Who Makes Repairs?
A lease agreement can set out the rights and responsibilities of the landlord and tenant, including who makes repairs. However, landlords should understand that passing the responsibility onto the tenant has its risks:
A landlord has a legal duty to keep the premises habitable. That generally means heating, plumbing, electrical, roof and flooring must be maintained by the landlord. Even if the tenant signs a lease agreeing to take on these repairs, the lease provision may be illegal;
Tenants have the right to pass on the costs of many repairs through a deduction in rent. The tenant has no incentive to keep the repair costs to a minimum;
The tenant may not choose a skilled contractor or may attempt to make the repair;
Where the tenant orders a repair, the landlord runs the risks of a mechanics lien if the contractor isn’t paid in a timely fashion; and
The labor should be warranted in the case of poor workmanship. The landlord may be unaware of who made the repair.
An icy patch on the sidewalk or a rickety step may be all it takes to generate a lawsuit for premise liability. If tenants have complained in the past, any monetary judgment against the landlord could double. Neglected repairs lead to money loss.
Landlords generally are held to a standard of knowing what is happening around the property. That means every landlord should:
Conduct routine inspections around the exterior, interior and common areas of the property;
Listen to tenant complaints about needed repairs — especially when more than one tenant is complaining about the same issue; and
Use skilled workers to make repairs.
Property repairs should be classified in three categories:
Emergency. An emergency exists if life or property is at immediate risk of harm. This includes gas leaks, fires, water leaks or flooding, broken locks and lack of air conditioning or heat in extreme weather conditions.
Urgent. Time is of the essence in making nonemergency repairs, like hot water heaters, ovens, and laundry. Immediate attention is required, although the tenant is not in danger. However, the landlord’s reputation is. Take a look at any online apartment ratings website and you will understand how a property can go from five stars, “Maintenance is on it within the hour — the best part of living here!” to one star, “Unanswered emails and phone calls,” in a matter of days. Ratings matter. The best tenants look for the best landlords.
Maintenance. Every property requires routine maintenance. The best way to keep up with requirements is to have a plan. There is no reason that maintenance has to generate complaints from tenants. Share the maintenance schedule with the tenants so they can plan around it, and explain the scope of the work so tenants know what to expect. Every repair is an improvement. Tenants are more likely to accept the inconvenience if they understand the benefits.
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Disclaimer: The information provided in this post is not intended to be construed as legal advice, nor should it be considered a substitute for obtaining individual legal counsel or consulting your local, state, federal or provincial tenancy laws.