.” If you wouldn’t want someone to show up at your house unannounced, harass you or ignore nuisances, don’t do it to your tenant. Just ask yourself, does this action impair the tenant’s ability to enjoy their home in any way?
Put another way, does X prevent the average person from using and enjoying the rental?
The Implied Warranty of Habitability
As property managers, we know better than anyone that to some tenants, everything is an emergency. Whether it’s a broken air conditioner or a dripping faucet, some tenants expect a repair person to be there within minutes of them informing the landlord of the issue.
On the other side, to some landlords, nothing is an emergency or warrants a quick response. The air conditioner broke? Well let’s wait until next month to fix it after rent comes in.
Both of these perspectives are generally unreasonable, and fortunately in this case, California law dictates what is considered necessary for a unit to be considered habitable.
Specifically, those things are:
Effective waterproofing and weather protection of roof and exterior walls, including unbroken windows and doors.
Plumbing or gas facilities maintained in good working order.
A water supply capable of producing hot and cold running water that is connected to a sewage disposal system.
Electrical lighting maintained in good working order.
Building, grounds, and appurtenances kept in every part clean, sanitary, and free from all accumulations of debris, filth, rubbish, garbage, rodents, and vermin.
An adequate number of appropriate receptacles for garbage and rubbish.
Floors, stairways, and railings maintained in good repair.
If anything in this list is not maintained appropriately, the unit is considered uninhabitable and the landlord has a “reasonable” amount of time to make the appropriate repairs (typically considered to be 30 days).
If the tenant or the tenant’s guests cause any of the above, it will be the tenant’s responsibility to return the unit to a habitable condition, not the landlord’s.
While most leases will not have a list like this spelling out what is an emergency and what is not, these are all considered necessary functions of a rental home. Attempts to add anything to the lease such as, “the unit is rented in an as-is condition and the landlord will not maintain any part of the home,” will likely be considered void if challenged.
Tenants should understand that expecting the HVAC technician to show up immediately upon their phone call, in the middle of a cold spell in Winter, is unreasonable, while landlords should make every effort to get a technician out as soon as possible.
A little bit of patience and understanding on both sides of the landlord/tenant relationship, as well as a property manager in the middle to determine what is truly an emergency and what is not, can make dealing with issues like this much less of a headache.
A Note About Tenant-Friendly California
You may read this article as a landlord and think that if the law does not say black and white what you are not allowed to do when it comes to your tenant, you are in the clear. Or if the repair your tenant is repeatedly requesting isn’t one that compromises habitability, you don’t have to make it.
It’s important to keep in mind that in California, you are always seen as the stronger party in a lawsuit and California judges are much more likely to side with the tenant and interpret the law in the tenant’s favor rather than in yours.
Navigating landlord-tenant law can be complicated and things are rarely as black and white as they seem. At Mesa Properties, we are very familiar not only with the laws surrounding your rental property, but also with outcomes if you were to be sued by your tenant. You don’t have to give in to a tenant bully, but you should make every reasonable effort to ensure your tenants have the right to both quiet enjoyment and habitability. A good property manager can help you navigate these tricky waters and help you do the right thing while maximizing your profits and keeping you out of legal trouble. Give us a call today to experience peace and assurance that your property is being managed safely and legally!