Clogs Sinks and Leaky Toilets: What Is Your Responsibility to Your Tenants?

As a landlord, it is your responsibility to make sure the dwellings your tenants occupy are safe and sanitary. One area that should not be overlooked is a building’s plumbing system. Your tenants rely on the plumbing system to work well. Toilets should flush, sinks and bathtubs should drain, and any leaks or backups should be taken care of right away. California law is very specific about landlords making repairs in a timely manner. Landlords that do not repair or replace faulty plumbing parts in a reasonable amount of time can face harsh penalties and could be putting their occupants’ health at risk.

Is Your Building Habitable?

A piece of property doesn’t have to look like it is a slum for it not to be the state’s requirements for habitable living. In fact, there are plenty of properties in many neighborhoods that look perfect from a cosmetic standpoint, but are, indeed, inhabitable according to state and local health and building codes. Landlords can use this checklist when inspecting their properties to make sure the structure is legally habitable.

Habitable Checklist

  • Working smoke detectors
  • Unbroken windows
  • Working locks
  • Safe and working electrical, heat, and plumbing
  • Accessible fire exits
  • Intact roof and walls

If any of these areas of the property are in disrepair, the building could be deemed inhabitable.

What Is Essential Plumbing?

In California, all rental properties are required to have working sinks, showers, bathtubs and toilets, according to California Civil Code section 1941. Of course, clogs and leaks can occur due to normal wear and tear. As a landlord, you should expect this to happen from time to time and have a plan to take action. While you are granted a responsible timeframe for making repairs, it’s imperative that you call for service as soon as possible.

Who Is Responsible for Calling for Service?

Each landlord has his or her own procedure in place when a toilet clogs or a sink won’t drain. Some landlords will allow their tenants to call a plumber of their choice to make the repairs; whereas, other landlords may have an existing relationship with a plumbing service like Rooter Hero Plumbing to expedite service. A lot of landlords prefer the latter situation because it makes billing and payment easier. In nearly every case, it is the landlord’s responsibility to pay for repair or replacement services.

But, not always . . .

When Is the Tenant Responsible for the Repair Costs?

When plumbing components breakdown due to normal wear and tear, it is always the landlord’s financial responsibility. In cases when gross negligence or outright neglect for a fixture or other component is evident, the landlord can require the tenant to pay in full for the repairs.

If you’re requiring your tenant to make the repairs, keep in mind that they may want to choose their own plumbing service. This is their right. However, if a tenant cannot make the repairs right away due to financial reasons, it is still your responsibility as the landlord to see to it that the repairs are made quickly to ensure a habitable environment.

In a situation like this, you may be able to recoup the expense from the tenants by deducting the amount from their security deposit, billing them directly, or adding the cost of the repair to their monthly rent amount in small increments. To make sure you’re protecting your property and acting within your rights as a landlord when collecting the repair costs, you may want to consult with an attorney.

Tenant Rights

Tenants have the right to withhold rent until repairs are made. So, if you have a unit with a leaky sink, a raw sewage problem, or any other plumbing issue, call your friendly California plumber right away to arrange service. Keeping your tenants happy and safe is always good business!