For landlords and tenants, the line between damages and normal wear and tear must be clearly defined from the start. Therefore, it is critical to outline what happens when repair issues arise to prevent disputes down the road. In general, landlords cover the cost of any standard maintenance in the rental property. That said, some situations like the tenant misusing an appliance and causing damage means the responsibility for payment shifts to the renter. The rules regarding who pays for what repairs are dictated by both local laws and the rental agreement. So, join us below as we answer the all-important question – can landlords make tenants pay for repairs?
Warranty of Habitability and Landlord Repairs
Can landlords make tenants pay for repairs? The short answer is yes, but not in every situation. According to Landlord-Tenant Law, property owners have an obligation to ensure the property meets livability standards. Therefore, it is good for landlords to make repairs quickly to protect their property from further damage and keep the tenant happy. However, if property owners need to prioritize repairs, consider the following –
Repairs that Require Immediate Landlord Attention
- Structural Issues (Example: severe damage to walls, ceiling, or floor)
- Electrical Short or Electrical Failure
- Non-working Plumbing or Broken Pipes
- Extermination of Severe Pest Infestations (when not caused by the tenant)
- Broken Down or Non-working Heating System in Winter
- Non-working or Unsecured Exterior Doors/Locks
- Visible Mold Located in the Property
- Anything that Affects the Tenant’s Safety or Health
How Long Does a Landlord Have to Make Repairs?
Once a maintenance request is received, the landlord must jump into action to evaluate the matter’s urgency. If the repair need affects the unit’s habitability, landlords must address the problem within 24 hours. Most state laws require this. However, landlords should still address less pressing matters within a 48-hour window.
Why Landlords Should Make Repairs Quickly
Handling rental property maintenance can prove to be a daunting task, and everyone gets bogged down. It is possible to prioritize emergency repairs; however, making any repair as soon as possible is recommended. Doing so goes a long way to ensuring the tenant’s safety and maintaining a successful landlord-tenant relationship and landlord reputation.
When Can Landlords Make Tenants Pay for Repairs?
When addressing the question can landlords make tenants pay for repairs, there are many things to consider. Landlords are responsible for many of the issues that arise, ranging from handling emergency habitability issues to broken down or aging appliances. However, tenants are not off the hook entirely.
That said, tenants must do their part to maintain the home in the condition they received. In addition to maintaining a clean property in line with health standards, let’s take a look at a few repairs the tenant is liable for below.
Tenants are Responsible for Damage as a result of –
- Guests in the Home
- Overloaded Electrical Outlets
- Improper Use of Appliances
- Not Following Care Instructions for Appliances (Example: Allowing dryer lint to build up)
- Disabling or Removing Safety Features (such as smoke detectors)
- Not Disposing of Trash of Debris
- Flushing Improper Items in the Toilet
- Failing to Notify Landlord of Required Repairs
- Refusing Access to Contractors or Repairman
- Anything Damages Beyond Normal Wear and Tear
Can Landlords Make Tenants Pay for Repairs with the Security Deposit?
Generally, a security deposit is collected before a tenant moves into a rental property. While the maximum amount a landlord can charge is dictated by state law, it typically ranges between one and two months’ rent. Property owners can use this deposit towards unpaid rent or damages caused by the tenant beyond normal wear and tear.
Once the tenant moves out of a property, the landlord has a set number of days to inspect the property and issue an itemized statement regarding deductions from the deposit. However, there are a few conditions and processes a landlord must follow.
When Can a Landlord Withhold from a Security Deposit?
Landlords can withhold a security or damage deposit for any items beyond normal wear and tear. Check out these examples below –
- Excessive or Large Holes in Walls
- Broken Flooring Tiles
- Large Scratches or Scuffs on Flooring
- Torn or Stained Carpeting
- Clogged Toilet Due to Misuse
- Broken Fixtures
- Clogged Drains Due to Misuse
- Broken Windows or Window Screens
- Damaged or Broken Doors
- Appliance Damage Due to Improper Use
- Excessive Filth or Cleaning Required
- Trash Removal
- Broken or Missing Window Blinds
- Pest Extermination
Why Inspections Are Vital to Determining Damages in Rental Properties
Completing a thorough move-in and move-out inspection is essential for protecting both landlords and tenants. So, before each new occupant moves in, conduct a move-in inspection with the tenant. The purpose is to document the condition of the property at the start of a tenancy. This is vital to establishing a baseline to the condition of the property.
So, use a move-in checklist to note the condition of all appliances, fixtures, damage, scuffs, holes, and any notes that help describes how the property looks. Furthermore, photographic or video evidence is strongly recommended as it will help document the overall condition for comparison purposes later on.
Once complete, both the landlord and tenant should date and sign the move-in checklist. This provides a written record of an agreed-upon baseline condition that can help avoid disputes in the future.
After a tenant vacates, the next step is to complete the inspection process again through a move-out checklist. Wear and tear in a rental property is inevitable. However, landlords expect the property to be returned in good condition, similar to how it was handed over to the tenant. Thus, property owners can compare the move out inspection to the move-in report to determine what, if any, damage was caused by the tenant.
That said, any damage or cleaning caused by the tenant, above and beyond normal wear and tear, could result in deductions from a security deposit. Therefore, having a clear cut and agreed upon evidence to present to the tenant avoids disputes over condition issues.
How Can Landlords Make Tenants Pay for Repairs?
If the tenant is at fault, landlords can pursue reimbursement of repair costs from the tenant. That said, there are several ways of doing so depending on when the damage occurs and to what extent. Follow along below as we describe how can landlords make tenants pay for repairs.
- Direct Billing During Tenancy
- Deducting from Security Deposit
- Filing a Renters’ Insurance Claim
- Small Claims Court
Direct Billing During Tenancy
When a guest or pet causes damage to the rental property, the tenant is responsible. Therefore, when these issues arise, tenants must report them to the landlord. Keep in mind, though, that it is never a good idea to allow a tenant to oversee their own repairs. So, review the maintenance need with the tenant, go over the lease as needed to determine responsibility, and schedule a vendor to complete the repair.
From there, many landlords choose to pay their vendor directly to maintain good relationships through timely payment. Then, the invoice is added to the tenant ledger for the resident to reimburse the landlord. Excessive or repeated damage from tenants that show a lack of care to the property may warrant pursuing an eviction.
Deducting from the Security Deposit
Landlords can deduct from the security deposit for damages leftover once the tenant vacates. That said, it is important to check local laws regarding how much time a property owner has before the deposit must be returned to the tenant or notice issued of an intent to withhold.
If damages are noted, landlords should send notice to the tenant outlining what problems were discovered. Additionally, list all charges being withheld. Also, do not forget to save receipts or any invoices as proof in the event of a tenant dispute.
Small Claims Court
Sometimes, the tenant’s cost of repairs or damage goes beyond the amount of the security deposit. In this instance, the tenant likely knows the extent of the damage they caused. However, they may not be that eager to pay. So, if the tenant refuses to pay for repairs, landlords may need to sue to recoup the costs. In that situation, filing in small claims court is your best bet as a property owner.
Filing a Renters’ Insurance Claim
Requiring renter’s insurance has become standard across the industry. It protects the tenant’s personal property against damage caused by any named peril under the policy. Additionally, in some cases, the policy may cover damages caused by tenant negligence. However, this depends on the policy, and the landlord must provide significant proof to support the claim. Therefore, when determining how can landlords make tenants pay for repairs, filing an insurance claim may be more trouble than its worth.
So, can landlords make tenants pay for repairs? Yes! That said, the process of documenting conditions, establishing expectations in the lease, organizing repairs, and itemizing deposit deductions is a lot of work. Approaching these issues can potentially strain the landlord-tenant relationship if not handled correctly.
That is where professional property management services come in to save the day. A top notch-rental management company provides owners with the services, trusted processes, and peace of mind that owning investment property really should be. At Bay Property Management Group, our team of experienced property managers oversees thorough condition inspections that properly document every property’s condition. Also, we handle the entire repair process from start to finish. To find out how professional property management can benefit you, give us a call today!