Properly maintaining is an important part of rental property ownership. Not just because it is the property owner’s responsibility, it reduces owner liability, and helps to maintain the value of the investment. However, there are times when the tenant could be responsible and that can be a difficult situation for the property owner to address with the tenant.
Habitability is Essential
Even if the landlord and tenant sign an agreement in writing that the tenant is responsible for all maintenance, no owner can hold a tenant responsible for all repairs. This evolved from the Uniform Residential Landlord Tenant Act (URLTA), which established that landlords must provide “habitability” for all tenants. Using this as a basis, the courts have passed down many judgments against owners who have tried to use a written rental agreement to avid their responsibility.
This act, however, does not mean that a tenant cannot be responsible for any damage. Property owners must prove the tenant caused the damage prior to charging them for the repair. In addition, it is a mistake for an owner to withhold a repair until the tenant pays, particularly when it affects habitability. Make the repair in a timely manner, then charge the tenant, seeking legal methods, if necessary, to be reimbursed.
What is a Reasonable Tenant Repair
There is maintenance that landlords can require of residents, such as replacing light bulbs, keeping the residence clean, changing the smoke detector alarm battery, cleaning the trash receptacle, picking up debris, landscape care as agreed, etc. This falls under “reasonable care of the property”, and is contained in the rental agreement. It is the tenant’s residence and while living there, they should maintain it in a clean and orderly manner.
If the property does have a washer, dryer, and refrigerator in a single family residence, there can be an option to require the tenant to maintain the units if they wish to use them but that they will not repair or replace them. This does need to have clear cut terms because this can often lead to a strained landlord/tenant relationship. In most cases, this is an owner responsibility to maintain the appliances, and the tenant to use them with reasonable care.
When is a Repair the Tenants Responsibility?
Simply put, the tenant is responsible for a repair if they were the direct cause of the repair. It can also be the tenant’s responsibility if they do not report a necessary repair that leads to unnecessary damage, such as continual leaking under a kitchen sink. This is why property owners should encourage tenants to report maintenance. Many times, when residents do not report problems, it becomes a battle to determine what the owner should pay and what the resident should reimburse to the owner because the initial problem was the owner’s but the tenant contributed to the damage.
Educate and Work with the Tenant
Preventative maintenance is always the simplest route. Educating tenants is a key to avoiding unnecessary maintenance and charges to the tenants. As your Property Manager, we outline what is their responsibility and what is not, require them to report maintenance, and define what is “reasonable care of the property”. If a tenant caused repair occurs, we act first, resolving the problem to protect the investment. Then we determine and document the problem. Last of all, we work with the tenant to achieve a peaceful resolution and reimbursement to the Owner if it has been a true tenant cause repair.
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