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Legal Ease: What’s Behind the Shower Door?

Someone who is renting an apartment recently asked me about their broken shower door. She reported the broken door to her landlord, yet her repair request was repeatedly ignored. “What do I need to do to have this taken care of?” she asked. “If I fix it by myself, will the landlord be responsible to pay me back for the cost?”

Even when the rent is being paid on time and everything in your home is working properly, dealing with a landlord can be a stressful situation. Tenants are often reluctant report minor items in need of repair for fear of losing their security deposit at the end of their lease term. Due to the potentially significant cost of repairs, landlords may be reluctant to make certain repairs if they believe the tenant can make due in the current situation or simply delay making the repairs until the tenant stops complaining.

Lucky for you-California law provides rights to tenants regarding the maintenance of rental properties.

Generally, California Law requires an apartment or other rental dwelling to be maintained in a condition fit for occupation. This means that the windows, doors, plumbing, electrical system, waste disposal, floors, stairways, and locks must be in good working condition. There are certain minimum standards for these items, but overall, the rental unit should remain in at least as good of condition as it was at the time it was rented. If an item falling into one of these general areas needs to be repaired, the landlord should be contacted immediately. The lease signed by the landlord and tenant may provide more detail as to what is maintained on the property, especially regarding common areas.

So, what should be done with the broken shower door? Does a broken shower door make the entire apartment “uninhabitable” under California Law? The shower door itself is likely more clear than the answer and certainly more clear than the solution. The difficult part of the question is whether the broken shower door makes the apartment “uninhabitable.” If the door worked properly when the apartment was first rented or if massive amounts of water are leaking onto the floor as a result of the broken door, then the “uninhabitable” argument is easier to make. Assuming the broken shower door is causing major problems, the landlord should be given written notice of issue. If the landlord has not fixed the door after 30 days, the tenant can fix the door themselves and deduct the cost from the rent, so long as the cost does not exceed one month’s rent.

Overall, what is lurking behind a broken shower door may not be that scary after all. It is always best to maintain a good relationship with your landlord, so beginning the repair discussion as a friendly conversation will likely provide the best results. You can always follow up your conversation with a brief note to ensure you have a written record. Look at your lease to see if it has a specific procedure for requesting repairs or a place where written notice should be delivered.