How to Know if it’s a Rental Maintenance Emergency or Not 

March 24, 2023

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It’s important to know the difference between an emergency maintenance situation and a non-emergency maintenance situation.  

As a tenant, you don’t want to be the boy who cried wolf. 

If you treat everything like an emergency, your landlord won’t know the actual severity of a given issue. 

So, in this article, we’re going to help you differentiate between emergencies and non-emergencies. 

Maintenance Emergencies 

The main question you need to ask when comparing a maintenance emergency with a non-emergency is if the problem isn’t attended to right away could it cause injuries, health issues, or lead to severe property damage.  

The following are examples of elements that typically signal maintenance emergencies: 


Open flames or a lot of smoke in your apartment require a 911 call. Don’t delay because damage to the property will increase the longer the fire has to spread. The 911 operator will provide specific instructions on how to respond. But your priority should be to get everyone safely out of the property. 


Things like a broken water line or a severe leak in the roof could cause flooding. A back-up in a nearby sewer and an overflowing storm sewer are more examples. If flooding occurs in your rental, it’s an emergency maintenance issue. Flooding can also increase the electrocution risk and the risk that your belongings will sustain water damage, so seeking help right away is always prudent.  

Carbon Monoxide 

Carbon monoxide is an odorless, poisonous gas that can get into your living space in different ways. For instance, a car running inside an attached garage is one potential source. Snow-blocked dryer vents, blockages in wood-burning fireplaces, broken furnaces and defective gas water heaters are four additional possible sources.  

Initial symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning typically involve tightness across the forehead and an accelerated heart rate. Concentrated exposure can be lethal, so it’s critical to act immediately. Get away from the property and get help. 

Gas Leak 

Natural gas leaks can be incredibly dangerous. These leaks can lead to carbon monoxide poisoning or even explosions. Utility companies add mercaptan to natural gas to make it smell like rotten eggs to help people detect a leak quickly. Turn off your appliances and the gas line if you think a natural gas leak is occurring. Then get out of your property and call 911. Be careful not to create a spark that could lead to an explosion. 

Lack of Electricity 

Widespread power outages are out of your landlord’s control. If you find yourself in this situation, your only option is to report it to your local utility company. 

An apartment complex power outage or something going wrong with the power in your unit is different. Maybe an electrical overload tripped the circuit breaker. If you can, see if resetting the circuit breaker fixes the issue. If not, call your landlord.  

Lack of Water 

If fresh water isn’t flowing to your unit, that’s a maintenance emergency. You need water for a variety of things and your landlord should work quickly to remedy the issue. 

Maintenance Non-Emergencies 

Now that we’ve looked at what is considered a maintenance emergency, we need to look at some examples of non-emergencies. Some of these may feel like emergencies, but it’s important to remember that not everything that feels like a massive issue is one. 

Some examples of non-emergencies include: 

Loud neighbors 

Raucous parties or loud voices aren’t emergencies. They could be extremely inconvenient or frustrating, but they aren’t life-threatening, and they typically don’t lead to damage (unless the party is wildly out of control).  

Reach out to your landlord the next day, though, and file a complaint if needed. It will help to have complaints on record if the behavior is problematic and consistent. 

Locked out of the Unit 

Getting locked out of your place is never fun. And it’s going to require a call to a local locksmith. That said, the locksmith must coordinate the new keys with the property manager. It is vital that the lock still works with the property’s master key. Your renters’ insurance policy may cover this issue if it’s the result of theft. 

It’s common these days for property managers to issue key fobs to tenants rather than traditional metal keys. If you’re locked out of your unit because you misplaced your key fob, the property manager can give you a new one. You will probably be charged a fee for a re-issued key fob. 

Burnt out Lightbulbs 

Burnt out lightbulbs are frustrating but don’t constitute an emergency. If the bulb is part of a light fixture, you will need a professional to re-install a new one. If the bulb isn’t part of a light fixture, you may be responsible for replacing it (check your lease or talk to your landlord to make sure). 

The reason light fixtures typically require expertise is because they’re not connected via a simple socket. Instead, they’re permanently connected to the structure. 

If you’re dealing with a regular light bulb, then it’s considered a consumable product and that usually means it’s on you to pay for new ones. 

Possible Emergencies 

We’ve now covered clear-cut emergencies and non-emergencies, but what about situations that could go either way depending on certain factors?  

Let’s look at some examples of possible emergencies here: 

Lack of Heat 

A loss of heat may be an emergency if it’s freezing outside. Seal doors and windows as much as possible to help retain heat in your unit. If it’s not below freezing, you may have to submit a maintenance request and exercise a little patience. 

Lack of Air Conditioning 

A loss of air conditioning typically isn’t a maintenance emergency. Most often, you’ll need to submit a maintenance request and wait your turn.  

Many tenants now live in complexes with central air conditioning. Thus, landlords and property managers usually learn about issues immediately. You’ll still want to submit a maintenance ticket, though, especially if you’re in a window unit. 

In the event of extreme heat, a lack of air conditioning might be considered an emergency. If you find yourself in this situation, call your landlord right away. 

Backed-up Plumbing 

A toilet that’s backed up or a clogged sink isn’t an emergency. On the other hand, if the whole plumbing system is backed up, then that’s an emergency. 


It’s vital to understand what constitutes a rental maintenance emergency and what doesn’t. As we touched on earlier, you want your word to mean something to your landlord. And calling them frantically in the middle of the night about your neighbor’s loud conversations won’t help with your credibility.  

Instead, by using this article as a guide, you can properly handle different situations based on the severity and potential impacts.  For more helpful tips when renting, check out our tenant handbook here.

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