Do you live in the city of Fresno and are struggling to get something repaired in your rental property — a leaky faucet, broken air conditioner or a rat infestation?
You are not alone in the battle to get necessary repairs done in your rental unit, especially now, with all the uncertainties of the COVID-19 pandemic. Following this guide will help you get a quicker response from your landlord and equip you with your rights as a tenant.
Know your rights, and assert them
The first thing you must do is to understand the laws that protect you as a renter.
If you live in the city of Fresno and your landlord does not respond or refuses to fix repairs that threaten your safety and health, dial 311 for the code enforcement office and request an inspection of your property.
Fresno’s first-ever rental inspection law — the Rental Housing Improvement Act (RHIA) — passed in 2017, allows routine inspections of units under the city’s health and safety regulations. If the inspection fails, the landlord has 30 days to fix the issues. Your unit must pass their checklist covering sanitary conditions, the function of appliances, and other healthy and safety hazards.
Many tenants report that landlords are delaying or deferring maintenance during the pandemic, complaining instead that many renters are not paying rent because of local and statewide eviction moratoriums.
Your landlord must give a 24-hour notice
Even when landlords are responsive in making repairs, they must do so legally. California Civil Code 1954 states that a 24-hour notice to enter a person’s rental is required by law, unless it is an emergency.
Brandi Snow, lead attorney for Central California Legal Services, Inc. (CCLS), said it is common for landlords to not issue the required 24-hour notice, making it difficult for the renter to be present for the repair visit.
With coronavirus infections growing, tenants also have the right to request anyone entering their home to wear a mask, as suggested by the CDC and Fresno County Department of Public Health.
“We have been hearing of maintenance wanting to come into rental properties without masks,” Snow said. “Elderly and immuno-compromised tenants feel uncomfortable letting them in. This excuses the landlord from completing the repair.”
Free legal help
If your landlord is not responding to your requests, you may need to seek legal advice; Central California Legal Services (CCLS) provides free legal help in several languages, including English, Spanish, Hmong, and Punjabi. Tenants’ attorneys can open a case and guide you through a resolution process.
Call this hotline at 1-800-675-8001, from 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday through Thursday; voicemail is available outside of phone hours. CCLS can provide basic information to undocumented individuals but are prohibited from taking these individuals as clients. Instead, they can refer out to other organizations if more assistance is required.
If your repair is urgent, tenants have the option of funding the repair themselves and deducting the amount from their rent. The Repair and Deduct Civil Code 1942 states that if a written or oral notice to the landlord was given and the repairs were not done in a “reasonable amount of time,” the tenant may pay for the repair — as long as it does not cost more than one month’s rent — and deduct the expenses from the rent, or the tenant may break the lease, in which case they shall be discharged from further payment of rent. The tenant cannot choose this option more than twice in a year, nor should they have caused the problem.
File a complaint
Tenants who live in the city of Fresno can file a complaint with the City of Fresno Code Enforcement. This can be completed online; in person at 2600 Fresno St. Fresno, CA 93721, Room 3070; in writing, or by phone at (559) 621-8400. Review the checklist used by inspectors in compliance with the Rental Housing Improvement Act (RHIA)
For Section 8 voucher recipients
For tenants receiving a Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher or living in public housing, the Fresno Housing Authority is required to inspect tenants’ residences at least once a year. Check out their list of repairs that are considered emergencies. They can be contacted at (559) 443-8400.
To better understand the Rental Housing Improvement Act, Faith in the Valley created a cheat sheet that simplifies tenants rights.
Submit your repair request in writing or email
This template is available for repair requests. CCLS Attorney Brandi Snow suggests that the tenant explain in detail how the problem is impacting them. “A sink that is not draining correctly is a problem,” she said. “But a sink that is not draining correctly and has led to an overflow and a mildew problem, is much clearer.”
Remember the 24-hour rule
Be sure to remind your landlord of the 24-hour notice to enter requirement as stated by California Civil Code 1954 and keep a copy of all communication for your records.
Take photos of damages
When possible, take good quality photos of the damage you are requesting repair for. Those will be useful if you contact the City of Fresno Code Enforcement to open a case or request legal support, says Snow.
“Since it wouldn’t be possible to take a picture of some things like the air conditioning not working, the tenant might instead photograph the temperature displayed on the thermostat,” said Snow. “If the condition continues to worsen, the tenant should take frequent photos and keep them labeled as to the date.”
If the damages have caused health complications to you or your family, seek a written letter from your doctor stating the health concern and risk. Be sure to include the date on the letter.
How has the pandemic affected repairs?
“The pandemic didn’t make delayed repairs worse,” said Grecia Elenes, senior policy advocate for the Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability. “It just shined a light on what we already know and that is that low-income Black and brown renters suffer the most because of these consequences.”
Fresno’s Code Enforcement Division, a team of 57 inspectors, was reassigned on March 18 to monitor price gouging due to the pandemic. They resumed inspections virtually after the city council approved a motion on Sept. 21 and are complying with all of the RHIA’s requirements.
The department does not have updated records on how many inspections they have performed since March when the pandemic began, but Rodney Horton, of the City’s Attorney’s Office, said it is not uncommon that a tenant’s complaint could be resolved with the landlord making necessary repairs, all without an official inspection.
Andy Levine, deputy director for Faith in the Valley, said that renters have been primarily concerned about paying rent and not being evicted during the pandemic, which makes them less comfortable with asking for repairs or lodging complaints.
“RHIA removes that burden from tenants, so that the city is doing more proactive and routine inspections themselves,” Levine said. “But apparently that wasn’t happening during the pandemic.”