How to Handled Unauthorized Repairs

Written on May 2, 2016 by , updated on December 9, 2016

Unauthorized RepairsYou’ve just received a bill from a contractor. Only this bill was for a repair you didn’t authorize at your rental unit! Do you have to pay for unauthorized repairs?

The answer is “no,” under most circumstances. You typically don’t have to pay for unauthorized repairs. But … this situation can cause you plenty of problems.

What to Do

  1. Contact the vendor in writing, informing them that you’re the owner of the property and did not authorize the work.
  2. Call your tenant to find out why they had this work done without your approval. (In many jurisdictions, a landlord has grounds for evicting tenants who make unauthorized repairs or alterations to the dwelling.)
  3. Let your tenant know that, since this is an unauthorized repair, they need to pay for it.
  4. Threaten to evict (if you can do this in your jurisdiction) if they won’t pay. This might encourage your tenant to settle the debt with the contractor. If not, consider proceeding with the eviction, especially if the bill were substantial. It’s essential to know the law in your state.
  5. If you decide to evict, you must send the tenant a termination notice as per your state’s law. These are “quit” or “cure” notices, used when the tenant violates the lease agreement. State law allows a certain period for the tenant to “cure” a violation, and in this case, curing it would mean paying the vendor’s bill. If the tenant fails to do this, he must either leave the premises or face an eviction lawsuit. If the tenant doesn’t leave, you must start the eviction process. Since eviction laws are quite strict, it is best to consult a real estate attorney to ensure the proper procedure is followed.

Related: How to Evict a Tenant – The Eviction Process in 8 Easy Steps

State Laws

Under the law of virtually all states, it’s your responsibility to ensure that all electrical, plumbing, and HVAC systems are in good working order, along with all the appliances in the dwelling. State law usually specifies how much time a landlord has to address a specific repair.

If it involves water, electricity, or the heating system, you generally must contact a repair person within 24 hours of receiving the complaint. A broken stove or other appliance may allow you 48 hours of leeway, while less urgent repairs need addressing within a week to 10 days.

Tenant Rights

Tenant rights vary by state. In some states, tenants have the right to make certain repairs and deduct rent to pay for them. In other states, the tenant may have the repairs made after providing you with a written cost estimate by a professional and then deduct the amount from the rent. You must approve and inspect the repair work in those instances.

Emergencies

State law may permit tenants to authorize repairs in the case of an emergency if they are unable to contact you.

Emergencies generally constitute an event threatening the immediate health and safety of the tenant or the building itself is at risk without immediate work. In a true emergency, you are responsible for the cost of repairs. The lease agreement must indicate exactly what amounts to an emergency, in accordance with state law.

Lease Language

Your lease agreement should contain language making it clear that repairs are your responsibility. Include a sentence such as this one:

Consider adding this:

The lease should also contain language authorizing you to allow contractors or repair personnel access to the rental unit in the absence of the tenant during normal business hours.

Requests in Writing

A written record protects you and your tenant. Your lease should state that all such requests must be in writing.

But you’ll probably receive a phone call when a tenant requests a repair.

If that happens, you should acknowledge that you will investigate (and fix) the problem, and ask your tenant to please put the request in writing. Or, you can initiate the email, stating that you received the request to do X. Have your tenant acknowledge the email.

When Not to Contact You

You probably don’t want your tenant contacting you about simple things. It’s wise to leave the tenant a basic troubleshooting guide to appliances. The first item on the list should advise them to make sure the equipment is plugged in. Any troubleshooting practices must ensure that they can’t make the situation worse.

Examples:

  1. If the smoke detector gives off that awful “nails on a chalkboard” beep indicating the battery needs replacement, the lease agreement should authorize the tenant to install a new battery.
  2. If the water is too hot, it’s fine for the tenant to turn down the thermostat on the water heater.
  3. If the dishwasher won’t drain, the tenant can check the drain for food particles and clean it. If it’s still not working, you’ll contact a repairman.

List such exceptions in the lease agreement.

Conditions Caused by Tenants

A tenant might seek an unauthorized repair that they pay for. This could happen when they or a guest cause the damage. The lease holds your tenant responsible for payment, but your tenant might not want you to know, for example, that their kid shattered a window while playing ball. So they fix the window, or they get a contractor or a friend to fix it.

That’s not acceptable. Even though your tenant is obligated to pay for the damage, they do not have the right to authorize this sort of repair … even if it comes out of their own pocket. They might do a substandard job.

If you notice that happened, you should require the tenant to pay to have the work redone by a contractor of your choosing. If you spy haphazard repairs when the tenant is moving out, you can deduct the cost of corrective repairs from the security deposit. The tenant’s inadequate repairs constitute damage, not normal wear-and-tear.

Liens

If you choose to not pay the contractor since you didn’t authorize the work, the contractor might put a lien on your property. However, since you did not sign off on the contractor’s job order, the contractor should not have the right to place a mechanic’s lien on your property for nonpayment.

That doesn’t mean the contractor won’t try, though.

Depending on the state, knowingly filing a false mechanic’s lien is a felony. Request a hearing, and present all your documentation. Along with getting the lien removed, you may also have your legal fees reimbursed.

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11 CommentsLeave a Comment

  • mary

    Tenant did not pay last month rent, sent a statement for all sorts of repairs (to blinds, garbage disposal (I have home warranty plan), changed locks etc) and now says I owe this money.

    • Lucas Hall

      Hi Mary

      Why would you (the landlord) be responsible for the tenants excessive damages? If it’s just regular maintenance due to normal wear and tear , then yes, you’d probably be responsible for it.

      If there were any excessive costs you incurred, you could withhold it from the deposit or attempt to pursue it in small claims court.

  • susan

    I rent a house from a guy who lives in a different state. for the past 3 out of 6 years we lived here, we have told him something is wrong with the ac unit. we get $300/mo electric bills but no one is home all day and ac is on 78-80. with that said, last weekend our gas water heater broke and flooded the garage. I heard water running at 2 am, and found the major leak, called landlord no answer. the stand the heater sat on was falling apart (wet dry wall) and about to drop the heater and that would have broken the gas lines and water lines. we called a handyman that came over right away and made the repairs AND found the ac duct work was all separated, he fixed that too. landlord says he wont deduct from rent. can he do that?

    • Josh

      It would seem that he cannot do that based on what you described. The water heater issue sounds like it could be considered an emergency. If Landlords are not available 24/7 for emergencies then they should designate another person to be available and you should have the contact information. I can tell you that in Virginia, if your landlord does not make repairs, you are legally authorized to withhold your rent in an escrow account that would be payable to the landlord once the proper repairs have been made, especially repairs dealing with water, heating, and cooling. Depending on your state, you may have a similar law. Check out the “State Laws” section of this site. This is not legal advice and I am not an attorney.

  • Anne Hensel

    The renter of my home hired a lawn service and apparently didn’t pay them. lawn service just called me and informed me that they will put a mechanic lien on the house. I don’t think they can do this right?

  • Jas

    My tenant failed to inform me of damage to the screen door, which she says occurred from the wind. When she informed me of the damage it is weeks old news after it fell off once and she had someone “fix” it and then it fell off again. The entire screen door and frame are ripped from the front of the home.
    Who would be responsible for the repair of the screen door? The tenant or landlord?

    • Josh

      I would say the tenant would be responsible if they did not notify you of the problem when it happened and then chose to have someone do an unauthorized repair. There’s no way for you to know what actually happened to the door because you weren’t notified when it happened, but weeks later after the tenant made an unauthorized repair. It would also depend on your local state laws and your lease. After you do some legal research, I would suggest issuing a “quit or cure” notice that states they are to pay for the door to be fixed by a reputable contractor of your choosing or be evicted. It all depends on what route you want to take. This is not legal advice and I am not an attorney.

  • Amlan Chakraborty

    Hi,
    The lease on our rental unit ended April 30th, 2017. While doing the move-out inspection, we found out the door frame of the powder room is puffed up, like the one happens after water seeps in. On asking the renters said that there was an incident of overflowing toilet that had happened about three months back. They had not informed us of the incident nor that they have changed the trims in the powder room.
    The lease specifically mentioned about taking written permission before doing any repairs. What is our liability in this situation? I want to get the frame inspected to find out if there is anything else we need to take care of before our new renters move in. Tenants are asking us to return their security deposit. But am not sure what to do. Can you please guide us.

    Thanks.

    Amlan

  • Audra-Kelly Garvin

    I’ve lived in my rented home for 11 months. Upon move in there was a lot of repairs needed, I asked for a reduced rent was told no but was assured everything would be fixed. I live in SC. Now I’m going on a year with a heater/ac unit having broke 10 times, bad wiring (ex. Ink pen with tape holding in brakers in braker box) mold, leaking roof, no cold water, 2nd bath not usable and a hot water leak lasting 10 weeks making my power bill raise $300+!!!! I have withheld rent. Landlord seems confident I’ll be evicted but I’m also confident this violates he responsibility to keep a habitable environment.

  • Nelly

    My tenant hired a pest control company without my consent and when the work was done she told me the amount, whom was excessive. I’m responsible for it ?
    This is in Nevada

  • Brian

    I am renting a two story house that has a wrap around balcony. The balcony railing was so bad that if you leaned on portions of it, it and you would fall to the concrete below. I landlord wouldn’t fix it so I repaced the entire railing (approx. 250 ft) at my expense without her consent. Though I think she knew I was doing it. Now I think she is working on sneakily selling the house out from under us. Can I put a lean on it since it was a major safety issue?

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