With the recent downpour hitting roofs across Southern California, many landlords are starting to consider the prospects of getting sued by their tenants for a leaking roof. While a leak in your property’s roof may sound trivial, the legal consequences can be anything but. The short of it is, yes they can sue you. For the long answer, read below.
If you go through your tenancy agreement you’ll notice that there is a clause which roughly states that you’re responsible for providing habitable and weatherproofed unit to your tenants whether it be an apartment, house or commercial office. Believe it or not, this is mandated by the law under the Civil Code Section 1941.
So, what does habitable and weatherproofing comprise of? Under this section anything from broken windows, door, lock to leaking roof, burst furnace or falling exterior walls. A landlord is given a “reasonable” period of time to repair the damage provided that the tenant has formally reported, and waited for a “reasonable” for you to carry out the repair work.
The argument is, what is reasonable to anyone? For me, it is maybe one week but for you it may mean one month. You may use this to delay the repairs, but guess what? The leaking roof is creating more damage day by day, and you should know you can’t avoid it. You may have some leeway in extending the time period but do notify your tenant your reason for delays – perhaps you’re out of town; you can’t find a contractor, or you are unable to reach your property manager who looks after these things.
Now the thing with leaking roofs is that it affects so many other things on the property. For example, if it’s cold weather then it’s costing the tenant heating due to leakage. Furthermore, if it’s raining or snowing then the chances of water damaging your walls and floors are also high, thereby weakening the foundation. If it’s a serious roof leakage, then it might give rise to electrical wiring problems as well as breed fungus and molds. These are additional issues that you’d have to deal with if you avoid repairing a simple leaking roof.
Conditions for Suing
Having said that your tenant can’t just walk into court and sue you. It doesn’t work that way. There is a process for them to reach to that stage. You could check with a real estate property company to see where you stand.
First, they need to establish that the condition in the living unit is uninhabitable or subject to weather conditions that’s causing them adverse health issues. For this they need to call the local building authorities or health inspectors to verify it.
Secondly, they have to notify you via mail or email, and give you a reasonable time to respond with repair work. Anything between two days to a month is considered reasonable in the eyes of the law so breathe easy. You have time.
Also, your tenant has the option of fixing it themselves and deduct the cost from the rent but they have to make sure that you agree to it. The difference is time saved; pay you must.
Before you start though, make sure that your tenant’s rent is up to date, and they don’t owe you any rent income. This card will be against them if they haven’t paid rent, yet demand service from you. Time to check that rental agreement.