Q: The water heater went out in our rental apartment on the Friday before a three-day weekend, and I wasn't able to get it repaired until the following Tuesday. Does this quality as a "decrease in service"? Am I responsible for covering the hotel costs for each of the three adult tenants?
A: Section 37.2(g) of the San Francisco Administrative Code defines housing services as “repairs; replacement; maintenance; painting; light; heat; water; elevator service; laundry facilities and privileges; janitor service; refuse removal; furnishings; telephone; parking” and other rights under the lease or rental agreement.
Section 10.10(a)(2) of the San Francisco Rent Board Rules and Regulations allows for a reduction of rent for “failing to provide housing services reasonably expected under the circumstances.”
A broken water heater would be a reduction of housing services, but only if it was not repaired within a reasonable time. Assuming that the landlord made a good faith effort to repair the heater as soon as the issue was known, and three days was the soonest it could be repaired in light of the availability of parts and/or labor, a three day delay is probably not so unreasonable as to entitle the tenant to a reduction in rent. “Reasonableness” is necessarily in the eye of the beholder, but although going without hot water would be inconvenient, it would not be as severe as having no water at all.
As for paying for the cost of putting the tenants up in a hotel, such costs are generally only legally obligated if the tenant was necessarily displaced from the premises, because either the repairs or the damage were so extensive that the unit effectively became uninhabitable. An example would be an apartment damaged by fire, flood, or lacking heating, plumbing, or electricity.
Nonetheless, offering a hotel room can be wise gesture of good faith to your tenants, and might help avoid future disputes, such as a petition based on reduced housing services. In that case, an ounce of prevention can be worth a pound of cure.