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What safety issues are your landlord's responsibility?

Landlords and tenants can often end up at odds over small things -- like whose responsibility it is to keep the sidewalk clear or who has to fix a handrail that's worn loose over time. These issues can particularly crop up if someone ends up injured through a defect on the property.

In California, a landlord has a clear responsibility to make certain that the rental unit is habitable. In other words, anything that would substantially interfere with someone's ability to live in and enjoy the property has to be fixed on the landlord's dime.

For example, if you rent a unit with air conditioning, the air conditioning has to be maintained by the landlord. It isn't your responsibility to set up repair visits or replace it if it stops working. Similarly, the landlord would be responsible for things like plumbing leaks, gas leaks, backed-up sewers, windows that don't open and other major issues. Floors, stairways, steps, porches and railings all have to be kept in reasonably decent shape.

On the other hand, tenants bear some responsibility for their own living space as well. For example, you also have to keep the landlord informed if there are problems -- and give the landlord a reasonable chance to make the repairs before you can seek any other solution. For example, if the sewer line is backing up, you have to notify the landlord and give him or her some time to find a plumber and get the problem fixed.

Similarly, if the front steps to the unit are crumbling from age, the landlord has to be notified of the problem. Once you notify him or her, that becomes his or her responsibility -- and liability should anyone get injured. Because of that, it makes sense to put your notice in writing -- whether you send it through an email or regular mail, even if you've already mentioned it verbally. That way, should you or one of your guests suffer an injury when another part of the steps breaks away, the landlord won't be able to claim he or she didn't have any notice their was a problem.

If you've been injured due to inadequately maintained rental property, talk to an attorney to see if you can be compensated for your injuries.

Source: California Department of Consumer Affairs, "Dealing With Problems," accessed June 09, 2017

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