California tenant rights stipulate that a landlord must fix various and sundry items. Unfortunately for energy-saving tenants in rentals, the California landlord/tenant law does not require the former to fix anything that works. What is the renter to do?
Landlord & Tenant Law Governing California
The California landlord-tenant law (as defined by the California Department of Consumer Affairs) places a landlord on the hook for any repairs and home improvement projects that render rentals habitable. This specifically includes repairs of any items that are in violation of building as well as health codes. California tenant rights specifically do not require the landlord to fix anything that the tenant – or anyone visiting the tenant – damages.
Tip: Ask the landlord to make home improvements to your rental unit if at the time of moving in you notice broken windows, cracked caulking or leaking faucets.
Selling the Landlord on Unneeded but Energy-saving Home Improvement Opportunities
California tenant rights spell out that it is possible to enact a rent withholding clause if a known defect makes rentals uninhabitable. While energy-saving home improvement projects do not fall under this category, it may afford a starting point for negotiations with the landlord. For example, a tenant may offer the landlord the opportunity to install a programmable versus manual thermostat if the latter agrees to pay for at least half of it.
Tip: Remember that landlords are business people. Saving money benefits them as much as saving energy benefits all involved. Research the actual energy savings of the upgrade you propose and print out the information. A landlord is more likely to consider the request and knock off some of the rent if the proposal is well thought out and presented.
Beyond Landlord & Tenant Law: What to Do When the Landlord Refuses
As long as the rentals are kept habitable, California landlord-tenant law does not spell out that any improvements must be made simply because they save energy. That being said, there are a number of permitted home improvement steps the Colorado State University Extension Service advises the renter to make:
Discuss energy saving processes with the landlord
These discussions should involve the installation of proper weatherizing products and also the frequent change of furnace filters. In some cases, the tenant may ask the landlord to lower the temperature of the water heater to 140 degrees Fahrenheit for units with older dishwashers (120 degrees Fahrenheit is optimal).
Buy a window air conditioner
Invest in a portable air unit that moves with you and place it in a north-facing window. Avoid using the air conditioner.
Replace light bulbs with CFLs
Save the incandescent light bulbs and reinstall them when moving. Invest in compact fluorescent lamps to use in the meantime.