Are tenants responsible for repairs when things break or malfunction in a rental unit? If so, what repairs are tenants responsible for, and which ones should be shouldered by the landlord? Here are some things you need to know to avoid any misunderstandings.
Who Should Pay for Repairs?
As a general rule, landlords should provide a clean, healthy, and quiet living environment to ensure the comfort and safety of their tenants. This means that aside from conducting regular maintenance checks, they are responsible for any and all repairs caused by natural disasters, emergencies, and normal wear and tear, especially those that may present a safety issue.
Thus, landlords are responsible for most structural, electrical, and plumbing issues, heating repairs, visible mold problems, and other safety concerns (e.g., faulty wiring, replacing broken locks, unless directly caused by fault of the tenant – and even then, the landlord is typically responsible for arranging fixes, just not at their own expense). They should also take care of the installation and maintenance of the required sanitation systems, including pest treatment and extermination unless the problem arises from negligence on the part of the tenant.
Are Tenants Responsible for Repairs?
Tenants are expected to address minor inconveniences resulting from normal wear and tear, which may include replacing burnt-out light bulbs, dead smoke detector batteries, and dirty air filters. They are also expected to take care of eliminating cigarette stains or smells, especially if they occupy a non-smoking unit.
Depending on the terms of the lease, the tenant may be held liable for damages caused by their guests or pets and for damages resulting from their recklessness and sheer negligence, including the failure to inform the landlord of any such issues. The landlord can legally make the tenant pay for certain repairs under two conditions: (1) it is clearly stated in the lease agreement and (2) it abides by the existing state laws.
In most states, tenants can be held liable for damages resulting from:
- Violation of occupancy requirements and misuse of designated rooms
- Unauthorized removal of fixtures (appliances, lights, permanent decorative elements)
- Fire damage resulting from tenant’s recklessness and/or negligence
- Damages arising from pet policy violations
- Tampering with smoke and carbon monoxide detectors
- Blocked emergency exits
- Use of rental premises for unlawful purposes
The cost of repairs may be deducted from the security deposit, but other options may also be considered if the cost exceeds the deposit.
It is also important to note that refusal to pay for the repairs as stipulated in the lease agreement can be a ground for eviction since it constitutes a breach of the agreement.
Normal Wear and Tear vs. Damage
How do you know if the damage is due to normal wear and tear or if the tenant is liable to pay for the repairs? Consider these examples that illustrate the difference between the two.
Normal Wear and Tear
- Scratches and marks on frequently used surfaces and furniture
- Fabric and upholstery discoloration
- Appliances that stopped working due to daily use or age
- Damage due to natural calamities and disasters
- Broken windows, unless caused by extreme weather conditions
- Broken appliances and furniture resulting from incorrect use
- Damages to property, appliances, or furnishings caused by the tenant’s guests and/or pets
In case the damage isn’t the tenant’s fault, the landlord may take legal actions to recover the repair cost from the person responsible for the damage (e.g., damages incurred as a result of leaks from neighboring properties, damages to the building caused by building works on neighboring properties, accidental damages caused by a workman).
Tenant Maintenance Responsibilities
While landlords are required by law to provide a habitable living environment for their tenants, the tenants are expected to do their part in keeping the space clean and livable. Specifically, most states require tenants to:
- Keep the rental unit clean and safe during occupancy
- Prevent excessive dirt and grime build-up on walls and floors
- Prevent scum and rust build-up
- Prevent mold growth
- Use electrical, HVAC, and plumbing systems properly
- Observe proper garbage and waste disposal
- Adhere to the rules of the homeowners’ association (HOA)
- Notify the landlord of any maintenance and repair issues in a timely manner
Landlord and Tenant Repair Responsibilities
Once they notice any issues that need repair, tenants should immediately inform their landlord about them and discuss how they should go about repairing the problem. Otherwise, the tenant may be held liable for additional damages that could have been avoided if the problem have been reported earlier.
In the same manner, tenants shouldn’t try to make unauthorized repairs without the knowledge and consent of their landlords since such actions could accidentally break the terms of the lease. To be safe, always check the lease agreement and the existing state laws to know what you can and cannot do.
Landlords are required to respond within 24 hours of complaint about issues needing major repairs (electrical, HVAC, indoor plumbing, mold, pest infestation, flooding, and other security concerns) while the response time for minor issues may depend on the terms of the lease and local housing regulations. In any case, repairs should be handled promptly to ensure the habitability of the rental property and prevent further damage.
After receiving the repair request, the landlord should provide the tenant a written notice 24 hours before entering the rental property. However, tenants can reschedule if they are not available at the time.
If the landlord fails to act on the complaint, ask them about the cause of the delay and provide them with a reasonable deadline. Keep a record of all your conversations to back up your claims if the landlord still fails to address the issue within the agreed timeline.
Tenants may also choose to get the repairs done themselves, but only if the landlord knows about it and has agreed to it. Keep in mind that making unauthorized repairs can put you in trouble with your landlord and may even be a ground for eviction.
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