California’s Implied Warranty of Habitability

Owners of real estate, as well as renters and managers of real estate,  should be aware of their duties to maintain safe conditions on the property that they control because if someone is injured on the property, they could be sued and held liable for significant damages.   With the exception of the greater Eureka-Arcata area, Humboldt County has remained largely undeveloped over the years.   As a result, there are many buildings that were originally built in complete disregard of the County’s applicable codes.  Owners and occupiers should know the legal status of their buildings before it is too late and someone is injured as a result of failing to maintain appropriate living conditions.

The 1974 landmark case in the California Supreme Court, Green v. Superior Court, established an important principle called the Implied Warranty of Habitability.  (Green v. Superior Court (1974) 10 Cal.3d 616, 637-638.)  This concept is implied in every residential rental agreement in California and cannot be waived, even with explicit language.  The concept obligates landowners to ensure that every rental property meets minimum standards.  While the landlord is not responsible for damages the tenant causes, the landlord must ensure that the property meets certain minimum standards.  If  he or she does not, the tenant will be justified in withholding rent and can potentially claim other damages as well, especially if the tenant or guests of the tenant are injured on the property.

Prior to renting property, the landowner must bring it into substantial compliance with state and local laws, including building and health codes.  (Green v. Superior Court, 10 Cal.3d at 637-638; Health and Safety Code §17920.3.)  Failure to meet minimum standards, as described in the State Housing Law, will result in the dwelling being “substandard.”  Some obvious problems which would indicate a building is “substandard” include inadequate sanitation,  structural hazards,  faulty wiring,  fire hazards, and nuisances, but even problems with plumbing and failure to comply with building codes could be sufficient to show negligent conduct in a lawsuit.  (Health and Safety Code §17920.3.)

California courts have declared that “the tenant may be financially unable to make the necessary repairs or would be less likely to do so because of his ‘transitory interest’ and that the burden should be on the landlord who derives benefits from the tenancy in the form of rentals.”  Grant v. Hipsher (1967) 257 Cal. App. 2d 375, 383-984.

If you are a tenant in Humboldt County and have reason to believe you have suffered injury resulting from a substandard rental, the Janssen Law Firm may be able to provide you with legal help relating to the habitability of your home.  Similarly, if you are a landlord in Humboldt County and require legal advice on how to best protect yourself from a lawsuit, attorneys at the Janssen Law Firm are available and equipped to assist you.