Landlord Problems? 5 Steps for Seeking Help from LA City Services
Renting in SoCal, especially the Los Angeles area, is at an all-time high. A majority of Angelinos are renting apartments, condos and homes at some of the highest prices in the United States. Despite the high rental income, many landlords in the City of Los Angeles have neglected their duty to provide tenants with safe and habitable rental units.
Under California law, a rental unit must be fit to live in, or as they say in legal terms, the unit must be “habitable”. Habitable means that the rental unit is fit for occupation by humans and that it substantially complies with California state and local City building and health codes that materially affect tenants’ health and safety. California law makes landlords and tenants each responsible for certain kinds of repairs, although landlords ultimately are legally responsible for assuring that their rental units are habitable.
This article breaks down the steps tenants can take in a dispute with a landlord and City departments within the Los Angeles that tenants can contact for help.
Step 1: Provide the landlord notice of the defect to repair or uninhabitable condition in the apartment in writing. If you spoke to your landlord in person or over the phone, no problem, follow-up with a letter, detailing your conversation and requesting the repair. Email is another great way to put your conversations in writing, but since email can be unreliable, sending a letter is best.
Step 2: Mail the letter via certified mail. Certified mail is a mailing receipt that is available at the time of mailing and provides the sender with a mailing receipt and, upon request electronic verification that an article was delivered or that a delivery attempt was made. This mailing costs around $10 with the United States Postal Service and it proves you sent the letter. Certified mailing ensures your landlord has notice of the defect and they cannot state they did not receive the letter. If the landlord only provides a P.O. Box address, we suggest sending via priority mailing so you have tracking and proof of delivery. The letter can also be sent with the monthly rent check. The landlord cashing the check can further prove the mailing, including the letter, was received and opened.
Step 3: Allow the landlord a reasonable time to repair. What is a reasonable period of time? This depends on the defects and the types of repairs that are needed. The law usually considers 30 days to be reasonable, but a shorter period may be considered reasonable, depending on the situation. For example, if the furnace is broken and it’s very cold outdoors, two days may be considered reasonable (assuming that a qualified repair person is available within that time period).
Step 4: Fill a complaint with the City and schedule an inspection. Depending on the Department, the City of Los Angeles will respond within 24-72 hours to schedule an inspection date and time. Following are the departments you can contact within Los Angeles to file a complaint against the landlord:
Problem: Illegal construction (dust, debris and construction garbage littering your building) and elevator issues.
- Contact: Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety
- Telephone: Dial 311
- File complaint online: here.
Problem: Unsafe or unhealthy living conditions
- Contact: Los Angeles Housing + Community Investment Department
- Telephone: 1-866-557-RENT (7368)
- File complaint online: here.
Problem: Maintenance using a gas powered leaf blower causing tenants asthmatic symptoms (Los Angeles Municipal Code (LAMC) Section 112.04(c) bans the use of gas powered leaf blower devices to minimize the nuisance and health related problems attributed to this type of equipment.)
- Telephone: 311
- File a complaint online: here. (*Note-select “other”)
Problem: Insects, rodents, mold, dirty pool, garbage piling up and other unsanitary conditions
- Contact: County of Los Angeles, Public Health Department
- Telephone: 800-427-8700
- File a complaint online: here.
Step 5: Work with the City employees to allow inspections of your unit and update them on the repairs your landlord makes. Make sure you are responsive to any calls/emails to schedule needed appointments with City employees. Ask for copies of the reports compiled by City of Los Angeles Inspectors for your records.
If the landlord does not make the requested repairs and does not have a good reason for skipping the repairs, the tenant may have one of several remedies, depending on the seriousness of the repairs. The tenant can “repairs and deduct”, withhold rent, abandon the property or sue the landlord in civil court. Each of these remedies carries serious legal risks and we strongly suggest contacting an attorney before attempting an self-remedy. Using the information above to contact the City of Los Angeles regarding habitability issues can assist with resolving landlord issues before needing legal intervention.
 Green v. Superior Court (1974) 10 Cal.3d 616, 637-638 [111 Cal.Rptr. 704, 719]; Civil Code Sections 1941, 1941.1.