California Laws That Took Effect in January

As awareness increases about building safety, environmental concerns, and equality for people with disabilities, construction regulations evolve. Initially, new rules only apply to new construction or major renovations, but eventually existing structures must come up to code. Such is the case with water-conserving plumbing. As of January 1, 2017, we must all have replaced high flow with low flow.

In 1994, new dwellings were required to use low-flow toilets and interior faucets. In 2014, retrofits and renovations to kitchens and bathrooms in existing homes were expected to use the new appliances and fixtures. And now, legislators have decided to spread the love to everyone in single-family homes. In 2019, multi-family dwellings (i.e., apartments and duplexes) and commercial structures will be required to retrofit toilets and interior faucets, too.

If you can find a plumber to certify that it is impossible for you to upgrade to the water-saving devices because of the way your house is built, then you can forego the expense. Good luck with this. Otherwise, you’re in it with the rest of us.

Of course, I don’t expect everyone to run out and purchase new toilets and faucets right this minute, but if you plan to sell your house in 2017, you’ll have to disclose the fact that you haven’t upgraded. If you don’t, and the buyer relies on the non-disclosure but later discovers you violated the ordinance, you may be required to pay for the retrofits down the road.

What are the retrofits, exactly? You must replace any toilets with a flush volume of greater than 1.6 gallons, showerheads that emit more than 2.5 gallons per minute, and interior faucets that run more than 2.2 gallons per minute. As silly as it sounds, I don’t see any exclusions for bathtub faucets, so it appears you must replace those faucets, too—even though doing so makes no sense.

While we’re on the subject of retrofits, here’s a government mandate that does make sense: smoke and carbon monoxide alarms in all dwellings. While alarms have been required for some time, recent changes to the law require smoke and carbon monoxide alarms to be present in every bedroom as well as hallways. In multi-story dwellings, alarms must be present on every floor. “Dwellings” are basically anywhere you’d sleep: single-family homes, apartments, duplexes, time-shares, dorms, hotels, etc. Mendocino County augments State requirements for smoke and carbon monoxide alarms, so be sure to ask your Realtor for the details if you plan to buy or sell a house and you want to know whether the property complies with local ordinances.

Here’s a fun fact about smoke and carbon monoxide alarms: you are safe in California unless you are in a dwelling owned or leased by the State or by local government agencies. Yes, that’s correct—our legislators have once again exempted themselves from requirements they impose on the rest of us. Ugh. I’ll get off my soapbox now.

If you want to know whether a property complies with existing laws, consider having a home inspection. With construction standards continually changing, it can be hard to keep up, whether it’s insulation, dual pane windows, fire sprinklers, ADA-compliant door knobs or other details. It’ll cost you about $500 and there are half a dozen inspectors in Ukiah to choose from. Ask your Realtor for a list.

If you have questions about real estate or property management, please contact me at or call (707) 462-4000. If you’d like to read previous articles, visit my blog at Dick Selzer is a real estate broker who has been in the business for more than 40 years.


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