The Berkeley Rent Board receives more than 300 inquiries a week ranging from very specific questions about individual units, to broader questions about rent control in general. In this column we will reproduce some of the more interesting questions and answers. Our topics will include permissible rent ceilings, the effects of vacancy decontrol, permissible grounds for eviction, habitability of units, the rules concerning security deposits and other issues of interest to renters and property owners. You can e-mail the City of Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board at rent@ci. berkeley.ca.us with your questions, or you can call or visit the office at 2125 Milvia Street, Berkeley, CA. 94704 (northeast corner of Milvia/Center Streets) Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, between 9 a.m. and 4:45 p.m., and on Wednesday between noon and 4:45 p.m. Our telephone number is (510) 644-6128. Our Web site address is www.ci.berkeley.ca.us/rent/.
Our landlord is slow to make repairs. Many of the things we can fix ourselves, like patching a hole in the screen door, replacing a kitchen faucet held in place with duct tape, and even rebuilding the rotting back steps. Can we go ahead and do these repairs ourselves and deduct our expenses from the rent?
If you think your landlord would rather have you make repairs so he doesn’t have to bother with them, write a letter asking if he will allow you to do these repairs and deduct the costs from rent.
If he does not approve, consider whether you can proceed with the "repair and deduct" remedy provided in California Civil Code section 1942.
Use of this remedy is limited:
• You must first give the landlord written or oral notice of the problem, and allow him or her reasonable time to make the repairs;
• The problem must substantially violate the habitability standards defined in Civil Code sections 1941.1 (see below);
• You must not have interfered with the landlord’s attempt to fix the problem and the problem must not have been caused by tenants or their guests;
• You may deduct no more than one month’s rent at a time, and you may not use this remedy more than twice in twelve months.
We strongly advise that you give notice to your landlord in writing of the repairs needed, and keep a copy for your records. Provide a reasonable date by which he should make the repairs, and advise that you will make the repairs (or hire someone to do them) and deduct the cost from rent if he doesn’t meet the deadline. The law presumes that 30 days is reasonable. If the problem is an emergency, such as flooding or a backed-up toilet, you will want to call the landlord immediately, but follow up that oral notice with a letter confirming your conversation. Also, it is reasonable to request that emergency repairs be fixed in less than 30 days.
If you or someone you hire does the work, we recommend that you photograph or videotape the problem before and after it is repaired. Once the work is completed, you may deduct the costs from the next month’s rent. Be sure to send the landlord copies of all receipts.
As for the items you mentioned, a small hole in the screen door doesn’t seem to warrant the use of repair and deduct, but your landlord should be willing to agree to let you make the repair and reimburse you for materials. The broken kitchen faucet and rotting stairs appear to be substantial violations; however, the cost to fix the stairs could exceed more than one months’ rent.
Landlord responsibilities under Civil Code section 1941.1
You may use the repair and deduct remedy if your unit or building is substantially lacking one or more of the following:
• Effective weatherproofing of roof and exterior walls, including unbroken windows and doors
• Plumbing and gas facilities in good working order
• Hot and cold running water and connection to a sewage disposal system
• Heating facilities in good working order
• Electrical lighting, wiring and equipment in good working order
• Building and grounds free of debris, garbage, and rodents and other pests
• Adequate number of garbage containers
• Floors, stairways and railings maintained in good repair
For more information on using the repair and deduct remedy, contact the Repair and Deduct Self-Help Hotline at (800) 806-8111.