Code Compliance in Santa Cruz

A ‘How-To’ Guide on Addressing Habitability Issues

The City of Santa Cruz Planning and Community Development Department has a Code Compliance division. Code and housing issues may include but are not limited to: substandard or dangerous housing conditions; construction without permits; junk, trash, debris, weeds; and building/zoning violations.

Notify the Owner

Tenants are encouraged to work with the property owner (or property manager) to address their concerns. Research the issue to see if it falls under a code violation by reading the California Civil Code sections pertaining to rental repairs. For a list of requirements for a rental unit to be in a habitable condition, see codes 1941.1, 1941.2, 1941.4 and 1942, 1942.4, and 1942.5.

Tenants must notify the owner, in writing, to identify their concerns and to request that they be addressed in a timely manner. If there is no response within a reasonable amount of time, send a second letter via certified mail. Send a copy of the letter to yourself at the same time.

If repairs are not made or no response is received from the owner, the tenant can then file a complaint with the City. Tenant may be asked to provide a dated copy of correspondence sent to the owner.

If the issues concern fire, life, or safety such as dangerous electrical wiring, lack of heat or hot water, and immediate help is not provided by the property owner, do not hesitate to contact the City.

File a Complaint

Tenants who believe they have exhausted all resources in trying to get an owner to fix a rental that is not in compliance with city codes can file a complaint. Fill out a complaint form with a brief explanation of the issues and submit it to the City Planning Department, along with copies of your correspondence to the landlord. You may also submit photos along with your complaint.

Inspection

Code Compliance will schedule an inspection of the unit. Tenants need to be present at the inspection. An inspection is necessary to determine if:

  • There are violations.
  • Repairs are necessary.
  • A unit is substandard or uninhabitable.
  • A notice of violation is required.

After the Inspection

Violations or issues identified during the inspection are documented and sent to the owner in a Notice of Violation. Deadlines are given for the work to be completed. If work is not completed by the established deadlines, without good reason, citations or fines may be issued to the owner.

The tenant must allow the owner to make the required repairs. The owner must contact the tenant to arrange for access and the owner must protect the tenants’ belongings from damage during repairs.

If the unit is determined to be uninhabitable or is found to be an illegal unit (built without permits), the tenant is provided with a Relocation Packet and directed to contact legal aid.

Mold

Tenants who believe there is a mold issue, may contact Code Compliance to conduct an inspection. Mold is primarily caused by structural issues such as a roof leak or a leaky pipe; or poor ventilation in the unit. In either situation, an inspection will help determine the cause and the City will be able to provide direction in resolving the problem. Please be advised: The City addresses causes for mold, they do not test for or identify mold.

Legal

Code Compliance does not handle tenant-landlord disputes. Disagreements between the landlord and tenant not related to verified code violations should be pursued by the tenant independently. California Rural Legal Assistance (CRLA) or Lawyer Referral Service may assist tenants regarding their rights. The City may provide documents about code violations for tenants who might later decide to file in small claims court.

A very useful document for tenants to read and get to know their rights is the California Tenants: A guide to Residential Tenants’ and Landlords’ Rights and Responsibilities published by the Department of Consumer Affairs.

Resources

Code Compliance: 831-420-5100
California Rural Legal Assistance (CRLA): 831-724-2253
Lawyer Referral Service: 831-425-4755
County Environmental Health: 831-454-2022
Residential Rental Inspection Program