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Save Yourself Grief: Know the Difference Between Habitable and Not



Just when you thought the creepy crawlies from Halloween were long gone, you’ve noticed that a whole new family of bugs and rodents has arrived. It seems like your rental is falling apart, practically resembling a haunted house! As the seasons and weather change, and you’ve settled into your rental apartment or house, you might start to ponder what your landlord’s rights and responsibilities (as well as yours!) are as related to the habitability (livability) of your rental. Have no fear! The Community Housing Office is here to help you figure out all of the legal mumbo-jumbo and how to get a rental that feels safe and secure.

First, some landlord/tenant jargon, supplied by the State of California, Department of Consumer Affairs, “California Tenants” guide:

 

Habitable: a rental unit that is fit for human beings to live in. A rental unit that substantially complies with building and safety code standards that materially affect tenants’ health and safety is said to be “habitable.”

Uninhabitable: a rental unit that has such serious problems or defects that the tenant’s health or safety is affected. A rental unit may be uninhabitable if it is not fit for human beings to live in, if it fails to substantially comply with building and safe code stands that materially affect tenant’s health and safety, if it contains a lead hazard or if it is a dangerous substandard building.

Some of the things a landlord must provide in a dwelling (for the full list, come to CHO):

  • Effective waterproofing and weather protection of roof and exterior walls, including unbroken windows and doors.
  • Plumbing facilities in good working order, including hot and cold running water, connected to a sewage disposal system.
  • Gas facilities in good working order.
  • Heating facilities in good working order.
  • An electric system, including lighting, wiring and equipment, in good working order.
  • Clean and sanitary buildings, grounds and appurtenances (for example, a garden or detached garage), free from debris, filth, rubbish, garbage, rodents and vermin.
  • Floors, stairways and railings in good repair.
  • A working toilet, wash basin and bathtub or shower. These must be in a room which is ventilated and allows privacy.
  • Operable deadlocks on the main entry doors of rental units, and operable locking or security devices on windows.
  • Working smoke detectors.

Remember that there is a difference between living in a place that should not be occupied by humans and living in a place that could use a coat of paint, an area rug to cover stained carpets or ant spray for a normal (and annoying) ant infestation.

Keeping a rental habitable isn’t solely up to the landlord. The tenant is responsible for quite a few things as well:

  • Keeping the premises “clean and sanitary as the condition of the premises permits.”
  • Using and operating gas, electrical and plumbing fixtures properly. (Examples of improper use include overloading electrical outlets; flushing large, foreign objects down the toilet; and allowing any gas, electrical or plumbing fixture to become filthy.)
  • Disposing of trash and garbage in a clean and sanitary manner.
  • Not destroying, damaging or defacing the premises, or allowing anyone else to do so.
  • Not removing any part of the structure, dwelling unit, facilities, equipment or appurtenances, or allowing anyone else to do so.
  • Using the premises as a place to live, and using the rooms for their intended purposes. For example, the bedroom must be used as a bedroom, and not as a kitchen.
  • Notifying the landlord when the dead bolt locks and window locks or security devices don’t operate properly.

As soon as you find that your rental has problems that may create an uninhabitable situation, you need to tell your landlord ASAP (be specific in your request about the problem’s effect on you, what you want done and when). The sooner you let the landlord know, the sooner they can exterminate the critters or patch a leaky roof before things get out of hand. Additionally, it is important that the landlord have reasonable time to remedy the problems before you move forward with any other processes. The best approach to notify your landlord of necessary repairs is to put every repair and maintenance request in writing, and keep a copy for yourself. If you do call or talk to your landlord in person first, don’t forget to follow up with a written request.

If you find that you are not getting the response from your landlord that your situation warrants, please come in to CHO where we will help you and your roommates draft a second “repair request,” and discuss options of mediation with your landlord, repair and deduct, withholding rent or moving out. It is important to meet with housing experts (like CHO!) before utilizing the options of withholding rent, repair and deduct or moving out. Call (805) 893-4371, visit us on the 3rd Floor of the UCen, find us on Facebook or submit a request for advice at www.housing.ucsb.edu/chohelp.htm.

Maya Salmon is the program coordinator at UCSB’s Community Housing Office.

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