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January 12, 2011 11:10 PM   Subscribe

Possible Slumlord...Do I have a right to withhold partial rent from my landlord since my apartment building has been without proper hot water for the last month?

I live in Long Beach, CA. I live in a 14 unit apartment complex. In December, I informed the on-site manager on 2 separate occasions that there wasn't any hot water. She told me it was just the weather and that it's just because the water heater is too small. I've spoken with other tenants and they have also said they have been without hot water. On December 30, 2010 I emailed the owner of the building since the on-site manager failed to tell him. The owner told me that after the New Year the maintenance man would fix the hot water issue. I withheld $100 from rent. On Friday, January 7, 2011 the owner came and told me that I had no right to withhold rent from him and that he NEEDED all of the rent. He told me that he and the maintenance man came and fixed the hot water issue 3 days after I wrote him. However, I take showers on a daily basis at different times during the day, always getting hot water for approx. 3-5 minutes then it goes cold. The owner was adamant I pay him the remaining balance no matter if it's fixed or not. Then he said that he NEVER does this for a tenant but he will only ask for $50 of the remaining balance. It is now Wednesday January 12, 2011 and the issue has yet to fixed.
Do I have a right to withhold the rest of rent since it isn't fixed?
posted by zombiehoohaa to Home & Garden (8 answers total)
Best answer: From California Landlord/Tenant Law Overview:

The landlord is under an obligation to put and keep his rental units in a condition fit for human occupancy, ... A building fit for human occupancy must have at least the following characteristics...

3. Water supply up to code providing hot and cold water

Where the landlord fails to maintain the premises as above (i.e. the tenant requests a repair and it is not resolved in a timely manner (30 days is presumed reasonable), then the tenant has a number of remedies. He may do the repair himself and deduct it from rent under certain circumstances, or vacate and be discharged from further obligations under his lease {Civil Code Sec. 1942} He may also withhold the rent until the repairs are done, if the landlords breaches are substantial and have affected the tenant's health and safety.

posted by sophist at 11:17 PM on January 12, 2011

Response by poster: AWESOME! Thank you sooooooooo much!
posted by zombiehoohaa at 11:29 PM on January 12, 2011

A) It has not been 30 days since you requested the repair.
B) The burden would be on you to show that your health was affected in some way by the fact that you could "only" take 3-5 minute showers on a daily basis.
posted by sophist at 11:34 PM on January 12, 2011 [5 favorites]

Dig deeper into that code, in some jurisdictions you'd be required to put that withheld rent into some type of escrow account; simply not paying it would put you at fault.

It looks like the appropriate tenants' rights agency for your city would be:

Fair Housing Foundation
(For Compton, Lynwood, Downey, Long Beach, Huntington Park, Norwalk, Paramount and South Gate)
3605 Long Beach Boulevard, Suite 302
Long Beach, CA 90807
(562) 989-1206
Fax (562) 989-1836

You should contact them and ask how to proceed.
posted by padraigin at 6:16 AM on January 13, 2011

While you might have a legal right to withhold rent, that can be a highly risky strategy, setting you up for a possible unlawful detainer (eviction) suit for nonpayment, where the burden will fall on you to defend yourself (and no, that will not necessarily an easy or fair process). A much safer strategy would be to continue to pay your full rent under protest, then affirmatively seek action against your landlord. That could include seeking relief from a local rent control board (if you are in a rent control jurisdiction) or calling the local building code enforcement to cite the landlord for the inadequate hot water, or possibly a small claims action to recoup overpayments of rent. I would imagine the tenant's rights organization previously cited would be able to provide you more information on your options. Good luck!
posted by mahamandarava at 8:59 AM on January 13, 2011

Recently my roommates and I (we live in San Francisco) have been having some serious issues with our landlords regarding habitable conditions in our house and I strongly suggest that you talk to a tenant's rights agency before proceeding to withhold rent. What we discovered was that while withholding rent sometimes works, you need to have all of the proper documentation that you informed the landlords of the problems in case they try to take you to court for failure of payment. In our case we wrote a formal sounding letter, mailed it via certified mail and then waited for a month before taking more steps. Eventually our landlords fixed everything, so everything worked out, but given what we learned from this experience, I would be very cautious about withholding rent. In San Francisco there is a law in place that allows landlords to issue a requirement to pay full rent in 3 days or evict immediately, I don't know if this applies to the whole of California, but it is very possible.
posted by ruhroh at 10:54 AM on January 13, 2011

Response by poster: Thank you all! There are other issues in the building as well that I have put in writing and sent to him and he has done nothing about it, months later. This is the icing on the cake. I will be contacting the Fair Housing Foundation to see what best I should do. Thank you again. I feel guilty for withholding rent but money seems to be the only thing that puts fire under his bum to get him to do anything. Again, thank you.
posted by zombiehoohaa at 1:49 PM on January 13, 2011

Response by poster: Okay, I realize that sounded bad about the money thing. I'm just frustrated. I really do not want to be sued, evicted, or any horrible thing. Nor do I am I trying to screw over the landlord.
posted by zombiehoohaa at 1:58 PM on January 13, 2011

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