California law requires that certain property utilized for profit shall maintain on site managers twenty four hours a day to provide services and protection for the tenants. The law imposes sanctions if this requirement is not met but does have limits as to the applicability of the law to smaller buildings. This article shall summarize the basic law.
California civil law provides as follows:
§ 42. Caretaker
A manager, janitor, housekeeper, or other responsible person shall reside upon the premises and shall have charge of every apartment house in which there are 16 or more apartments, and of every hotel in which there are 12 or more guest rooms, in the event that the owner of an apartment house or hotel does not reside upon said premises. Only one caretaker would be required for all structures under one ownership and on one contiguous parcel of land. If the owner does not reside upon the premises of any apartment house in which there are more than four but less than 16 apartments, a notice stating the owner's name and address, or the name and address of the owner's agent in charge of the apartment house, shall be posted in a conspicuous place on the premises.
Note that this requires not daily or even nightly inspection by the person but actual residence on the premises, assuming the owner does not reside there. Further, note that even those premises with less than sixteen apartments may have to have a notice of location of owner or owner’s agent if there are more than four units.
And the ramifications of failure to provide such management are not minor:
Section 72 addresses penalties, and reads as follows:
§ 72. Penalties
Any violation of this subchapter or of the Health and Safety Code, Division 13, Part 1.5, commencing with Section 17910 (State Housing Law) shall be subject to the penalties as set forth in Section 17995 of the Health and Safety Code.
We must now look at Health and Safety Code Section 17995 to determine the penalties, which reads as follows:
17995. Any person who violates any of the provisions of this part, the building standards published in the State Building Standards Code relating to the provisions of this part, or any other rule or regulation promulgated pursuant to the provisions of this part is guilty of a misdemeanor, punishable by a fine not exceeding one thousand dollars ($1,000) or by imprisonment not exceeding six months, or by both such fine and imprisonment.
It is thus a crime to fail to comply with this law. It also would open up the owner to civil liability by the tenant(s) filing suit. Lastly, the city and/or county may have its own requirements and obligations imposed upon the owner.
The reason the law is so tough on the owner is that the safety of the tenants can be at stake. These cases originally arose when emergencies on the premises (fire in one case, crime in another case) occurred and owners, traveling and thus unreachable, were unable to provide vital information to the tenants and emergency responders.
It is critical for the new owner of such units to realize that when people’s homes are at issue, both the law and common sense require a degree of diligence and care that far exceeds what is often expected in a commercial leasehold situation. And since the average jury is composed of more tenants than owners, it makes good sense for the owner to know the law and rigidly adhere to it.
A common problem that arises is when an onsite manager, often with no or little notice, suddenly vacates the premises and thus immediately places the owner in a position of violating the law. Clearly the owner must immediately seek to hire to cover that position and consider a temporary hire or moving into the premises him or herself until the new manager can be located. Keeping good records of efforts to locate a replacement is vital for the owner since that issue may be critical if something goes wrong and a complaint is made.
It is just one more requirement that landlords must confront, not very dissimilar to keeping safe locales, lighting hallways, etc. etc. Luckily, in the San Francisco area, the rents are high enough to fully justify the efforts most of the time.