Santa Barbara News – When a tenant finds mold in their rental unit

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Be An Informed Tenant

Source: California Consumer Affairs

According to California law, if a tenant finds that his rental unit has been contaminated by mold, the implied warranty of habitability law applies. The information cited below can be found on the address listed above.

An authoritative reference book suggests two additional ways in which the implied warranty of habitability may be violated. The first is the presence of mold conditions in the rental unit that affect the livability of the unit or the health and safety of tenants. The second follows from a new law that imposes obligations on a property owner who is notified by a local health officer that the property is contaminated by methamphetamine. (See When You Have Decided to Rent, Methamphetamine Contamination.) This reference book suggests that a tenant who is damaged by this kind of documented contamination may be able to claim a breach of the implied warranty of habitability.

Limitations on landlord’s duty to keep the rental unit habitable

Even if a rental unit is unlivable because of one of the conditions listed above, a landlord may not be legally required to repair the condition if the tenant has not fulfilled the tenant’s own responsibilities.

In addition to generally requiring a tenant to take reasonable care of the rental unit and common areas (see above), the law lists specific things that a tenant must do to keep the rental unit liveable.

Tenants must do all of the following

Keep the premises “as clean and sanitary as the condition of the premises permits.”
Use and operate 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.)
Dispose of trash and garbage in a clean and sanitary manner.
Not destroy, damage, or deface the premises, or allow anyone else to do so.
Not remove any part of the structure, dwelling unit, facilities, equipment, or appurtenances, or allow anyone else to do so.
Use the premises as a place to live, and use the rooms for their intended purposes. For example, the bedroom must be used as a bedroom, and not as a kitchen.
Notify the landlord when dead bolt locks and window locks or security devices don’t operate properly.

However, a landlord may agree in writing to clean the rental unit and dispose of the trash.

If a tenant violates these requirements in some minor way, the landlord is still responsible for providing a habitable dwelling, and may be prosecuted for violating housing code standards. If the tenant fails to do one of these required things, and the tenant’s failure has either substantially caused an unlivable condition to occur or has substantially interfered with the landlord’s ability to repair the condition, the landlord does not have to repair the condition. However, a tenant cannot withhold rent or has no action against the landlord for violating the implied warranty of habitability if the tenant has failed to meet these requirements.

Please contact our downtown Santa Barbara office if you would like further information or have any questions.