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Who is responsible for water damage: tenants or landlords?

When you rent an apartment or property, it might feel like your landlord has all the power. Any time a scuff appears on the floor or a mark on the wall, you see your security deposit slowly slipping away, but you have renters’ rights covered by California laws

If you notice a leak from the roof or a damp spot on the wall, California law might protect you from making repairs or covering costs for water damage yourself.

Responsibility for repairs

According to the California Department of Consumer Affairs, if your rental unit needs repairs, it is your landlord’s responsibility to complete those repairs under the implied warranty of habitability. In simple terms, it is up to your landlord to ensure a safe living environment for tenants by fixing any problems.

In the case of water damage, your health is at risk because certain types of water could lead to mold growth or structural damage. Indoor mold can cause allergies, asthma and other respiratory issues and attract bugs and other pests into the property.

The landlord is required by law to fix any repairs, not caused by tenants. However, it is up to the tenant to report the problem or ask for repairs diligently. Any water problems caused by tenants, guests, pets or children could leave the tenant reliable for fixing damages, but you should check with your rental agreement.

Tenants’ rights

Your landlord might be great and fix the water damage with no issues. Or they might argue it is not up to them to fix the leaking pipe or flooding of the floors. If the damage is no caused by you, you have specific rights under the landlord-tenant law:

  • Repair and deduct: You can deduct up to one month’s rent to pay for repairs in the rental property if they are causing substandard conditions affecting your health or safety. It does not cover minor repairs – only serious issues that impact health.
  • Abandonment: You can move out of the property that needs serious repairs if they cost more than one month’s rent. Again, it only covers serious issues, such as a leaking roof or broken heating.
  • Rent withholding: You can withhold your rent by law if your landlord does not make the proper repairs, despite health concerns. Problems like pest infestations, plumbing blockages and serious water damage cover rent withholding.

Before taking any action, you should allow time for your landlord to make repairs; if the water damage is influencing your health, a couple of days should be the maximum wait.

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