Safe Housing Basics for Landlords and Property Managers

As a rental property owner, what are your responsibilities regarding safety concerns? In California, as a landlord, you have an absolute duty to ensure you are providing safe and habitable housing for your tenants. Can you guarantee that nothing will ever go wrong? Of course not, but you must take reasonable measures to provide a safe living environment for your tenants. If something goes wrong, or even allegedly goes wrong, you don’t want to be found negligent.

Here are some safe housing basics that landlords and property managers need to consider. This is just a start from the point of view of an experienced property manager. There is much more to know than we will cover here. If you are looking for legal advice, please consult an actual attorney who specializes in this kind of law. Landlord safety responsibilities can be placed into a few major categories:

Basic Systems

In California, a rental property owner is required to ensure basic systems are functioning. More specifically:

  • Plumbing needs to be working; including hot and cold running water and sewage disposal.
  • Electricity needs to be safe and operable.
  • Heat, and in some cases, A/C needs to be working.
  • Adequate trash receptacles need to be provided.
  • The roof needs to be free of leaks.
  • The structural integrity of the building needs to be sound.

If these basic systems are not working safely, your property is not considered “safe and habitable”.

person in a gray suit jacket working at a computer desktop

Access Control

The landlord needs to make sure the property can be safely secured by the tenants. There needs to be deadbolts on swinging entry doors and windows need to be lockable. However, the tenant is responsible for informing the owner if the locks are inoperable. [CA Civil Code Sec. 1941.3]

We recommend changing the locks every time new tenants move in. Make sure all gates close securely. If there is a pool, gates need to be self-closing. If there are common areas at the property, you need to make every reasonable effort to secure those spaces.

Government-Mandated Safety Items

 Multiple government requirements are depending on the property and location. The requirements are always changing. Even the most experienced landlords and property managers find keeping up with these rules challenging.

All rental property owners have the responsibility of providing basic warning devices including smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors. Sure, some tenants will take them down from time to time. It is still the landlord’s responsibility to periodically check they are mounted and functioning which gives you another reason to consider annual inspections.

Apartment buildings of three units or more are also required to have fire extinguishers and annual fire inspections. Larger buildings will have additional sprinkler and alarm requirements. There are elevator inspections for buildings with elevators and requirements for fire doors and exit signs. Soon, balcony inspections will be required in buildings of three or more units having balconies and elevated walkways. The list goes on. 

close up of a golden window latch

The bottom line is, to learn these ever-changing safety rules and do your best to follow them.

Pests Infestations

You might not realize it but in California, pest infestations are the primary responsibility of the rental property owner. The responsibility can be passed to the tenant if you can show the cause, such as lack of cleanliness, has risen to the point of negligence. However, this can sometimes be hard to show if you have not at least made some effort as a landlord.

Pests include rodents, insects, and even other animals. Birds, bees, and even raccoons can be considered pests if they are causing your property to be uninhabitable.

So you may be paying for an exterminator or having a handyperson close up small holes and gaps where pests are entering, it’s part of being a landlord. We understand it may feel unfair considering that the tenants may be contributing to the problem. Put it this way, you don’t want to be standing in front of the judge explaining why you did nothing to take care of a rat or roach-infested property.

Environmental Hazards 

Every landlord needs to be aware of potential environmental hazards. An expert could go on for hours on the subject. Two big ones that affect rental property owners are lead paint and mold.

A person standing on a ladder painting a wall while another person holds it

As far as lead paint goes. If your property was built before 1978, you will want to make sure that you are careful to follow the rules regarding lead paint. You will want to make sure proper disclosures are made and work is done following the proper safety guidelines.

Mold is another significant safety and legal concern. As a landlord, you are not specifically required to test for levels of mold just because a tenant asks you to test for mold. However, as a rental property owner, you are required to remediate any mold found and fix the cause of the mold. The sooner you address the problem the better.

The best way to deal with mold is to prevent it from forming in the first place. Smart landlords treat any maintenance matters regarding water or moisture seriously and with a sense of urgency.

Miscellaneous Safety Issues 

A rental property owner needs to be aware of a wide variety of miscellaneous safety concerns that can exist on a property. Some that come to mind include trip hazards, slip hazards, loose railings and balconies, broken and cracked glass, exposed wires, burnt-out lights, poorly lit areas, and sharp objects. The list is never-ending but at the end of the day, you need to use your common sense. If someone could get hurt, you need to fix it.

a yellow hazard sign with an exclamation point in the centre

Don’t Cut Corners with Safety!

Sometimes it is good to be frugal. However, cutting corners where safety is an issue can be disastrous. You don’t want somebody to get hurt. If you are a “cost-conscious” landlord who thinks a repair technician is expensive, you don’t want to see a legal bill. We like to say, that a handyman is less expensive than an attorney.

  • Repairs for Problematic Tenants – Requests for repairs frequently come from problematic tenants or tenants where you have other issues. The temptation may be to delay or ignore their request. However, these may be the most important issues to address, even if they seem bogus. Let’s face it, the “problem tenants” are the ones you are most likely to end up in court with. So, address the issues and make sure you document everything. You never want to be explaining to the judge why you ignored a request to address a safety matter.
  • Have Good Insurance – Even if you are conscientious and try to do everything right sometimes things still go wrong. That is why you should have good insurance. So should your property manager and your vendors. Tenants should also have renter’s insurance. When bad things do happen, it is much better to deal with them when everybody involved has insurance.

Consider Professional Property Management

A professional property management company will have systems in place to help ensure that your rental property is safe and habitable. They will be familiar with the laws. A professional manager will know what items to look for and how to fix them. Most importantly, you will have an experienced person in your corner advising you.

Bottom Line

In California, a rental property owner must provide a safe and habitable property. This includes the basic systems, access control, government-mandated safety items, pest infestations, environmental hazards, and miscellaneous safety issues. You don’t want to cut corners with safety. This is true even for your problematic tenants. Of course, you will want to make sure you have good insurance, and you may want to consider professional property management.

Ask the Mike Dunfee Group!

We specialize in providing quality property management solutions and brokerage for properties in and around Long Beach, California including much of Los Angeles and Orange County.

Our experienced team of managers, agents, and maintenance technicians can help you find the right solutions for your specific needs and are always conscious of your budget while providing ongoing property maintenance and support. With the Mike Dunfee Group, you can rest assured that your home and tenants are safe and secure.

If you have questions regarding rental property safety or any other aspect of property management or brokerage please feel free to reach out to the Mike Dunfee Group and we will be happy to help in any way we can.

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