9 maintenance issues tenants are responsible for

Written on July 25, 2018 by , updated on December 3, 2019

Maintaining a clean, safe, and livable rental property is a shared commitment. The law requires a landlord to provide a safe and habitable residence, but it won’t stay that way for long unless tenants share upkeep responsibilities.

Landlords can’t control how tenants live, but they have a right to expect proper use of their properties. Some commonsense tasks, such as proper disposal of trash, need no explanation. Other maintenance issues should be specified in the lease so everyone is on the same page.

1. Waste disposal

You have to throw away the trash if you want a clean and sanitary home. Most municipalities provide waste disposal services for which they generally charge a fee. Landlords often pass this fee on via a lease clause or include it in the rent. In places without regular trash service, it’s important to negotiate a disposal strategy and stick with it.

Related: How to handle dirty tenants

2. Pest control

It’s up to the landlord to ensure that a rental is pest-free before anyone moves in. Once the place is occupied, though, tenants automatically assume some of the responsibility for keeping it that way. If the landlord has corrected structural problems that allow rodents and insects to enter, tenants should avoid attracting them with poor hygienic practices. Tenants could be financially liable for abatement of an infestation caused by negligence, especially if they violate provisions specified in the lease.

Related: Best pest control and prevention tips for your rental property

How to deal with bed bugs at your rental property

3. Landscaping

Lawn and yard maintenance can fall to the tenant if a lease clause assigns these tasks. In that case, any violation of city or county ordinances would be the tenant’s responsibility. The tenant is always responsible for keeping the yard safe by removing obstacles and generally cleaning up. In certain situations, particularly in shared housing units, a landlord may contract a tenant to do yard maintenance in exchange for compensation.

Related: Should a tenant be paid for doing yard work?

4. Snow removal

Snow removal is a matter of safety, not only for tenants but for anyone using a public walkway that crosses the property. Some municipalities assess fines for failure to remove snow in a timely fashion. Able-bodied tenants are in the best position to handle this job, but it isn’t their responsibility unless the lease specifies it. However, because tenants have a responsibility to keep the premises safe, they could be faulted for failing to clear snow from doorways and walkways that access them.

Related: Snow removal—how to avoid being negligent

5. Mold prevention

Mold grows where there’s moisture, and the question of whose job it is to prevent it—and clean it up—can be a thorny one. In general, it’s the landlord’s job if the moisture comes from a plumbing or building leak. Liability for cleanup may fall to tenants if the mold is the result of poor hygiene practices, such as leaving piles of damp clothing in the corner. Tenants are also responsible for providing adequate ventilation and could be required to clean surface mold on furniture and bathroom walls.

Related: Is a landlord always responsible for mold remediation?

6. Proper appliance use

Appliances, such as stoves, microwaves, and dryers, won’t last long under abuse. Proper appliance use is a must in any living situation, and if any repair or replacement is clearly the result of negligence on the part of tenants, they may have to foot the bill. Landlords are typically responsible for routine maintenance, such as filter replacement or duct cleaning. This could be addressed in the lease.

Related: How long should appliances last?

7. Smoke detector maintenance

Smoke detectors are generally unnoticeable until they need new batteries or they go off, which hopefully never happens. When a smoke alarm needs new batteries, it’s the landlord’s job to replace them, unless the lease says otherwise. It’s up to tenants to avoid false alarms caused by shower steam or cooking smoke, but if an alarm goes off for no reason, they must notify the landlord as soon as possible so it can be fixed or replaced.

Related: The long and short of smoke alarms

8. Septic maintenance

Improper use of a septic system can seriously shorten its life. This is such an important maintenance issue that most landlords include a lease clause or provide a handout that describes best practices. They include treating oils, greases, and non-degradable substances as trash and not plumbing waste. Septic treatments, tank pumping, and pump maintenance are the landlord’s responsibility, but if the system fails, tenants could be dinged if negligent use is the cause.

Related: How to educate your tenants about using a septic system

9. Contacting the landlord

It’s illegal for a landlord to make tenants responsible for all repairs. Tenants do have a responsibility, however, to contact the landlord or property manager when the property needs repairs. Any damage that results from a failure to do so could cost all or part of the security deposit or more. Unless authorized by the lease, tenants can’t make repairs on their own unless the landlord does not respond. In that case, most states allow tenants to make repairs that affect habitability and charge the landlord.

Understand the lease requirements

When it comes to maintenance issues for tenants, it’s important to read and understand the lease before signing it. Certain clauses may stipulate maintenance tasks that don’t normally fall to tenants, and once they sign on the dotted line, tenants own these tasks. Encourage your tenants to take the lease home and study it carefully before signing.

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10 CommentsLeave a Comment

  • Mike c

    Can my landlord charge the tenants for the extra garbage that people drive by and throw in the bin? In my lease it says that garbage is included but yet I just got a letter saying for extra garbage charges he is going to charge the tenants. Can he do that?

  • Tina

    The storm came knocked down a tree and the patio screen door am I responsible for replacing the patio screen door

  • Maurice Bonner

    My tenant made the request below:

    Good morning. Can you schedule someone to come spray around the house? Their are alot of ants in the back and front yard and the kids are getting bit real bad. Thank you.

    It’s a single family home with a big front yard and back yard. I explained to the tenant when she moved in that she is in Georgia and the ants get bad in the summer. I verbally told her that the un keep of the yard Is her responsibility to include the ants if they pose a problem with her kids.

    How would you handle this request?

    • Brenda

      Ants are a problem all over the south. Usually if its a normal nuisance then it falls to the tenant. If its an unusually heavy or odd infestation, try to help them. Make sure to check/ask if you think its fire ants. If it is then you will want to take care of it yourself whether its you or a pest control service. Good rule of thumb is to do outside pest control and allow your tenant to do indoor[with limits of course]

  • Whose responsibility is cleaning mold from a pool deck when caused by rain in Costa Rica

    We are moving from a house in Costa Rica. Our cement pool deck top and sides as well as a cement elephant are covered with mold caused by the rain. Is it our responsibility to clean it

  • Nicole

    I rent an apartment with no outdoor area accessible: ei and 2nd and 3rd floor of an end unit row home. We hace no access to the backyard. Thr landlord is trying to charge us a fine from the municipality due to high grass and weeds. Our lease says. “lawn and garden: n/a”. Do we hace to pay the fine or am i right in telling them that it us more likely the responsibilty of the 1st floor tenants who hace access and use of the yard in question… That or the landlord…

  • Heather

    I live in an apartment building in which the garbage is included in the rent. Every sunday I put out my garbage to be picked up Monday morning, and it’s usually only about three to four bags. With all four appartments there usually about 10-12 bags of garbage and it is never fully picked up. I had a discussion with the garbage men one Monday morning and they told me told me that they are able to pick up 8 bags per appartment and that the landlord only has one of the four appartments marked for garbage pickup. What should I do about this?

  • Bessie

    I’ve been living at my residence for 13 years then all of a sudden my landlord wanted Me and my family out we went through to court and everything now I’m stuck we’ve been paying him 2500 a month for 13 years we have no money I’m inA really hard spot I have grandkids and everything in my house I don’t know what to do

  • Tammy worthan

    Does a landlord have to pay for your housing due to a repair that will take a cple months to repair

  • Viki Desaulniers

    Aloha, I’m a resident owner of a 1bd./1ba. 412 sq.ft. condo unit, although, I’m not a landlord it does involve landlords rights & responsibilities. The landlord of the unit of my next door neighbors authorized the current 2 tenants to have 5 guests stay for 47 days in a unit the same size as mine.This is against our house rules, state & HUD law.
    They also, didn’t honor our house rule regarding for all to enjoy equally our residence. One day, even after she previously asked me what noise bothers me…they made our entryway a playground4the2grandchidren. Our front doors face each other & the bldg. design is such that noise is ampliphied. After a half an hour I finally tried to address it? She came out of her door in a rage,so I closed my door

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