Under California law landlords have to adhere to housing standards and must refrain from using self help. There are housing standards that if violated will deem the property untenantable, meaning it cannot be rented out.
The property is deemed untentantable, if it substantially lacks the following:
(1) Effective waterproofing and wether protection of the roof, walls, windows, and doors;
(2) gas facilities maintained in good working order;
(3) a water supply capable of producing hot and cold running water, and connected to a sewage disposal system;
(4) heating facilities maintained in good working order;
(5) Electrical lighting, maintained in good working order;
(6) the building, the grounds, appurtenances, and all areas under control of the landlord starting from the time of the commencement of the lease or rental agreement have to be kept clean, sanitary, free from all accumulations of debris, filth, rubbish, garbage, rodents, and vermin;
(7) an adequate number of appropriate receptacles for garbage and rubbish, in clean condition and good repair at the time of the commence of the lease or rental agreement, and the landlord is responsible for the clean condition and good repair of the receptacles under his or her control;
(8) floors, stairways maintained in good repair.
The landlord also has to be sure he complies with local ordinances and any remodeling has to comply with existing building codes.
A landlord of a dwelling cannot legally demand rent, collect rent, issue a notice of a rent increase, or issue a three day notice to pay rent or quit, if the property is untentable and:
(1) A public officer or employee who is responsible for the enforcement of any housing law, after inspecting the premises, has notified the landlord or the landlord’s agent in writing of his or her obligations to abate the nuisance or repair the substandard conditions;
(2) The conditions have existed and have not been removed 35 days after notice was received from a public officer and the delay is not for good cause;
(3) and the conditions were not caused by an act of the tenant or the tenants failure to act.
A landlord that demands rent, collects rent, or issues a notice of rent increase, or issues a three day notice to pay or quit and the four conditions are present then the landlord liable to the tenant for the actual damages, plus special damages of no less than $100 and not more than $5,000.00. The prevailing party is also entitle to reasonable attorney fees and costs.
This does not mean that the tenant can cause these conditions and it does not mean that
the landlord is liable if the tenant chooses to live in substandard conditions. The landlord has no duty to repair a dilapidation if the tenant is in substantial violation of the following affirmative obligations:
(1) The tenant is obligated to keep that part of the premises which he occupies and uses clean and sanitary as the condition the premises permit;
(2) The tenant is required to properly dispose for his dwelling unit all rubbish, garbage and other waste , in a clean and sanitary manner;
(3) The tenant is obligated to refrain from giving permission to any person on the premises to willfully destroy, deface, damage, impair or remove any part fo the structure and the tenant also must refrain from doing such things;
(4) The tenant is obligated to occupy the premises as his abode, utilizing portions for living, sleeping, cooking or dining purposes only as the dwelling was designed and intended to be used.
These are the most basic requirements, but the list of obligations and responsibilities is much broader and imposes even more responsibilities on the landlord. What is shocking, is that a landlord is allowed to legally harass a tenant, even when the landlord has no viable claim and is in violation of the preceding. A landlord can initiate eviction proceedings and even evict a tenant, even if the landlord is in violation of the aforementioned housing violations. If the tenant is able to obtain counsel to represent the tenant the landlord can litigate the lawsuit and then on the day of trial simply dismiss the lawsuit.
If the landlord alleges a contract violation as the basis of the lawsuit, the landlord can dismiss the lawsuit at the very last minute and not incur any attorney fees or costs, because if there is an attorney fee provisions in the lease agreement there is no winner when the landlord voluntarily dismisses the case. It is a loophole that essentially encourages frivolous lawsuits. Under California law the landlord could bring a frivolous lawsuit several times and dismiss them just before trial after the tenant has exhausted thousands defending the lawsuit. This is how a landlord can harass a tenant legally.
It is not right, it is not fair, and certainly not just, but it is the result that was created by the State Legislature.