If you live in an incorporated section of a city, you can make a complaint to the housing inspectors and have an inspector come out to potentially cite the landlord (usually called “Notice of Violation”) for housing code violations and habitability defects. For example, if a tenant has defective conditions in their residential rental unit in the City and County of San Francisco, they may make a complaint to the Department of Building Inspection. If a tenant lives in an unincorporated section of the City of Hayward, then they would make a complaint to the Building Inspection Division of the Alameda County Public Works Agency which is adjacent to the Alameda County Superior Court in Hayward.
If you have a public housing inspector come to make inspection, it is important to be present for such an inspection so that you can minimize the defects which might be overlooked by the inspector. Most inspectors are overworked and they will otherwise make a cursory inspection. Even when a tenant is at the inspection, inspectors generally miss the majority of defective conditions.
A landlord who does not comply with a Notice of Violation can be fined by the city or county agency which cited them. In some jurisdictions, if a landlord fails to make the repairs which they have been ordered to complete the Director of the agency may hold a hearing to enforce the order and potentially make a stricter order. In some cases, these governmental agencies will put a lien on the property as a way to collect the fines and to pressure the landlord to comply with the orders, if the landlord has refused to make repairs over a long period of time.
California Civil Code Section 1942.4 actually does not allow a landlord to demand or collect rent if the following conditions exist: “(1) The dwelling substantially lacks any of the affirmative standard characteristics listed in Section 1941.1 or violates Section 17920.10 of the Health and Safety Code, or is deemed and declared substandard as set forth in Section 17920.3 of the Health and Safety Code because conditions listed in that section exist to an extent that endangers the life, limb, health, property, safety, or welfare of the public or the occupants of the dwelling;” (2) A housing inspector “who is responsible for the enforcement of any housing law, after inspecting the premises, has notified the landlord or the landlord’s agent in writing of his or her obligations to abate the nuisance or repair the substandard conditions; (3) The conditions have existed and have not been abated 35 days… and the delay is without good cause.” A tenant may bring a lawsuit against the landlord for a violation of this statute and is entitled to “special damages of not less than $100 and not more than $5,000. The prevailing party shall be entitled to recovery of reasonable attorney’s fees and costs of the suit in an amount fixed by the court.”