Last Updated on December 1, 2023 by Kelvin Nielsen
Plumbing problems can be nightmarish! A leaky faucet, or a clogged or malfunctioning toilet can make your life as a tenant in California a pain in the neck. But do you know what’s worse? Having an unresponsive landlord!
California law grants tenants a smorgasbord of rights. And among these is the right to live in a habitable property. This legal requirement is commonly known as the “implied warranty of quiet enjoyment.” CA Civ. Code § 1941.2.
In today’s blog, we’ll walk you through everything you need to know when it comes to tenant rights to plumbing problems in California.
Tenant Rights To Plumbing Problems in California
The following are answers to commonly asked questions on the topic.
What repairs are landlords responsible for in California when it comes to plumbing problems?
As already mentioned, as a renter in California, you have a right to live in a habitable property. That is, a property that meets the basic health and safety codes. Among other things, your landlord must provide you with a property with working plumbing fixtures.
The following are examples of plumbing fixtures that a CA landlord must provide.
- A working toilet. It must be in good condition and flushing properly.
- A working shower or bathtub. Both of these must be in good working condition and have cold and hot running water. They must also drain properly as well.
- A working sink. This must have both hot and cold running water and drain properly.
- A water heater. This must have running hot water for the shower, sink, and bathtub. Civil Code § 1941.1(a)(3).
In addition to all of these specific fixtures, your landlord must also ensure that the entire plumbing system is in good working condition. This includes the fixtures (promised in the lease agreement), pipes, and drains.
The system must also be free of plumbing problems such as clogging and leakage.
What are the tenant rights to plumbing problems in California?
One of the responsibilities landlords in California have is maintaining the plumbing in their rental properties. They must ensure the plumbing is safe and habitable at all times.
The must make sure that they fix plumbing problems like backflows, broken toilets, clogged drains, leaky faucets, and sewage backups within reason time after receiving a written request from the tenant.
Once you send them the request, the landlord will have up to 30 days to respond. If they don’t, you may have several options to consider.
- You may have a right to withhold rent payments.
- You may be able to repair the plumbing problem yourself and then deduct the repair cost from future rent payments. In other words, you may be able to call a plumber and then charge your landlord.
- Break the lease and move out without penalty.
- Sue the landlord for any damages caused to your property.
Who is responsible for plumbing repairs in a rental?
Generally speaking, the landlord is responsible for plumbing repairs in a rental property. Including, the repairs resulting from normal wear and tear.
That said, a few exceptions do exist. For example, as a tenant, you may be liable for plumbing repairs if the problems arise from your negligence or carelessness.
As a tenant, you may become liable for plumbing repairs in the following examples.
- The toilet becomes clogged because you flushed something you shouldn’t have, such as a diaper or a sanitary pad.
- A faucet begins to leak because you carelessly forgot to tighten up the handle.
- A pipe broke because you hit it with a hammer.
- A water line froze because, despite clear instructions from the landlord, you left the faucet dripping during a cold snap.
What to do when the landlord refuses to fix plumbing problems?
As already mentioned, California renters have several options when the landlord refuses to fix plumbing problems. You can withhold rent, sue for damages, break the lease without penalty, and repair the issue yourself and deduct the cost from future rent payments.
That said, you must be very careful when exercising such legal options. Why? If you withhold rent illegally, the landlord could have a legitimate reason to evict you for nonpayment of rent.
So, before exercising any of these legal rights, you may want to ask yourself a few questions.
- Is the plumbing problem I’m facing a habitability issue? In other words, does the problem make the unit unlivable? For instance, not having running water, a leaky pipe causing water damage, or experiencing a backed-up sewer line.
- Have you notified the landlord of the problem in writing? Under California law, tenants must notify their landlords of habitability issues in writing and within 30 days.
- Did the landlord fail to do the repairs within the time frame?
- Are you responsible for the plumbing problem? If you are, then you cannot exercise any legal option. For instance, you cannot withhold rent if you or a member of your household caused a sewer backup.
- Have you documented the plumbing problem? For instance, have records of the date you notified the landlord, when they promised they will have the problems fixed, or the photos or video of the issue?
If you correctly answer these questions, then you may be able to justifiably withhold rent payments.
Can a landlord charge for plumbing repairs?
Yes! If the plumbing problem arises from your carelessness, negligence, abuse, or misuse, your landlord can definitely charge you.
California law requires landlords to make repairs that are necessary for a property to be habitable. They cannot charge you for repairs that you aren’t responsible for, or those that arise from normal wear and tear.
How long can a landlord leave you without a toilet?
According to the California Health and Safety Code Section 17920.3, landlords must fix toilet problems within 24 hours or proper notification.
If the landlord isn’t able to do so, you may have a right to break the lease without penalty.
What of a clogged toilet? Who is responsible for clogged toilet landlord or tenant? This will depend on the cause of the clogging. Generally speaking, the landlord is responsible for repairs resulting from normal wear and tear. Such as, clogs arising from toilet paper, hair, or other organic matter.
That said, if the clogging results from other things, such as a disposable wipe, a sanitary pad, or a toy, then a tenant would certainly be responsible.
You may also want to check the lease agreement for clear responsibilities regarding plumbing problems.
How long does landlord have to fix hot water in California?
Under California residential heating requirements, hot water is considered an essential repair. And typically, a landlord must fix the issue anywhere between 24 and 72 hours.
Here is a comprehensive guide on “no hot water in apartment laws” in California.
Do you need the landlord’s permission to change shower head?
Check the lease agreement for specific terms. Why? The landlord may want to make sure that the new shower head is safe for use, that the new shower head is compatible with a hot water heater (or any other fixture), or have specific requirements for the type of shower head that can be used.
In short, always seek your landlord’s permission before making any alteration, even as minor as it may seem to you.
There you have it – tenant rights to plumbing problems in California. But while tenants enjoy numerous rights under California law, it’s always important to due diligence on what you can and can’t do! Hopefully, this blog has helped provide you with the clarification you were looking for.
Disclosure: The content herein isn’t a substitute for advice from a professional attorney. It’s only meant to serve educational purposes. If you have a specific question, kindly seek expert attorney services.
Sources: CA Civ. Code § 1941.2, nolo.com, https://www.biegplumbing.com/5-most-common-apartment-plumbing-problems-and-how-to-deal-with-them/, CA Civil Code 1940-1954.06, https://www.findlaw.com/realestate/landlord-tenant-law/repairs-maintenance.html,
Hi, I’m Kelvin Nielsen, an experienced landlord and accomplished real estate lawyer. My focus is on answering your questions about renting in the hopes of making your life as a renter or a landlord a bit easier.