The law requires every residential landlord to maintain the rental unit and common areas in a “habitable” condition, unless the tenants caused the problem. A tenant cannot give up this protection even if it says so in a lease or rental agreement. Habitable means that the rental unit does not have problems that can affect the health and safety of the tenants or reduce the normal use of the premises. The problem must also be substantial. Staff at Fair Housing can help you, but they do not decide what a breach of habitability by the landlord is. Habitability problems include, but are not limited to, the conditions listed in California Civil Code Section 1941.1 and Health and Safety Code Section 17920.3. Other building codes, reasonable security measures, and one wired phone jack. You can look up the code sections listed on www.leginfo.ca.gov/calaw.html or ask your local Code Enforcement Department in the city where you live to inspect. You should also take pictures and document the conditions.
A landlord can only maintain the unit in habitable conditions if the tenant informs him/her about any problems. Most tenants start by talking with the landlord about the problems while they are paying the rent. But a letter listing the problems and reciting the enclosed month’s rent for e.g. December, is harder for a landlord to deny receiving if s/he got the rent. Tenants should also cooperate reasonably with repairs during business hours or during any emergency. Tenants may waive their rights to a 24-hour notice of entry for repairs in order to get the listed problems fixed faster. A breach of habitability by the landlord begins when s/he first gets notice of the problem, even if the landlord has not had time to repair.