Housing Violations, the Law, and You

A decision by the California Supreme Court back in 1974, almost 40 years ago, impacts you as a tenant today.

It was the landmark decision in Green v. Superior Court that stated the landlord had a duty to maintain dwellings in a habitable condition without housing violations.

Roger Green lived in a dilapidated unit with about 80 housing code violations. Roger and his roommate had notified the landlord about a list of problems, including cockroaches, mice and rats, a collapsed bathroom ceiling, no heat at all in his apartment, plumbing blockages, exposed and faulty wiring, and an illegally installed and dangerous stove. The conditions were so bad that a hearing was scheduled to condemn the building. Still the landlord did nothing.

History No Longer Applies

In supporting its decision on the case, the Supreme Court reached into the history, all the way back to the Middle Ages, to discuss how common law previously had influenced the thinking about landlords and tenants. Then, the land was of primary importance, and the structures were simple. The tenant could easily make repairs. Today, however, the land is relatively unimportant and the buildings are important. A tenant cannot repair the heating system or correct the wiring. This must be the responsibility of the landlord.

You Deserve a Habitable Home

The Court decided the contract between landlord and tenant means the tenant must have a habitable unit. It doesn’t necessarily mean the unit is attractive, but that someone can live in it. The landlord must comply with applicable building and housing codes.

While this case was decided several decades ago, it affects you as a tenant today. However, proceeding with your complaint against the landlord in a building with housing violations can be tricky. You should talk to an experienced tenant attorney who can discuss with you how best to proceed.

Source: Green v. Superior Court, 10 Cal.3d 616 (1974)


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Mary Catherine Wiederhold

Real Estate Attorney
1458 Sutter Street
San Francisco, CA 94109

Mary Catherine Wiederhold
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