Can Landlord Charge Tenant for Messy Repair?

by | Apr 16, 2012 | Rental Property Management Tips

Q: I just finished unclogging the kitchen drain at my rental property. It’s an older unit and the sink does not have a garbage disposal. The tenant was scraping food into the drain and that’s what caused the blockage. She claims she did not realize there is no garbage disposal. Can I charge her for the cost of the repair?

That may depend upon what your lease provides. Does it describe which repairs a tenant is liable for? Does the lease mention that there is no disposal?

Generally, any repairs which are maintenance-related fall on the landlord, while tenants are on the hook for any repairs caused by their intentional or negligent actions. This includes actions of their guests.

Here, it appears that the tenant did not clog the sink intentionally, so you will have to demonstrate that it was obvious that the unit had no disposal — she must have wondered why there was no switch, for example. Her defense might be that she is used to having an in-sink disposal, and that’s why she’s in the habit of scraping the dishes into the sink.  You will have to decide if the cost of this repair is worth the time and effort of a potential dispute with the tenant.

An easier solution is to avoid the repair in the first place, by offering an orientation to tenants when they move in. At that time, point out the disposal issue, and anything else they should know about your specific property.

It’s important to point out characteristics of any rental property, whether old or new, so that tenants avoid more serious injuries. Examples include teaching a tenant how to safely operate the gas stove, especially if they are used to electric, or in mold-prone areas of the country, explaining why the bathroom exhaust fan needs to run for a few minutes after using the shower.

Some landlords choose to reinforce the orientation with discreet signs around the property. Where the landlord can show that the tenant has been instructed how to maintain the property, it’s much easier to prove when the tenant is liable for the repair.

It is safe to assume that not all tenants are going to know how to use appliances safely and efficiently. An orientation can save landlords both time and money.


This post is provided by Tenant Verification Service, Inc., helping landlords reduce the risks of renting with fraud prevention tools that include Tenant Screening, Tenant Background Checks, (U.S. and Canada), as well as Criminal Background Checks, and Eviction Reports (U.S. only).

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Disclaimer: The information provided in this post in 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.

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