Tenants

Landlords and Tenants: Rental Maintenance Responsibilities Breakdown

March 24, 2023

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As a tenant, not every maintenance issue is your landlord’s responsibility. 

That said, the maintenance issues that are a landlord’s responsibility and the maintenance issues that are a tenant’s responsibility aren’t always cut and dry, either.  

In this article, we’re going to look at which maintenance issues landlords are accountable for, and which ones are yours.  

Your Landlord’s Responsibilities 

There’s a bit of nuance when it comes to responsibility for maintenance and repairs (and the actual costs associated) between tenants and landlords. Not only does it differ by state, the responsibility breakdown also can come down to your landlord’s discretion. 

That said, every tenant has a right to an “implied warranty of habitability.” This phrase means that landlords make an inherent promise to facilitate a livable space for tenants when they put a property up for rent. In most locations, these specific responsibilities include: 

Meeting local health and building codes 

This one is very simple. If you find out something in your dwelling or building isn’t up to code, report it to your landlord. They must fix the issue right away.  

Getting rid of mold 

If visible mold is present (often due to water damage or leaks), landlords must get rid of it as soon as possible. However, if the mold is due to negligence on your part, it could be on you to get rid of it. 

Changing locks 

After a tenant signs a new lease, most states require landlords to change the locks to ensure the current tenant is the only one with a working key. If your landlord doesn’t change the locks, you are well within your rights to request this action. 

You may be wondering: Can a tenant change the locks? Typically, no. The reason being that most leases include language that doesn’t permit tenants to change locks without their landlord’s permission. 

Exterminating pests 

If you find rodents or other vermin on the premises, notify your landlord. This is an issue they need to take care of as quickly as possible. Your landlord should be taking preventative measures to lower the likelihood of pests being an issue. 

Ensuring heat, electric, hot and cold water work properly 

Your landlord must ensure the property has heat in the winter, air conditioning for the summer (if the property has AC) and hot and cold water that works. 

If any of these things break down or encounter issues, your landlord must get them back in working order. Many municipalities have certain time frames regulating how quickly landlords must make these repairs, so knowing them will help you have reasonable expectations (and hold your landlord accountable, if necessary).  

Ensuring structural integrity and weather protection 

A key piece of the implied warranty of habitability means landlords need to ensure there aren’t any large cracks, damaged windows or entryways, or any other issues that facilitate an unsafe living space for tenants.  

In the same vein, the property should be secure and protect you against the elements. Leaks or areas where water can come into the unit must be repaired.  

Handling common area maintenance (CAM)

Landlords are also usually responsible for common area maintenance. This includes expenses related to common areas in multi-family properties, such as making necessary repairs to hallways, lobbies, fitness centers, pools, sidewalks, dog parks, and other common areas. CAM fees can apply to both residential and commercial real estate.

The cost of common area maintenance, sometimes referred to as CAM expenses or actual CAM costs, varies widely depending on the size and nature of common spaces in your property. Actual CAM expenses depend on whether the space requires frequent maintenance (such as swimming pools) or just occasional service (such as hallways and lobbies). Some landlords also enlist property managers or other employees to regularly clean common areas, while others prefer to make cleaning the tenants’ shared responsibility. In either case, be sure the policy is clearly written into your lease agreements and be sure to clarify which CAM charges you will incur if you cause damages to shared spaces.

Additional responsibilities 

In addition to the responsibilities above, here are a few more things landlords are typically responsible for: 

  • Keeping hazardous materials like lead paint dust and asbestos from putting tenants in harm’s way 
  • Taking reasonable precautions to prevent criminal intrusions 

How Long Does Your Landlord get to Make Repairs? 

We’ve talked a little bit about time constraints regarding maintenance issues. Ultimately, if damage makes the unit uninhabitable, then your landlord usually has twenty-four hours to remedy the situation. A broken heater in the winter or a dishwasher that’s flooding the kitchen are examples of these kinds of issues. 

For requests that don’t make your unit unlivable, the timing may vary. That said, your landlord should communicate with you and keep you updated. 

Your Responsibilities  

Just like landlords, there are some maintenance issues that are typically the tenant’s responsibility. Details can vary depending on the lease, but here are the tenant maintenance responsibilities you can expect: 

Fix damage you or your guest caused 

If you cause significant damage to your unit (I.e., a hole in the wall), you first need to report it to your landlord. Your landlord may send in a professional to inspect and/or repair. 

However, they also may leave it to you to fix. Even if you repair it, your landlord may want to look at it afterwards to confirm the repair is acceptable. 

Take out trash on a regular basis 

If you leave trash around your unit, it can create significant issues. You don’t want the potential pets or smells that may come around if you’re careless with trash. Take it out on a regular basis. 

Your lease should include some details about where the trash goes and when it needs to be out on the curb for pick-up. Follow these directions and ask your landlord for clarification if you’re unsure about anything. 

Avoid violating lease terms 

If you violate your lease terms and the unit needs painting, extra cleaning, or repairs, then then these fixes fall on you. 

An example could be hanging pictures in certain areas (you’ll have to fill in nail holes and repaint). Another example might be adopting a cat that has accidents on the carpet in the last few weeks of your lease (when your lease has a no-pets clause). 

Report issues in a timely fashion 

Report maintenance issues as soon as you can. Most problems will get worse over time if left unattended. And your landlord won’t be happy if you ignore a leak for weeks and then it turns into minor flooding. 

Understand the process for maintenance reporting when you move in and clarify anything you don’t understand with your landlord. Communication is key when it comes to maintenance. Don’t wait until there’s an issue to make sure you know the process. 

Who Pays for the Repairs? 

At the risk of oversimplification, if your landlord is responsible for the repair, then they typically need to pay for it. On the other hand, if you’re responsible for the repair, then you typically need to pay for it. 

Review Your Lease if You’re Uncertain About Responsibilities 

The original lease agreement should provide answers for gray areas related to maintenance. That’s why it’s critical you get a copy of the signed lease agreement, and that your lease agreement is comprehensive enough to detail things like maintenance and repairs. 

Furthermore, each state has certain landlord-tenant laws regarding maintenance, so it’s crucial to read up on local laws and regulations. 

Conclusion 

It’s important to understand when your landlord is responsible for a maintenance issue and when you’re responsible for a maintenance issue. 

This article provides a foundation for you to figure out who’s responsible for what and what that means moving forward. For more renting tips and tricks, check out our tenant renting manual here.

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