Slumlords are generally landlords who refuse to maintain the properties they own in habitable conditions and/or retaliate against their tenants for demanding that they keep them in good condition. Slumlord litigation should always be handled by an eviction attorney as the laws regarding habitability and retaliation are very unique and complex. There are many good landlords in Los Angeles but there are also slumlords to be aware of.
Landlords throughout Southern California have an implied contractual duty and implied legal duty to maintain premises that are in livable conditions.
Basic habitability protections every Slumlords must legally obey:
Under the California Civil Code Section 1941.1 an landlord must maintain the premises as follow or have it deemed uninhabitable if the following do not exist:
(1) Effective waterproofing and weather protection of roof and exterior walls, including unbroken windows and doors.
(2) Plumbing or gas facilities that conformed to applicable law in effect at the time of installation, maintained in good working order.
(3) A water supply approved under applicable law that is under the control of the tenant, capable of producing hot and cold running water, or a system that is under the control of the landlord, that produces hot and cold running water, furnished to appropriate fixtures, and connected to a sewage disposal system approved under applicable law.
(4) Heating facilities that conformed with applicable law at the time of installation, maintained in good working order.
(5) Electrical lighting, with wiring and electrical equipment that conformed with applicable law at the time of installation, maintained in good working order.
(6) Building, grounds, and appurtenances at the time of the commencement of the lease or rental agreement, and all areas under control of the landlord, kept in every part clean, sanitary, and free from all accumulations of debris, filth, rubbish, garbage, rodents, and vermin.
(7) An adequate number of appropriate receptacles for garbage and rubbish, in clean condition and good repair at the time of the commencement of the lease or rental agreement, with the landlord providing appropriate serviceable receptacles thereafter and being responsible for the clean condition and good repair of the receptacles under his or her control.
(8) Floors, stairways, and railings maintained in good repair.
(9) A locking mail receptacle for each residential unit in a residential hotel, as required by Section 17958.3 of the Health and Safety Code."
If your building doesn’t have the above mentioned things by law a tenant has the option of notifying the landlord of the defective conditions and withholding rent, suing their landlord for breach of the warranty of habitability, or notifying the landlord of the defective conditions and breaking the lease.
What is Slumlord Retaliation?
A landlord may not evict a tenant within 180 dyas of the five following scenarios so long as the tenant is on their rental payments.
(1) After the date upon which the lessee, in good faith, has given notice pursuant to Section 1942, has provided notice of a suspected bed bug infestation, or has made an oral complaint to the lessor regarding tenantability.
(2) After the date upon which the lessee, in good faith, has filed a written complaint, or an oral complaint which is registered or otherwise recorded in writing, with an appropriate agency, of which the lessor has notice, for the purpose of obtaining correction of a condition relating to tenantability.
(3) After the date of an inspection or issuance of a citation, resulting from a complaint described in paragraph (2) of which the lessor did not have notice.
(4) After the filing of appropriate documents commencing a judicial or arbitration proceeding involving the issue of tenantability.
(5) After entry of judgment or the signing of an arbitration award, if any, when in the judicial proceeding or arbitration the issue of tenantability is determined adversely to the lessor.
In each instance, the 180-day period shall run from the latest applicable date referred to in paragraphs (1) to (5), inclusive.
Attorneys fees and damages against Slumlords:
If you decide to hire an attorney to fight uninhabitable conditions or slumlord retaliation you can possibly make the landlord pay for your attorneys fees as well as get special damages from the court in the following scenarios.
- You may be entitled to attorneys fees and damages for breach of the warranty of habitability.
If the landlord breached the warranty of habitability you may be entitled to attorneys fees and $5,000 in special damages Under Civil Code 1942.4 if the following apply:
(1) The dwelling substantially lacks any of the affirmative standard characteristics listed in Section 1941.1 or violates Section 17920.10 of the Health and Safety Code, or is deemed and declared substandard as set forth in Section 17920.3 of the Health and Safety Code because conditions listed in that section exist to an extent that endangers the life, limb, health, property, safety, or welfare of the public or the occupants of the dwelling.
(2) A public officer or employee who is responsible for the enforcement of any housing law, after inspecting the premises, has notified the landlord or the landlord’s agent in writing of his or her obligations to abate the nuisance or repair the substandard conditions.
(3) The conditions have existed and have not been abated 35 days beyond the date of service of the notice specified in paragraph (2) and the delay is without good cause. For purposes of this subdivision, service shall be complete at the time of deposit in the United States mail.
(4) The conditions were not caused by an act or omission of the tenant or lessee in violation of Section 1929 or 1941.2.
(b) (1) A landlord who violates this section is liable to the tenant or lessee for the actual damages sustained by the tenant or lessee and special damages of not less than one hundred dollars ($100) and not more than five thousand dollars ($5,000).
(2) The prevailing party shall be entitled to recovery of reasonable attorney’s fees and costs of the suit in an amount fixed by the court.
If you have a slumlord who retaliates against you and prove it in court with an attorney you can get reasonable attorneys fees if you request them at the initiation of the proceedings.
Civil Code Section 1942.5(h) of the Civil Code says:
(f) Any lessor or agent of a lessor who violates this section shall be liable to the lessee in a civil action for all of the following:
(1) The actual damages sustained by the lessee.
(2) Punitive damages in an amount of not less than one hundred dollars ($100) nor more than two thousand dollars ($2,000) for each retaliatory act where the lessor or agent has been guilty of fraud, oppression, or malice with respect to that act.
(g) In any action brought for damages for retaliatory eviction, the court shall award reasonable attorney’s fees to the prevailing party if either party requests attorney’s fees upon the initiation of the action.
The above statute means that you get your attorneys fees paid by the landlord according to proof at court. This is a strong incentive to hire an attorney to defend you in an eviction or file a lawsuit if you have been living under substandard conditions as noted by a code enforcement officer or if your landlord retaliates against you for reporting them to the appropriate governmental agency.
Getting Your Attorney’s fees against Slumlords under Contract
Under Civil Code section 1717, subdivision a) provides that “[i]n any action on a contract, where the contract specifically provides that attorney's fees and costs, which are incurred to enforce that contract, shall be awarded either to one of the parties or to the prevailing party, then the party who is determined to be the party prevailing on the contract, whether he or she is the party specified in the contract or not, shall be entitled to reasonable attorney's fees in addition to other costs.” Subdivision (b)(1) of that section provides in pertinent part that “the party prevailing on the contract shall be the party who recovered a greater relief in the action on the contract.”
In the case, Green v. Superior Court, the court found that there is “a common law implied warranty of habitability in residential leases in California․” (Green v. Superior Court (1974) 10 Cal.3d 616, 619, 111 Cal.Rptr. 704, 517 P.2d 1168 (Green).)
This implied warranty of habitability is based on the contract between the landlord and the tenant. A landlord implicitly rents out a habitable premises and the tenant is obligated to pay rent. If the landlord does not provide a habitable premises or breaches this warranty the tenant can raise the breach as a defense to an eviction or sue the landlord for breach of contract.
If your lease provides a clause such as the one articulated above in Civil Code Section 1717 and you win a lawsuit you are entitled to reasonable attorney’s fees.
Slumlords often put clauses in the rental agreement that states that the prevailing party is entitled to reasonable attorney’s fees. This is because they want the tenant to pay for their attorney’s fees if they have to evict them. The good thing about having one of these clauses in your rental agreement is that the clause is reciprocal. If the landlord has breached the warranty of habitability and the tenant sues the landlord or defends an unlawful detainer the tenant is entitled to reasonable attorney’s fees for either suing their landlord or defending an eviction proceeding.
Overall there are many different scenarios where you might be entitled to your attorney’s fees and/or money from a landlord for violating the law. It is especially important for landlords to understand the rules of keeping a dwelling tenable and not retaliating against a tenant.
One great site is Calattorneysfees.com which has an entire section dedicated to attorneys fee shifting in landlord-tenant law.
Regardless of whether you are a landlord or tenant it is important to know the current laws. Many landlords keep wonderful premises and stay clear of any problems due to preventative maintenance and mutual respect for their tenants.
Slumlords however try to cheat the market by offering above market rental property at the expense of the tenants they rent to as well as other landlords in their geographical area. Doing so not only hurts good landlords but tenants as well.
If you believe you are living in uninhabitable conditions or have been retaliated against by a slumlord and are served an eviction notice we may be able to help. Call our office and schedule a consultation with an eviction attorney before taking action on your own.