Tip #47

Don’t Charge a Maintenance Request Fee or Repair Deductible

Written on February 19, 2015 by

service-call-feesMany 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:

  1. offset the cost of repairs or the existing deductible of their home warranty policy,
  2. force the tenant to have some “skin in the game”, or
  3. 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

landlord-text-messageMaintenance 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.

My response:

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71 CommentsLeave a Comment

  • Jean Sulek

    My question is the furnace broke due to being old. Nobodys fault. But the lanloard increased my rent with the additional cost to pay for it in my rent. Is that legal

  • Thomas Stanton

    My apartment did not feel ike my heat was working so I callled for maintenance the property management company charge me $100 for sending a technician out can they charge me for this service

  • William Burgess

    Is it the tenants responsibility to pay the homeowners $1000. deductible for filing a claim tenant over flowed the bathtub caused damage through the ceiling & carpet,but insurance adjuster says the carpet can be cleaned but homeowners want to replace the entire house with tile instead

  • stan

    What about the following angle? If the tenant does not maintain the property well and that causes all sorts of issues and consequently claims to home warranty (and associated service call fees from that warranty). Many issues can be avoided if a tenant properly maintains the property and all appliances, plumbing, etc., and is also exercising care when using teh property. I had a tenant with dogs who did not vacuum the god hair behind teh refrigerator, and that let to the fridge to burn out. The fridge was repaired by home warranty, but the tenant paid the service call fee. I think that was fair. They did not tighten screws holding the toilet, so it started leaking. Same thing – tenants bad maintenance. How else to make them be careful?

    • Shawn

      Excellent point. I think this article is flawed. How else you can make them take care…..I have dealt with 14 calls major to minor in less than a year on brand new renovated property with all new appliances. What is going on?

      • Zan Cho

        Article spread bad advice and motivating tenants to be negligent. How else can you expect the tenant to take care of the property that they ‘rented’? You rent a tool and return dirty or in abuse it or not take care of it…you will charged. Wouldn’t you?

  • joseph appello jr

    I’m currently renting and washer and dryer hookup was included in my lease and there is a added clause and I will pay for any problem under $100 the washing machine recently went bad I’ve been in this home 1 and 1/2 months the landlord wants to charge me the deductible for the purchase of a new washing machine is she allowed to do that

  • Daniel Zarks

    We waived the fee when the AC broke. We did *not* waive the fee when she dimmed the lights to off and declared she needed an electrician, or one of her kids turned AC off and we had to send someone out due to report of “Just came home and its soooooo HOT!!!!!!” When told there would be the fee for the handyman to change a lightbulb (only up to our cost, which is less than the $35 stated in lease), she decided to do it herself. Given the home warranty fee we paid when she “pushed the wrong button on the washing machine, but it looks like it’s ok now” (the tech hit “cancel”……..), you’re damn right I’m charging this fee. New roof? New fridge? New AC? Needs new paint? new flooring? That’s on me, and I won’t charge a fee. Think, then call.

  • Leisa

    THIS IS SO ACCURATE!!! I am renting a place and used to be a homeowner for 10+yr. I was super conscientious, calling about things that I would want to know about if I actually owned the place. The first few items, the landlord covered at his/her expense. Then, when the kitchen sink stopped diverting water from the sprayer to the down spout, she suddenly wanted to point out that I needed to pay the first $75 because a maintenance person had to be called. When I noticed water leaking from the toilet, I was way less inclined to call thinking, let me wait this out until I can get the heck out. I didn’t do that. I can’t operate that way. But I care way less about giving her a heads up when things are not working. Why rent when it’s like u own

    • Kathy

      I sold my house and rented because I’m tired of handling maintenance. If my landlord tried to charge me a “maintenance deductible”, she’d never know about a serious issue until it was too late. Fortunately though she’s one of the good ones so I don’t have to put up with that.

      Owning a property means you have to deal with maintenance costs. It sucks but that’s the risk you take when you buy a place. If you’re not willing to take on that risk, get out of the business.

  • Joyce

    The hot water heater at the property that am renting broke down and water was gushing all over the place. I was able to shut down the water. It took two days before they can replace it so i was inconvenienced for those days. Now, am being charged $75 service fee. I am beyond pissed. What should I do? I am refusing to pay for it and they are saying that it is on my lease.

  • Rebecca Jackson

    While I appreciate the view point, I disagree with this. For example, I have a super picky tenant – she would think twice if it cost her money for items that don’t impact health and safety. Tenants aren’t vested in the property, and by having a fee, it makes them think twice about how they treat a property and place requests. Second, it can be waived at landlord discretion. It’s not about getting rich, it’s about providing incentive. Would you remove late fees too?

  • Alpharetta Leasing

    This post was composed by someone who did not like the fact of maintenance fee. Maintenance fee is not much and the landlord will not make anything out of it. It is just there to make sure tenants feel responsible. If there is a $45 fee, how many times does tenant usually call the landlord in an year? 4 times at a max…if not 6 times? I know it depends on the property age. But though I have the clause included in the lease, many a times I don’t even ask tenant to pay the service fee, especially I have in the lease if the charges are more than $100 then it is the responsibility of the landlord to fix (only if it is not due to tenant negligence etc, like AC unit dead etc) . Cannot type more as it is restricted here…

  • Ping

    I used to not having maintenance fee written in the lease contract. after getting a crazy couple calling me all the time about they demanded pest control for a squirrel, a electrician because they didn’t like how bright the light is, a plumber because they don’t know how to adjust the water heater temperature up. Yet, they didn’t let me know the water heater was slowly leaking water until the entire floor was socked up then they demanded a new floor.
    Now I have $75 service fee written in the contract, I normally waive it unless it was obviously the tenant in lack of responsibility. I have much less stressful tenant relationship after that.

  • Antonia

    The owner is responsible for all MAJOR repairs, and should not have the tenant pay anything towards repairing YOUR house unless they caused the damage. Having the tenant pay for repairs is a terrible way to find and retain good tenants.

    Tenants should be responsible for MINOR repairs and maintenance. Frivolous repair requests can be easily weeded out. All repair requests need to be made through the landlord who should have questions for the tenant before calling the repairman.

    In 16mos the 31 year old house we’re leasing has required 40 NECESSARY repairs (NOT caused by us!)

    An $80 fee per request would’ve cost us $3200, and greatly benefitted a cheap owner of a house with worn out stuff in need of repair/replacement!

    • Dawn

      I’ve rented this 70 year old house with an “antique” Trane furnace for five years. I put in a maintenance request when the furnace was not igniting consistently. Before I put in the request, I double checked everything and stationed myself at the furnace to determine what was going wrong. Went to pay this month’s rent and saw a $35 “service charge”. Questioned that; was told that because the furnace cycled ON when the tech was there, “the furnace was working” (even though he cleaned the igniter etc … and that HAS corrected the problem). Every year, a “walk through” is done. NOT ONCE has any concern been shown or expressed for the “equipment” nor is any “routine” maintenance done. Paid more in rent than the house cost …

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