plumber fixing kitchen sinkIn the United States, the landlord is responsible for plumbing repairs in a rental. They own the property, so they must repair its essential functions. In California, this rule is easier to enforce, as the tenant, than in other states. California law gives you a lot of options and rights when it comes to plumbing repairs.

What If I Caused the Damage?

Good question. If you caused the plumbing problem by flushing something you shouldn’t, hitting the pipes, or causing other damage, one of your responsibilities is to fix the damage. However, the landlord cannot hold you responsible for normal wear-and-tear on the plumbing system, as this is one of their responsibilities. A plumber will be able to tell you what caused the issue.

Can I Make My Landlord Pay for Plumbing Repairs in California?

If your plumbing is no longer functioning your landlord is legally responsible for fixing it. He or she has 24 hours to handle emergency repairs (that make the building unhabitable) and thirty days for less serious fixes. That being said, the legal process of making an unwilling landlord fix your plumbing is cumbersome.

Withholding Rent

California law recognizes that not all tenants can afford to bring their landlords to court. So, instead the state has made it legal for you to withhold rent until the home is made habitable again. Be cautious. You can’t withhold rent over any old repairs. If the home still had a working toilet, one working sink, and one working bathtub or shower, then the home is habitable, and you can’t withhold rent.

Also, if you withhold rent, it all becomes due once your landlord has completed the plumbing repairs. In some areas, you may be required to hold your rent in escrow. This is a special account that you and your landlord cannot withdraw from. A lawyer holds your escrow account and pays your landlord the rent that’s stored in it once the repairs are complete.

Repair and Deduct

If you don’t want to bother with an escrow account, you can instead arrange for the repairs yourself and then deduct the cost of the repairs from your rent. However, you should do this with care.

Get a quote from your plumber before you begin and be sure they are only making essential repairs. Keep the quote, invoice, and receipt so you can prove that you deducted the correct amount from your rent. Send copies of these to the landlord and give them notice that you will be deducting from the rent.

Legal Repercussions

Can a landlord charge you for taking either of these actions? They can, but they probably won’t be successful.

Still, it’s wise to consult with a lawyer before you pursue either of these options to make your landlord responsible for the plumbing repairs. Many municipalities have free legal advice programs for students and those with little extra money so you can get advice on the cheap. It’s wise to protect yourself in case your landlord decides to sue you over your action.

Check Your City Laws

Lastly, before you start you should check your city laws. These by-laws may also give you additional options or rights when your home needs plumbing repairs.