Many landlords and property managers charge a fee every time a tenant submits a maintenance request or a repair is performed.
Personally, I think this is a horrible practice, one that will inevitably make your tenants resent you and lead to real problems going unreported. Ultimately, your overall maintenance costs will be much higher and your tenant turnover more frequent.
In short, if you charge a maintenance request fee or repair deductible, you will regret it.
What’s a Maintenance Request Fee?
It’s a fee to the tenants every time they submit a maintenance request that requires the landlord to visit the property, repair something, or spend money.
In plain english, it’s the landlord saying: “If I have to get involved, then you’re going to pay for it.”
The fee is typically defined and agreed to in the lease, I’ve seen it range from $25-$75 per maintenance request.
What’s a Maintenance Deductible?
Many creative landlords know that a maintenance request fee will scare away many renters, so they cloak it as a maintenance deductible. This deductible is usually a flat rate or percentage of the total cost of the repair.
It’s the same nasty service fee, just packaged differently.
During my first two years as a landlord, I had a $25 maintenance deducible in my lease. It stated that the tenant is responsible for the first $25 of every repair, and 100% of the repair if the cost was less than $25.
While $25 doesn’t sound like much, the amount is irrelevant if the tenant shouldn’t be responsible for the repair at all. Many landlords validate this provision by comparing it to an insurance deductible.
Why Are These Fees Attractive to Landlords?
The primary reasons why landlords implement such fees is to:
- offset the cost of repairs or the existing deductible of their home warranty policy,
- force the tenant to have some “skin in the game”, or
- motivate the tenants to “only call me when it’s important”.
Many times, a landlord will have a home warranty policy on their rental property, which covers basic repairs like plumbing and appliance failures. Almost all of these policies have a service call fee, which the landlord is responsible for whenever a claim is made.
The fee is typically collected by the technician that shows up to the property. Because payment is required on-site, some landlords try to pass this along to the tenant who will likely be home to greet the technician.
It sounds like a good idea, but it will certainly backfire on you – I promise.
Why It’s a (Really) Bad Idea
Maintenance calls (and texts)are a good thing! I know it doesn’t feel like it when you get the news that your bathtub is leaking, but you need to know about it!
Most of the time, your tenants didn’t cause the issue. They are just communicating the situation. By enforcing a maintenance request fee, you are in essence, shooting the messenger.
Your tenants are your eyes and ears at your property, and if you penalize them for making contact with you, they’ll resent it, and just stop communicating all together!
When tenants stop reporting issues to you, small repair issues like a flickering light will turn into large issues, like an electrical fire, and you’ll have no one to blame but yourself.
These Landlords Do Exist…
I know it’s hard to believe, but there are actual landlords who think that a maintenance request fee is productive to their bottom line.
I knew a friend whose refrigerator died two weeks after he moved in. His lease said that he was responsible for the first $200 of any repair, so his landlord bought him a new fridge, and withheld $200 from his deposit.
Not only is this poor customer service, I’m pretty sure it would be considered unfair and excessive in court. This friend moved-out at the earliest possibility, never reported another maintenance issue again, and considered filing a small claims case.
Here’s a real comment from Sheryl in Illinois.
I was going to rent a condo in Naperville, Il however, it was brought to my attention from a coworker who also was going for the unit that there was a 75.00 per call maintenance call. Now this was never told to me I only found out from her. When I stated and showed my concerned the realtor and broker that is managing the property no longer wanted to rent to me and told me they put the unit back on the market and it was rented. They wouldn’t remove it or revise it so we both could agree upon.
Although that was a lie it’s fine I just really need to know if that is normal and would you recommend or advise anyone to sign a lease under those terms. There’s more to the story but no need to waste that energy. It just didn’t sit well with me and multiple people advised against it and hadn’t heard of it either. So is this a good thing or no? Of course I will not be renting it but I just need to know the truth about this type of situation in case it ever happen again. Thank you
Though some landlords think there are legitimate reasons for a “maintenance call fee,” I don’t believe in them. It just seems like a way to nickel and dime the tenant. Further, a landlord is never going to get rich off it, so the only thing the fee accomplishes is that it causes the tenant to hesitate when something needs repair. Then the landlord only gets notified when the little problem has grown into a big problem – one that costs a lot more to handle.
If I were a tenant, I’d find a landlord who didn’t charge these types of fees, and if I couldn’t avoid it, then I wouldn’t report any maintenance issues, and move out after my lease is up. Why should the tenant pay the landlord’s deductible for repairs that are caused my normal wear and tear? They shouldn’t!!!