One perk of renting is that you’re generally not responsible for fixing things in your apartment when they break. You don’t have to scour the Internet to find a reliable plumber or electrician. You don’t have to decide whether a drafty window needs to be replaced or just repaired. As long as you take reasonably good care of your unit, the landlord bears most of the burden of making repairs.
California law sets out some basic standards that landlords must meet to keep rental units habitable. These include maintaining adequate heat, plumbing, and electrical services; keeping rental properties free from vermin and other infestations (ick!); and maintaining safe conditions in common areas. Most leases also indicate specific appliances that are provided by the landlord and are therefore the landlord’s responsibility to keep in good working order.
With all of these duties ascribed to the landlord, it seems as if tenants have it pretty easy. But what happens when it’s late Sunday night and your shower suddenly stops working? Does your landlord have to send someone out immediately, or can it wait a day or two? Should you even bother your landlord with a phone call on a Sunday night? Or are you allowed to call a plumber and have it fixed yourself?
The answers to these questions are: maybe, maybe, and maybe. In a situation like this, consider both your general responsibilities as a tenant and what’s reasonable under the circumstances. Absent an emergency, repairs should be left to the landlord. When something breaks, notify your property manager as soon as possible; the landlord must respond within a reasonable amount of time. How much time is reasonable will depend on the nature of the problem. Does it pose a safety risk, or is it more of a superficial issue? Is it interfering with the tenants’ ability to do essential tasks, or is it just an inconvenience?
If the landlord does not respond, and you believe the delay is unreasonable, you can opt to arrange for repairs yourself. It’s important that you document your notice, along with the reason you feel the response time is unacceptable. With proper records, you may be able to seek reimbursement for any out-of-pocket costs incurred in making the needed repair. Remember, this course of action should be used only under particularly urgent circumstances. In nonemergency situations, you’re generally expected to allow the landlord several days, or even weeks, to make the requested repairs.
If you move too quickly and don’t allow your property manager reasonable time to respond, you may be in breach of your lease, particularly if it contains a provision limiting your ability to make alterations without prior consent. Even something that would be considered an improvement, such as replacing a drafty window, could put you at risk of eviction. While you’re responsible for basic day-to-day cleaning and upkeep during your tenancy, it is the landlord’s job to maintain the overall condition of the property. Let your landlord do their job, and be glad that you won’t be the one haggling over the cost of new pipes!