Tenants have legal responsibilities too

Colin McCarthy
Colin McCarthy | 3 min. read

Published on July 6, 2011

Recent posts have suggested onerous burdens and detailed obligations owed by landlords.  “What about the tenants?” you ask.  They have some responsibilities, too.  If a tenant in California does not adhere to these minimum requirements, a landlord may not be held responsible for failure to provide a tenant with a habitable residence – i.e. the bare necessities.  Let’s outline them here, ok?

To successfully prosecute a claim against you for not providing those bare necessities, a tenant probably should be able to show that:

  • He kept the unit clean and not unsanitary.  He cannot let it get dirtier than it was when he first started renting.
  • He cannot abuse or misuse the plumbing, gas, or electric fixtures in the unit.
  • He should prevent his guests from damaging the premises.
  • He should make written requests of his landlord when he wants something in the unit fixed.
  • When you come to fix it, he should not prevent you from doing so.  He should not put the chain lock on.  He should not refuse to let you come to fix it on reasonable notice.
  • He should throw out his trash and garbage.

If your standard lease agreement does not spell out some of these responsibilities, you might consult with your transactional attorney to see if such terms can or should be incorporated.

Basic equity (and some statutes) provide that a tenant should inform you if he believes the premises are or have become uninhabitable.  Any delay might not only increase whatever damage is already occurring, but also might put the responsibility for some of the damages back on the tenant.

If your tenant comes to you with a complaint about vermin, leaking roofs, holes in the floor, plumbing that doesn’t work, electricity failures, or heating failures and the like, do not wait to inspect.  Promptly and with appropriate notice to the tenant go and verify if what has been reported is true.  If it is, fix the problem.

How soon you fix it depends on the nature of the problem.  If the premises lack electricity, the fix should be prompt.  You probably would want to fix the broken floor furnace sooner rather than later if reported during the winter.  In the summer?  Not so much.  But remember to use common sense.  Even small problems – like a missing glass pane right next to the lock on the front door – might need to be addressed quickly.

This blog submission is only for purposes of disseminating information.  It does not constitute legal advice.  The statements in this blog submissions do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Robinson & Wood, Inc. or its clients.  No attorney-client relationship is formed by virtue of reading this blog entry or submitting a comment thereto.  If you need legal advice, please hire a licensed attorney in your state.

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Colin McCarthy

Colin G. McCarthy is a partner in the business litigation, products liability, and insurance practice groups at Robinson & Wood in San Jose, California.

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