California residential landlord and tenant laws have established specific legal obligations that a landlord has to a tenant. Landlords have legal duties to their tenants during the COVID-19 era specifically associated with the coronavirus. There are four specific areas that need to be discussed when it comes to a landlord’s legal duty to the residential tenant during the COVID-19 era. These are:
- COVID-19 contamination and rental property common areas
- Rental property on the market seeking tenants
- Entry into the leased unit during the COVID-19 pandemic
- Doctrine of quiet enjoyment during the COVID-19 pandemic
COVID-19 Contamination and Rental Property Common Areas
What is known as the legal doctrine of premises liability comes into play in regard to common areas in a multiple unit building or complex. The doctrine of premises liability requires a landlord to maintain common areas in a reasonably safe condition. In the era of COVID-19, this includes taking reasonable steps to prevent coronavirus contamination in common areas. It also means that if COVID-19 contamination is thought to have occurred in a common area, a landlord must take steps to eradicate such a possible contamination promptly.
Satisfying this legal obligation to safe common areas is best satisfied by engaging the services of a skilled, experienced COVID-19 cleaning company. A professional has the tools, EPA-approved disinfecting agents, and personal protective equipment (PPE) needed to thoroughly and safely eradicate or prevent common area contamination.
Rental Property on the Market Seeking Tenants
California law dictates that landlords must disclose particular facts about a rental unit to prospective tenants before a lease agreement is created. For example, there are required disclosures related to toxic mold as well as bed bug information. A landlord needs to disclose that death occurred on the premises within the preceding three years.
A California landlord must disclose that rental property was once contaminated by methamphetamine. As of the spring of 2020, there was no legal requirement for a California landlord to disclose a prior coronavirus contamination in rental property.
Merely because the law doesn’t require a landlord to make specific disclosures doesn’t mean that a landlord shouldn’t make them voluntarily. There is something to be said to making voluntary disclosures in the interest of full transparency. Taking this approach prevents a tenant from making an argument that a landlord withheld material information that would have impacted a person’s decision to enter into a lease agreement.
A landlord does need to be concerned about putting a rental unit on the market seeking a tenant when it comes to the potential issue of COVID-19 contamination. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has advised that the coronavirus can remain viable or alive on surfaces and objects in a residence. An infected person can not only transfer the virus through face to face encounters but also by shedding the virus on surfaces and objects.
Before placing a rental property on the market, you need to not only undertake the standard repairs and cleanup associated with the end of a tenancy, but you need to address possible COVID-19 contamination as well.
As a landlord, you are well-served engaging the services of an experienced, reputable COVID-19 cleaning company to eradicate potential coronavirus contamination at the residence. In addition, you are also wise to consult with a COVID-19 remediation specialist about what you should do to protect against new COVID-19 contamination while the property is being shown to prospective tenants.
Entry Into Leased Unit During the COVID-19 Pandemic
During the COVID-19 era, a landlord needs to take special precautions when it comes to the need to enter a rental unit. A landlord must follow the requirements set forth in California landlord and tenant law. In addition, a landlord must take steps to reasonably protect against the contamination of a tenant’s property. A landlord must also protect service people and others that may have a need to enter a rental unit from being infected by COVID-19.
A landlord can have legal responsibility if a rental unit somehow is contaminated when a person enters the premises on behalf of the landlord. This can include a service person a landlord arranges to enter a rental unit to address an issue. Similarly, a landlord may bear legal responsibility if a service person or authorized person contracts an infection when entering into a rental unit.
Doctrine of Quiet Enjoyment During the COVID-19 Pandemic
In the state of California, rental property owners are entitled to enjoy their rental units without interference from other neighboring tenants. This is called the doctrine of quiet enjoyment.
If a landlord learns that a tenant in a multi-unit building ends up with a COVID-19 infection, a landlord has some legal duty to protect against the spread of the virus into common areas. This presents another scenario in which a landlord is well-served seeking the assistance of a qualified infectious disease remediation specialist.