Q: A wall heater in a unit broke and it took a contractor one week to fix it. During that week, the tenants purchased a few pricey portable space heaters and now want reimbursement. Am I required to reimburse them?
A: A landlord is obligated to undertake repairs in a reasonable time. If the repairs are not completed in a reasonable time, the tenant may “repair and deduct”, as long as the repairs do not cost more than the equivalent of 1 month’s rent, or file a petition for a reduction of housing services with the San Francisco Rent Board. Whether the repairs were done in a “reasonable” time depends on the circumstances, but California law presumes that a tenant who waits 30 days before doing their own repairs waited a “reasonable” time, suggesting it would be “unreasonable” for a landlord to delay repairs the same length of time. Seven days is likely a reasonable time for a repair that requires a professional, especially if the repair was not urgent, such as repairing a heater during the summertime. On the other hand, repairing a heater in winter may be more urgent. Similarly, if the tenants made multiple requests to repair the heater, and the landlord did not respond, then it would be good grounds for the tenants to apply to the rent board for a reduction in rent because the unit has become less habitable (or uninhabitable) without heat. That would be a process that would take far more than 1 week to complete, and so would not make sense for this kind of routine maintenance and repair. In this situation, it seems likely that the tenants did not wait a reasonable time before choosing their own remedy, and that remedy was not a “repair” of the defect. Had the tenants quickly repaired the heater on their own, it would probably be worth just giving them a credit for the cost, so long as it was documented and reasonable. However, using the breakdown as a pretense to buy new space heaters and demand that the landlord pay for them in addition to the wall heater repair is not justified. Copyright © 2017 by Fried & Williams LLP. All Rights Reserved. The information in this article is general in nature and should not be considered legal advice. For any specific matter, please consult with an attorney.