Normal wear and tear is a common occurrence in rental situations. It can range from mild carpet staining to a leaky pipe.
In most cases, landlords are responsible for handling any necessary repairs within the realm of normal wear and tear. However, that leads to two very important questions:
- Are landlords always responsible for repairs?
- When is a tenant responsible for apartment repairs?
At the end of the day, what renters really want to know is, “Can a landlord make a tenant pay for repairs?” The answer really depends on the situation. Typically, if a tenant and/or their guests caused the damage, then they’ll be responsible for covering both the cost and labor or repairs.
However, landlords are legally required to handle many repairs, especially those that threaten a tenant’s right to the warrant of implied habitability.
Regardless of the situation, the repairs will need to be done. So, it’s imperative to prioritize good landlord-tenant communication to get the job done efficiently.
If it all sounds confusing, don’t worry! Here’s everything you need to know about who’s responsible for which repairs in a rental situation.
Things to Consider
1. Lease Agreement
In the world of renting, the lease agreement is king! Your lease agreement is legally binding. Its terms outline the expectations and rules that both you and your tenant will abide by. That includes who’s responsible for repairing what.
That’s why it’s imperative to ensure that you have written a thorough lease agreement and gone over its terms with your tenants before signing. If you leave something out, you could end up having to pay for extensive damage that your tenants have done.
2. State and Local Laws
Tenants have a right to habitable living conditions in every state. If something breaks that affects the unit’s habitable living condition, then it’s your responsibility to fix it!
For example, Connecticut law states that landlords must maintain habitability when it comes to heating and cooling. They must do that by providing equipment that can heat the apartment to a minimum of 65℉.
If the equipment breaks or needs replacing, it’s the landlord’s responsibility to handle the repairs or face litigation.
In other states, like Washington, landlords face much stricter laws. It’s illegal to hold tenants responsible for repairs. The only exclusions to the law are situations where a tenant or guest directly caused the damage.
3. The Severity of the Damage
In many cases, tenants can handle repairing damage themselves. Whether it’s applying a fresh coat of paint or giving their carpet a deep clean by renting a machine for the day, it may be easier to let tenants handle these things. However, it’s necessary to take the severity of the damage into account.
You don’t want a tenant trying to fix an electrical issue or upgrading the plumbing system without your approval. In fact, these repairs can end up costing you both a lot of money in the long run. That’s the case especially if the tenant isn’t actually skilled enough to be making them.
4. Your Bandwidth
Even in cases when a repair isn’t officially your responsibility per the lease agreement, you might want to consider lending a hand. If it’s not too much of a hassle for your maintenance team and/or a financial burden, helping your tenant could improve your relationship. It could also ensure that you don’t have to come back months later to a poorly-done job.
If that’s not possible, at the very least, be courteous when explaining it’s their responsibility. Provide local recommendations for fixing the repair. Recommending professionals that you trust may help to improve the chances that the job is done right.
What is Definitely Your Responsibility
There may be cases in which the tenant is responsible for covering repairs. However, it pays to know what you’re responsible for as a landlord.
Typically, any damage or problems that breach the implied warranty of habitability that protects a tenant’s right to live in a habitable unit are the landlord’s responsibility to fix. In short, a unit should always be kept in safe and livable conditions for tenants.
If your water heater breaks or the unit is in need of significant electrical repairs, it’s on you to facilitate and fund those repairs. Here are a few more examples of repairs that landlords are always responsible for:
- HVAC System Repairs and Maintenance. HVAC systems provide heating in the winter months and cooling in the summer months. Water heaters can be a part of this system. If something breaks or needs to be replaced, a tenant may lose essential heating, cooling, and access to hot water. Landlords are required to provide these essentials to ensure habitability.
- Electrical Malfunctions. As a major system, the electrical system of a unit is under the landlord’s jurisdiction. Not only can faulty wiring cause a fire or shock hazard, but it can also impede a tenant’s ability to peacefully enjoy their unit.
- Pest Infestations. In circumstances in which a tenant isn’t responsible for the conditions that lead to a pest infestation, landlords are responsible for providing their tenants with a pest-free environment. You will have to handle extermination and home sealing.
Keep in mind that you can stipulate what you and your tenants will be responsible for repairing in your lease agreement. However, for the major systems listed above, it’s usually the landlord’s responsibility. That’s the case as long as the tenant hasn’t damaged the systems themselves.
At the end of the day, you want your tenant to feel comfortable reporting maintenance and repair issues directly to you. It may be a minor annoyance at times. However, open tenant-landlord communication helps small problems stay small. That way, they won’t accumulate into bigger and more expensive issues.
A leaky pipe can be fixed easily, but extensive water damage? Not so much. The same goes for a damp carpet that grows into a major mold problem.
In short, a good landlord-tenant relationship is beneficial when it comes to handling repairs effectively and being proactive. Happy renting!