Landlord’s Duty To Provide Security

Landlord’s Duty to Provide Security

1. Is there a law requiring deadbolt locks on residential rental units?

Yes. Landlords must install and maintain operable deadbolt locks on each “main swinging entry door” of a “dwelling unit.” The lock must be installed to comply with state and local codes, including those relating to fire and life safety and accessibility for the disabled. When in the locked position, the bolt must extend a minimum of 13/16 of an inch in length beyond the strike edge of the door and protrude into the doorjamb. (Cal. Civ. Code §1941.3(a)(1).)

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2. What is the definition of a “dwelling unit” in Question 1?

The term is defined to mean “a structure or the part of a structure that is used as a home, residence, or sleeping place by one person who maintains a household or by two or more persons who maintain a common household” (Cal. Civ. Code §1940(c)).

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3. What is the definition of the term “each main swinging entry door” in Question 1?

The term refers to each swinging (as opposed to sliding) door that leads into the inside of a dwelling unit. For example, the back door or a garage door which leads into the habitable area of a rental residential unit will need to have an operable deadbolt lock in addition to one for the front door.

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4. What are the exceptions to the deadbolt provision of the law?

The deadbolt provision does not apply to horizontal sliding doors, nor to existing deadbolts of at least one-half inch in length. Existing locks with a thumb-turn deadlock that have a strike plate attached to the doorjamb and a latch bolt that is held in a vertical position by a guard bolt, a plunger, or an auxiliary mechanism are also exempt. However, when these locks are repaired or replaced the first time after July 1, 1998, they must be replaced with a dead bolt at least 13/16 of an inch in length. (Cal. Civ. Code §1941.3(a)(1).) Owners of existing doors that cannot be equipped with deadbolts can satisfy the requirements of this law by equipping the door with a horizontally affixed metal strap across the midsection of the door with a deadbolt which extends 13/16 of an inch in length beyond the strike edge of the door and protrudes into the doorjamb. Locks and devices other than those described above will satisfy the requirements of this provision as long as they are inspected and approved by an appropriate state or local government agency as providing adequate security. (Cal. Civ. Code §1941.3(a)(1).)

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5. Is there a law requiring window security devices or locks on residential rental units?

Yes. A landlord must install and maintain operable window security devices or locks for windows that are designed to be opened. (Cal. Civ. Code §1941.3(a)(2).)

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6. What are acceptable “window security devices or locks for windows”?

While the term is not defined, all locks integrated as part of the window when installed or supplemented will satisfy the requirement. For example, inserting a pin into a pre-drilled hole to prevent double hung windows from opening from the outside is acceptable. Key locks purchased from any hardware store will also comply.

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7. What are the exceptions to the window security/lock provision?

The window security provision does not apply to windows that are more than 12 feet vertically or six feet horizontally from the ground, roof, or other platform. Louvered windows and casement windows are also exempt. (Cal. Civ. Code §1941.3(a)(2).)

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8. Is there a law involving exterior doors to common areas in multi-family residential rental units?

Yes. Landlords must install locking mechanisms that comply with applicable fire and safety codes on exterior doors that provide access to and from common areas in multifamily developments. (Cal. Civ. Code §1941.3(a)(3)).

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9. What are the exceptions to the security door provision?

The exterior doors provision does not require the installation of a new door or gate where none exists on January 1, 1998. (Cal. Civ. Code §1941.3(a)(3).)

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10. What are the general exemptions to Section 1941.3: the deadbolt, window security/lock and security door provisions?

None of the provisions of Section 1941.3 apply to any building which has been designated as historically significant by an appropriate local, state, or federal governmental jurisdiction, nor does it apply to any building intended for human habitation which is managed, directly or indirectly, and controlled by the Department of Transportation. The statute specifically states that this exemption shall not be construed to affect the duty of the Department of Transportation to maintain the premises of these buildings in a safe condition, however, nor does it abrogate any express or implied

statement or promise of the Department of Transportation to provide secure premises. Additionally, this exemption does not apply to residential dwellings acquired prior to July 1, 1997 by the Department of Transportation to complete construction of state highway routes 710 and 238 and related interchanges. (Cal. Civ. Code §§1941.3(f) and (g).)

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11. Are rental mobile homes in a mobile home park covered by this law?

Only mobile homes which are classified as “real property” are covered. Most mobile homes in a park are usually classified as “personal property” and therefore not covered by this law. See the Mobile home– Residency Law–California Civil Code Sections 798 et seq.

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12. Are vacation rentals covered by this law?

It is not entirely clear from the law. This law specifically excludes a transient occupancy in a “hotel, motel, residence club, or other facility” when the transient occupancy is subject to or would be subject to a transient occupancy tax which local government may impose for thirty days or less. A vacation rental may qualify as “other facility” subject to or would be subject to this transient occupancy tax and therefore technically would not have to comply with this law. (Cal. Civ. Code§1940(a)(1).)

Nevertheless, it may be prudent for owners of vacation rentals to voluntarily follow the requirements of this law.

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13. Must a landlord comply with the new law if the unit for rent has a homeowners’ association?

Yes, a landlord is still required to comply with this new law and to retrofit, if needed, his/her dwelling unit. It may be necessary in some cases to notify the homeowners’ association that locks have been changed.

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14. Must a homeowners’ association comply with this law?

No, unless the association is the landlord or acts as an agent for the landlord.

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15. Can a homeowners’ association impose rules that are in conflict with the requirements of this law?

No. A homeowners’ association cannot override state law. A landlord or his/her agent may want to advise the association before new locks are installed in the common areas.

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16. Does a tenant have any responsibility to the landlord under this law?

The tenant is responsible for notifying the owner or owner’s agent when the tenant becomes aware of an inoperable lock or window security. The landlord is not liable for a violation unless he/she fails to correct the violation within a reasonable time after the owner or owner’s agent has actual notice of a deficiency or receives notice of a deficiency. (Cal. Civ. Code §1941.3(b).)

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17. What are the penalties for violation of Section 1941.3?

The remedies for a landlord’s breach of these duties include use of the repair and deduct remedy, injunctive relief, a civil action for wrongfully collecting rent for an un-tenantable dwelling, and an affirmative defense in an unlawful detainer action for non-payment of rent where the landlord fails to repair a broken lock after being notified and being given a reasonable opportunity to make repairs (Cal. Civ. Code §1941.3(c)). Tenants are required to notify the landlord or landlord’s agent when

they are aware of an inoperable deadbolt lock or window security or locking device in the dwelling unit (Cal. Civ. Code §1941.3(b)).

A violation of the duty does not broaden, limit, or otherwise affect the duty of care owed by a landlord under other existing laws, including any duty of care that may exist under Section 1714 (general statute imposing duty of care upon all persons not to injure others by negligent acts) (Cal. Civ. Code §1941.3(d)). In addition, its provisions do not pre-empt more stringent requirements imposed upon a landlord by a local public entity (Cal. Civ. Code §1941.3(e)). Check with local cities/counties for any additional security requirements.

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18. Where can I get deadbolt locks or other locks that will satisfy the law?

All deadbolt locks or other locks currently on sale in hardware stores should be in compliance with the new law. Owners can either purchase and install the locks themselves or hire a locksmith, handyman or general contractor to do so.

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19. Where can I get more information?

For a complete listing of C.A.R.’s legal products and services, please visit C.A.R. Online at Readers who require specific advice should consult an attorney. C.A.R. members requiring legal assistance may contact C.A.R.’s Member Legal Hotline at 213.739.8282, Monday through Friday, 9:00 A.M. to 6:00 P.M. C.A.R. members who are broker-owners, office managers or Designated REALTORS® may contact the Member Legal Hotline at 213.739.8350 to receive expedited service.

Members may also fax or e-mail their questions to the Member Legal Hotline at 213.480.7724 or Written correspondence should be addressed to:

California Association of REALTORS®

Member Legal Services

525 South Virgil Avenue

Los Angeles, California 90020

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The information contained herein is believed accurate. It is intended to provide general answers to general questions and is not intended as a substitute for individual legal advice. Advice in specific situations may differ depending upon a wide variety of factors. Therefore, readers with specific legal questions should seek the advice of an Attorney.

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