When is a tenant responsible for repairs?

Written on January 9, 2019 by

Who is responsible for repairsWhether you own a home or rent one, things eventually break, malfunction, or wear out.

Generally if you’re a renter and you break something, you pay to repair it. If something breaks not because of you, such as because of age, the landlord is typically responsible. But what about minor repairs that are inexpensive or simple enough to do yourself?

You might be better off just handling them yourself. Before calling the landlord for every minor maintenance or repair issue, consider who should really be handling those repairs.

Check your lease agreement for repairs

There’s no need to stress out the moment that bathroom sink faucet starts to drip. Before wondering if you’re in charge of such repairs, check your rental agreement. In most cases, the contract discusses which repairs are the landlord’s responsibility and which may be yours.

For instance, Landlordology writer and rental owner Laura Agadoni includes language in her rental agreements noting that tenants are responsible for repairs $50 or less. Anything costing more is her responsibility, as long as the tenant or tenant’s guests didn’t cause the repair issue.

Is it a big deal?

If your lease isn’t clear about who should handle your specific repair issue, consider whether the problem is a big deal or a minor annoyance. For instance, if your entry door won’t lock properly and never has, your landlord should fix it, as your safety is at stake. If your cat uses the window blinds as a ladder, destroying them in the process, this isn’t such a big deal. It’s also an issue that you are definitely responsible for, since your pet caused the problem.

If that leaky faucet keeps you awake at night, the landlord may be willing to fix it, especially if they pay the water bill. It doesn’t hurt to submit a written repair request for something like this if you aren’t sure whether it’s your responsibility. Even so, use those repair requests sparingly, as no landlord enjoys being pestered repeatedly by the same tenant for somewhat minor concerns.

Check your state’s laws

Tenants have a right to habitable living conditions in every state. For instance, a functional heat system is a requirement. If your heating unit breaks down, the landlord must repair it, no matter where in the United States you live.

Some states such as Washington take things farther, noting that a landlord cannot legally make the tenants responsible for any repairs except when the tenant or their guests caused the damage.

If your repair issue is potentially difficult or costly and isn’t an obvious landlord responsibility, check your state laws for more clarity.

Handle what you can

Minor things such as burnt-out light bulbs or mildew in the shower are typically the tenant’s responsibility. Even if this isn’t spelled out in your agreement, it’s usually easier to deal with the issue yourself than to contact the landlord over what amounts to a minor annoyance.

If a screw is missing from the deadbolt hardware, replace it yourself.

A stain on the carpet near the front door is also easier to deal with yourself; the landlord usually isn’t responsible for cleaning-related issues.

On the other hand, if there’s mold and a wet, sagging spot on the bathroom ceiling due to a leak in an upstairs unit, it’s not your responsibility. But you should report it immediately before things get worse.

Definitely your responsibility

Certain maintenance issues are always your responsibility, unless your contract states otherwise.

It’s up to you to replace light bulbs and batteries in smoke detectors.

You also must keep the appliances clean, even if they belong to the landlord.

Even though it’s a rental unit, treat it as if you own the space. Keep the floors, walls, kitchen, and bathroom clean and in the best condition possible. The landlord expects the unit to be in the same condition when you move out as when you moved in, other than normal wear.

What not to do

Even if you have the skills of a general contractor, don’t make major repairs yourself without the landlord’s consent. Patching a nail hole in a wall and repainting the spot to match the wall is okay; painting “ugly” walls an entirely new color is not. Likewise, replacing a window you broke may seem like the right thing to do. In the landlord’s eyes, it might be all wrong. The window may not match the rest of the building’s windows.

Do not make any such repairs without asking the landlord first. The landlord may prefer to use their own contractor or do the work themselves and send you the bill. This ensures the work done meets your landlord’s standards.

In a nutshell, handle simple things such as light bulbs and cleaning yourself. Consult your rental agreement for anything that seems like a gray area. Major issues such as heat and electricity are definitely up to the landlord.

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7 CommentsLeave a Comment

  • Thelma Blair

    My tenant was given notice to vacate
    because of illegal activities the Court
    has given her upto 5/31 to vacate.

    We are switching insurance company
    and my tenant has declined access
    for the inspector what are our options?

  • Cathy

    My tenants moved out my rental property today. Who is responsible for cuts the grass and works on the landscaping as like before tenants move into the Single family rental house? I see “ Tenants shall be responsible to cut grass and keeping the lawn & landscaping as good a condition as when delivered to Tenants “ on the lease contract. But not sure the laws . The tenants left a very messy condition in outside of the property.

    • Naomi Erickson

      Responsibility for these items depend on what your lease states. If it does not mention specifics, it would be hard to make them liable even if was not as pretty as when they moved in. Of course this excludes damages. I have in my lease to maintain the garden. Now if they want to let weeds grow so be it. But on move out, I expect the weeds to be pulled. They weren’t. I’ll be charging a few for my labor on that.

  • Linda Piazza

    Hi,
    We recently had a storm that caused a quick power outage and now the air conditioner is not working.
    Who’s responsible for maintaining that and if I have to call a HVAC company out, who is responsible to pay?

    Thanks

  • Yadira

    I have a tenant who has 3 washers replaced in one year he overstuffed them and does not appear to maintain them..he entire apartment is dirty and unkempt. I just replaced washer dryer with refurbished 90 day warranty set. He took the last one apart appears to have tried to fix it ..can i charge him for that one because no its beyond repair and what about replacement i had to pay 500 bucks can i tell him if he breaks this 3rd one he has tp pay for repair or replacement cost.

  • Naomi Erickson

    I had a tenant recently move out. There was some damage done by her dogs to the patio door and a few pieces of siding are broke. Can I still charge / withhold some security deposit if I don’t necessarily need to replace these items??

  • Rebecca Cooks

    I moved in a wheelchair accessible apartment. I am new to having a wheelchair and unable to walk. The doors keep getting pulled off hinges from the wheelchair catches the door handle. In my bedroom I was trying to reach the door handle and bumped the motor control and it lunged forward and put a hole in the hollow door. I am willing to help a little with the expenses but I believe the space in my hallway isn’t enough for me to turn shaped enough so it catches the door frame and doors. How can I explain this well enough to get their insurance to pay.

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