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Landlords' Duties: Repairs, Maintenance, and Notice to Tenants for Entry

Worried Woman Holding Bucket While Water Droplets Leak From Ceiling In Kitchen

With or without a rental agreement, landlords must ensure the rental property is habitable. This means the property complies with state and local housing codes. Landlords must maintain common areas and plumbing, make sure the heat works in the winter, and keep the rental property in working order.

As a landlord, you have a legal duty to perform necessary repairs and maintenance for occupancy. This includes major repairs. Minor repairs, including replacing light bulbs and general upkeep, are often part of the tenant's responsibility.

Busy or frugal landlords may be tempted to let repairs slide. However, when the repair concerns tenant safety, it's important to fix the issue as soon as possible.

Landlord Duties

Typically, the lease agreement outlines repair responsibilities for the landlord and the tenant. Landlords or property management usually bear the cost of repairs.

The following is a noninclusive list of repairs that are generally the landlord's responsibility:

  • Running water
  • Air conditioning (depending on state law)
  • Smoke detectors
  • Electrical systems
  • Functioning locks

Tenant Responsibilities

Tenants are responsible for minor repairs and general upkeep of the rental unit. The tenant pays for damages caused by a pet or guest.

How To Fulfil Your Duty of Repairs and Maintenance

Residential landlords must ensure a rental property is habitable before a tenant moves in. This means the rental property is suitable to live in. After move-in, the landlord must make repairs and conduct maintenance to maintain habitability.

Habitable properties typically include the following characteristics:

  • Free from pest infestation
  • Adequate heating
  • Hot water and reliable electricity
  • Walls, floor, ceiling, and other basic structures in good repair

State laws explain the specific qualities of a habitable property. For example, some states require landlords to provide basic safety devices like locks and smoke detectors.

Meeting the Implied Warranty of Habitability

Although laws vary by state and city, an implied warranty of habitability is implicit in most residential leases. Regardless of what the lease says, state laws require rental properties to meet specific habitability standards. 

When a property issue arises, it may risk the habitability or safety of the unit. Landlords who ignore such issues can face legal consequences.

A prompt, proactive response to repairs can help avoid further trouble. Because of the varying nature of landlord duties, tenants should consult their state laws and city ordinances.

Common Safety Problems in Rental Units

Safety problems pose a health risk to tenants and other occupants. They may also cause building inspectors to cite owners and their management companies. An inspection report revealing local building code violations can carry severe punishments for a landlord under local laws and state laws.

Common safety problems in rental units include:

  • Missing, malfunctioning, or unpowered smoke detectors
  • Faulty air conditioning that promotes mold growth
  • Weak structures, slippery surfaces, and dangerous walkways
  • The presence of vermin, bed bugs, and other insect infestations
  • Plumbing problems, lack of hot water, broken faucets, and water leaks

These are problems that go beyond normal wear and tear in your home. On top of creating a safety hazard, they may also affect the future real estate value of your property.

As a landlord, it's risky to only wait to receive written notice from tenants. Instead, regular inspections can help maintain a safe property. It's common for landlords to check the rental premises before, during, and after each move in. If you address maintenance issues within a reasonable time, you can likely avoid these legal and financial risks.

Giving Tenants Notice of Repairs

Most states require landlords to give reasonable notice to tenants. Often, the landlord must provide 24 to 48 hours of notice before entering the unit for repairs or inspection. In an emergency scenario, a landlord can enter at any time without notice. 

Breaking this law can expose you to a lawsuit by the tenant. Some states, like California, allow tenants to claim harassment if their landlord enters the rental property without proper notice.

How To Keep Tenants Safe While Managing Repairs

Landlords have a duty to prevent serious injuries. Allowing safety risks to present danger can expose you to premises liability claims.

If the repair is in a common area, such as a loose tile in the stairwell, be proactive. Let all the tenants in the building know about the hazard and post signs around it. This will ensure that people can avoid harm.

Make the repair as soon as reasonably possible. If the repair requires closing a common area, remember to let the tenants know when the repair will occur. This is so that they can make the appropriate arrangements ahead of time.

As a landlord, you should maintain regular communications with your tenants. If you can't respond to an urgent or severe situation, your tenants might take extreme, yet justifiable, measures. Avoid breaking the lease by taking steps to detect problems before they occur. Sometimes, hiring a property management service can help ensure tenants have a more responsive point of contact.

Relocating Tenants for Repairs 

A lease agreement implies that a tenant will remain at the premises for a fixed term. But if damage to the property is bad enough, sometimes it's impossible to require tenants to stay on-site and pay rent.

The tenants may need to temporarily vacate the rental unit even while the lease is in effect. In emergencies, a landlord may need to keep tenants safe by moving them to another location.

For example, you may need to temporarily relocate a tenant to a substitute unit (or give them other reasonable accommodations) if the rental unit:

  • Suffers from extreme heat or cold
  • Contains life-threatening substances like mold or radiation
  • Is condemned by health inspectors
  • Has some other problem that makes it impossible to be even partially inhabited

Failure To Make Timely Repairs

If the landlord fails to make the necessary repairs after receiving written notice from a renter, the renter has several remedies. Tenants should give the landlord a reasonable time frame to make the repairs.

If you were aware of the problem or should have reasonably known it, you may be liable to your renters and their guests for any related harm.

The remedies available to tenants include:

  • Withhold rent: If state law allows, tenants can withhold monthly rent until the landlord repairs the problem. In states like Maryland, a tenant can use a court-approved escrow account for rent payments until the landlord completes the repairs.
  • Repair and deduct: Tenants make the repairs and deduct the cost of the repairs from their monthly rent.
  • Small claims court: The tenant can file an action in small claims court if the landlord ignores their request for necessary repairs.

Tenants should consult state and local laws before using any of these remedies.

Tenants May Claim Constructive Eviction

If the problem is intractable and disturbs the tenant's right to live in a habitable home, the tenant may end the tenancy. This could lead to a constructive eviction case.

These conditions must be met:

  • The tenant must prove that the landlord's lack of action led to the uninhabitable conditions.
  • The tenant must give the property owner written notice of reasons for constructive eviction and a reasonable amount of time to repair problems.
  • The tenant must show they left the rental property within a reasonable time.

A constructive eviction scenario usually leaves neither party happy. The tenant must find a new place to live after the property issue disrupted their life. The landlord will still have an issue affecting their property.  

Get Advice for Managing Your Rental Property

Landlord-tenant disputes are often complex and time-consuming. A qualified landlord-tenant attorney can provide legal advice based on landlord-tenant law in your state. Having a lawyer review your situation may be the best way to determine your options.

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