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By Karen Drum-Sousa
Fair Housing advocate 

Habitability: Power outages


October 26, 2019

Historically, landlords and tenants have been on opposite sides of the fence. Thankfully, the Fair Housing Laws define the rights of both, as well as all aspects of housing transactions from rental, sales, realtors, management companies, insurance, etc. This column is designed to bridge the gap between the two.

With the current mandatory power outages, a new issue has arisen and some tenants are trying to make the landlord responsible. Let me explain.

When a landlord rents out a home, there is an “Implied Warranty of Habitability.” That is, by his action of renting out the unit, he is “implying” that the unit is legally habitable.

A basic summary of the implied warranty of habitability requires that a California landlord:

• Keep the building’s floors, walls, stairs and roofs safe and intact.

• Maintain all common areas, including stairways and hallways, to be safe and clean.

• Keep plumbing, sanitation, electrical, heating, ventilation, elevator and air conditioning systems operating safely.

• Provide trash receptacles for tenants and arrange routine trash pickup.

• Supply reasonable amounts of cold and hot water at reasonable times.

• Exterminate infestations of rodents and other pests.

• Manage known hazards, including asbestos, lead paint and mold so they do not pose an increased danger.

The list above describes issues that are major and not minor. To clarify, a defect is considered “minor” because it does not render the rental uninhabitable. A “major” defect makes your rental uninhabitable. You’ll notice that all of these items are within a landlord’s control to maintain and/or repair. However, our recent power outages are not within a landlord’s control, therefore relieving him/her of any liability and/or responsibility. Those of you who plan on suing your landlord because your rental wasn’t “habitable” due to the lack of power may want to reconsider.

California’s implied warranty of habitability requires a landlord to keep the premises in a condition fit for the occupation of human beings. Landlords must substantially comply with housing and building codes/standards that materially affect a tenant’s safety and health. If your California landlord does not provide adequate heat or hot water regularly or fails to get rid of an insect infestation or rodent infestation, for example, then the implied warranty of habitability has been breached. On the other hand, if a tenant causes the unlivable, unclean, or unsafe condition by damaging the property, it is not the landlord’s responsibility to repair any arising issues.

If you have actual habitability issues, advise your landlord in writing of the issue(s) asking that the repairs be made in a reasonable amount of time. If the landlord refuses the repairs, make contact with the governing agency for that issue (Health Dept., Building and Safety, Code Enforcement, etc.) There are alternate remedies that include withholding of rent, but it’s not recommended except in extreme cases. For greater clarity and assistance, contact a Fair Housing professional.

Please email any questions to

Karen Drum-Sousa is not an attorney. Karen Drum-Sousa has been a Fair Housing advocate since her employment in the industry in March of 2000. To date, her experience includes discrimination testing, landlord/tenant mediation/conciliation and working with HUD and the DOJ as the C.O.O. of a Fair Housing organization.


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