There’s no reason you can’t charge your tenants for repairs they’re liable for—even if you do the repairs yourself.
Landlords generally pay to repair leaks, electrical failures, and anything else that affects the habitability of the rental. They can pass on the bill to renters if negligence or recklessness necessitated the repair. The same condition applies when a landlord withholds repair charges from the security deposit after a renter has moved out.
In either scenario, there’s no reason why you can’t perform repairs and, if your renter is liable, charge for them. To avoid problems and to satisfy regulations in some states, itemize the repairs and charge a reasonable labor rate.
Normal wear and tear
Most states publish guidelines for withholding security money for repairs. It’s important to familiarize yourself with those in your state. California and New York, for example, allow landlords to withhold money for repairs over and above those caused by “normal wear and tear.” Many state guidelines incorporate that phrase. To get a handle on its meaning, read Landlordology’s Ultimate Guide to Normal Wear and Tear. Here are two examples of repairs for which you can bill a renter:
1. Broken appliances
The dryer may not work properly after a renter moves out. If that’s due to a faulty thermostat or some other part failure, it’s normal wear and tear. However, if the renters neglected to clean the lint trap and the dryer overheated, you can deduct the cost of the repair. You can also pass on the cost of replacing a garbage disposal damaged by misuse or repairing a dented refrigerator.
2. Damaged floors and walls
Scuffs on floors and faded paint are inevitable consequences of normal use and the passing of time. Burns on the floor and paint scraped from the wall by scraping furniture, children, or pets aren’t normal, though. You can charge tenants for these types of repairs.
What does the lease say?
When it comes to upkeep responsibilities, the language in the lease matters. This is especially true for maintenance-intensive amenities like pools and spas. No language can override the basic need to provide a safe and habitable living space. However, the lease should cover what happens when renters’ negligence or recklessness are the cause of needed repairs. If the lease states that the choice of contractor is your prerogative, the tenant, by signing it, tacitly agrees to pay you or your agent to do the work.
Charge a competitive rate for repairs
A lease clause doesn’t provide a carte-blanche to overcharge for services rendered. In California, for example, landlords must charge a reasonable rate. Although that’s a vague phrase, it provides an avenue for dispute. Renters aren’t likely to dispute a competitive invoice for work done in a timely and professional way, but they have the right to object to being overcharged.
Rates vary from trade to trade. Electricians and plumbers can charge between $75 and $125 per hour, while painters and general handymen typically charge from $25 to $45 per hour. Rates also vary by locality. They are usually higher in large urban areas than they are in small towns.
You can use one of a number of online resources to set a fair rate for the work completed for renters. Some sites, such as Pro Referral, offer an online Q/A service to help with this.
It could be a win-win
Most state tenancy codes require renters to notify the landlord when damage occurs. When the damage affects the habitability of the premises, you must respond within 24 hours. If you have the tools and know-how to complete the repair, you can usually get the job done faster than a contractor. Contractors tend to have other commitments and may not prioritize your repair. A DIY-savvy landlord familiar with the structural details of the premises is an asset, not a liability.
Act like a service pro
A service-oriented attitude goes a long way. Deferring to the wishes of people living in your rental—within reason—makes for happy renters and good communication in the future.
Provide an itemized statement
Outline any charges in a detailed statement. This applies whether you’re charging renters for work completed while they are living in the rental or if you’re deducting money from the security deposit after they move out. Some states require this. Even if your state doesn’t, a detailed statement is worth the extra effort for the protection it provides in the case of dispute. The statement should specify the following:
- The hourly labor rate
- The number of hours you spent on the repair
- The materials used and cost of those materials
- Any other costs related to the repair, including transportation and dump fees
It’s a good practice to check back a few days after completing a repair to give renters a chance to comment. They may simply thank you. They may also have noticed something you forgot to do. Complete the job to everyone’s satisfaction, and you will avoid disputes. You’ll also make the maintenance of your rental property a team effort, and that will benefit you in the long run.