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Most landlords are quick to make necessary repairs to tenants’ homes because they know that if repairs go unfixed, then the tenant is likely to either not renew their lease or take legal action. As such, if you are a tenant and your residence needs a repair, then the first thing that you want to do is to promptly notify the landlord of the needed repair. Ideally, you will have time to put your repair request in writing (or submit it electronically), so that there is a record of your repair request. Keep copies of your repair requests, for they will be important to you if your dispute ends up in court. But, if there is no time to make a written request (e.g., there is a water leak), then follow up your initial telephonic or oral request with an email or written note. The email or note only needs to say something such as, “As I mentioned, the roof in the bedroom is leaking. Thank you, for agreeing to send someone to fix it right away.” The point of the written record is to prove that you told the landlord about the problem.

Sometimes when the repair is not urgent, then you may run into a landlord who is slow to fix the problem. Other times, a landlord simply will refuse to make necessary repairs because the landlord doesn’t want to spend the money.

If your landlord refuses to make necessary repairs to your apartment or house, then you may need to contact your local housing and code enforcement department for help (it’s free). Code enforcement is responsible for enforcing laws of the State of California and some county ordinances. The local housing and code enforcement department can inspect the rental property and document any code violations. (See the list below of most major counties’ code enforcement telephone numbers.)

Briefly, the Uniform Housing Code and the California State Health and Safety Code set minimum standards for dwellings. A code violation makes a building “substandard” within the meaning of the law when the violation is to such an extent that it endangers life, limb, health, property, safety, or the welfare of the public. Code enforcement thus will check to see if your home meets those standards. These standards include such items as requiring adequate heating, plumbing, and electrical systems, and more.

After code enforcement inspects the rental property, if it finds code violations, then the code enforcement inspector will mail the property owner a courtesy letter explaining the alleged complaint and ask that the owner contact the code enforcement department for information on how to fix the alleged violations. The property owner is then given a reasonable amount of time to take care of the violation. If the owner fails to timely fix the problem, then it may be subjected to fines (and other legal measures). Be that as it may, code enforcement works with many responsible property owners who maintain or bring properties into compliance. This type of voluntary compliance is the goal, rather than issuing fines and enforced compliance.

But sometimes landlords don’t take too kindly to tenants calling code enforcement for help. And it time landlords begin to take retaliatory actions against the tenants. The retaliation may take the form of a refusal to renew a lease. Or it may take the form of towing a tenant’s car even though it had the proper parking sticker on it. Some landlords may even go into a tenant’s unit and snoop around or do damage to the unit while the tenant is away from home. If you sense that the landlord has begun to retaliate against you, then seek legal help ASAP. You have a right to live in a non-threatening environment. There are specific laws that protect tenants from landlord retaliation. Feel free to call us if you need help.

Code Enforcement Telephone Numbers:

Alemeda County: (925) 960-9486 or (510) 670-5400 or (510) 238-3381
Contra Costa County: (925) 674-7210
Fresno County: (559) 600-4550
Kern County: (661) 862-8602
Los Angeles County: 3-1-1 or (213) 473-3231
Monterey County: 2-1-1 or (831) 372-8026
Orange County (Environmental Health): (714) 433-6000
Riverside County: (951) 955-2004
Sacramento County: 3-1-1 or (916) 875-4311
San Bernardino County: (909) 884-4056 or (760) 995-8140
San Diego County (Environmental Health): (858) 505-6903
San Joaquin County: (209) 460-5000
San Francisco County: (415) 558-6454
Santa Clara County: (408) 299-5770
Solano County: (707) 784-6100
Sonoma County: (707) 565-1992
Stanislaus County: (209) 525-6700
Tulare County: (559) 624-7060
Ventura County: 2-1-1 or (800) 339-9597
Yolo County: (530)757-5646

Post Author: Stuart E. Fagan

Fair housing litigator with over 25 years' experience accepting cases in California.