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Rental Maintenance and Repairs: Who Pays The Bills?

Written by on Monday, 11 December 2000 6:00 pm

Renting property is an arrangement where the needs of owners and tenants generally overlap: The tenant wants a clean and safe home and the landlord wants rent and someone who will care for the property. All in all, a good trade for everyone -- until it comes time to make repairs.

So if the sink leaks, a light-bulb is out, or the oven burner is shot, who pays?

The answer depends on several factors.

  • Is there a health and safety issue? If yes, look to the landlord for repairs.

  • Is the item something within the scope of routine maintenance? That light bulb is the tenant's responsibility.

  • What does the lease say? In the agreement between the tenant and the owner there is typically a clause devoted to maintenance and repairs. A common clause says that the landlord is only responsible for repairs above a certain dollar value. For instance, if it costs $75 to unclog the sink and the tenant is responsible for the first $50, the owner would pay the remaining $25. The purpose of such clauses is to protect the owner against an unrelenting stream of minor maintenance calls.

  • Is the property within a community that has rent control? There are some 200 areas with rent control, and such rules often outline tenant and owner maintenance responsibilities.

  • Can you do-it-yourself and save money? Most landlords do not want tenants doing repair work. Why? A lack of insurance and bonding, concerns about quality, and requirements to meet local building codes.

  • Can you just hire a repair person? Generally no. The landlord likely has certain contractors that he or she has used in the past and prefers.

  • Can you hire a repair person on the owner's approved list? In some cases, yes. Speak with the owner or manager first.

  • Can you deduct repair expenses from the rent? This is a matter that must be worked out with the owner in advance. Without an owner's clear permission to deduct costs, tenants should pay rent in full and on time.

  • How big is the property? In a complex with many units, it's probable that a full-time repair crew is available. Such crews usually have experience with typical problems and likely maintain a supply of replacement parts on site.

Of course, if the tenant damages the property through neglect or by harmful action, then the bill goes to the resident.

If something needs repair, contact the owner or manager and explain the problem. It benefits everyone to make repairs and perform routine maintenance -- the tenants get a better standard of living and the owner gets a property which has greater value.

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