A: The landlord/tenant legal relationship in California is complicated at best.
As we go through this, remember that all landlord/tenant laws are state laws. That is, each state decides how they will regulate their rental market.
And, not surprisingly, California has a rather unique set of laws, almost all of which are designed to protect the consumer. In this case, you’re the consumer. So I’m afraid your brother may be very knowledgeable about Texas landlord/tenant law but that’s not a lot of help for you.
The issue you’re talking about is that big, scary and confusing area of the law collectively known as “habitability.” Habitability is the subject of great confusion, particularly for tenants. Over the years I’ve seen more tenants than I count who would argue that habitability is the same thing you might get from a new home builder in the form of a warranty.
For example; if you buy a new home and the following month a crack appears in the wall near the entryway you’d just call the builder and he’d fix it. That’s because it’s under warranty.
Habitability is completely different.
If a tenant has moved into that same home, and the same crack appears, it’s not a habitability issue, as I’ll explain.
California Civil Code section 1941 requires landlords to maintain the home in a habitable condition. That code section, and subsequent court decisions, have narrowed the scope of what’s considered a habitability issue.
On the short list are such things as: Effective water and weather protection, adequate plumbing and sewage system, heating, a safe electrical system with at least one outlet in each room, and an adequate trash disposal system or procedure.
In your case it’s an easy call to determine that your landlord is violating the habitability laws by refusing to maintain a waterproof environment. Even though your landlord is aware of the problem, you should give him a written notice that there is a dangerous condition that needs to be repaired immediately.
His failure to make the repairs in a reasonable time, perhaps a week or two depending upon the weather, triggers your right to withhold rent. But you will want to do more than just withhold the rent. You’ll want to use it to hire a roofer to make the repair.
When a habitability issue is serious, as here, and the landlord fails to act, the tenant has a right to use his rent money to have the repair made. The landlord is still entitled to any amount of rent that was due above and beyond the amount you spend making the repair.
Make sure you hang onto any receipts from the repairs you’ve paid for. You must deliver copies of the receipts to the landlord with the remainder of your rent.
Also, if the repairs that are needed will cost more than one month’s rent, you can, at your option, abandon the rental property.
In other words, you can move and demand the return of your entire deposit, regardless of the time remaining on your lease.