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Repairs and Maintenance

One of the more challenging aspects of renting property is ensuring everything is in working order. Real estate property management is a challenging feat. Answering requests for repairs and paying maintenance expenses takes a lot of work. Landlords may view maintenance requests as an annoying expense that takes an unnecessary bite out of their profits. But for tenants, clogged pipes, a malfunctioning toilet, or a broken heater can be a constant source of frustration in the home.

Landlords are generally legally obligated to make property repairs and maintain rental property. They must follow the law when entering rented property to make repairs. In certain cases, a landlord may also be liable for tenant injuries. Sometimes property maintenance obligations can be so overwhelming that a landlord has to hire a property management company.

This section covers the responsibilities and rights of tenants and landlords on repairs and maintenance.

Landlord Repairs: Tenants' Rights

Tenants have the right to live in a habitable rental property. This generally means it must be free of any serious health or safety threats, such as:

  • Black mold
  • Frayed wiring
  • Vermin infestations (including rats and cockroaches)
  • Malfunctioning plumbing, electricity, smoke detectors, and safety locks

Something like pest control or snow removal may cause immediate concern. But what about drippy faucets, worn carpeting, or other less dire issues? Landlords typically are only required to do these repairs if state or local building codes require it. They may still oblige if asked because a well-maintained rental unit will hold its market value better.

Leaky faucets and running toilets must get repaired as a part of the habitability requirement discussed above. The same may not hold for furnished appliances or ordinary wear and tear. But anything else agreed to in the lease is legally binding. So, if your rental agreement specifically states that the landlord will fix the microwave or fridge, they are legally obligated to do so. Also, landlords who promise to do certain repairs in writing or verbally have a legal duty to fulfill those promises.

How To Get Your Landlord To Do Minor Repairs

If you face a serious problem, such as an infestation of mice, your landlord must take care of it. If they fail to do so, you may withhold a part of your rent to pay for it. But if it's a minor repair such as a cosmetic scratch, your landlord is under no legal obligation to fix it. Here, you will want to be more tactful.

The best way to encourage your landlord to take action is to put it in writing. This creates a paper trail in case the matter gets legally escalated. It also allows the landlord to mull it over before repairing it. For instance, a verbal request may easily get denied, but a well-written request is much more persuasive. You can elaborate on how the repair will benefit the landlord while making other salient points. For example, if it's a leaky refrigerator, you could discuss the extra cost of your water bill. If the landlord pays the water bill, they may be even more motivated to fix the leak.

Depending on the type of repair you request, you can explain the potential for injury. A rotting staircase leading up to your apartment could result in an injury that ultimately will cost the landlord much more than simply fixing it.

How Maintenance Tasks and Renovations Benefit Everyone

Preventive maintenance can help rental property owners and renters. In the short term, regular maintenance prevents bigger problems. For example, routine roof maintenance can prevent more significant structural problems. Keeping HVAC systems running well can reduce water and mold damage and extend the useful life of an investment property.

But as real estate investors, landlords can also enjoy IRS tax deductions for maintenance costs. The betterment of the rental property improves the tenants' lives and creates opportunities for offsetting rental property taxes. Since rental income is taxable, a landlord can offset their taxes with capital expenditures (capital improvements) and depreciation. Management fees related to rental real estate investing are also deductible. A new air conditioning system or landscaping project can raise property value, reduce taxes, and benefit a tenant's quality of life.

Landlords and Repairs: When Requests Get Ignored or Dismissed

Tenants have very little leverage when it comes to certain types of repair requests, such as:

  • Small holes in the carpet
  • A tarnished bathroom mirror

But for more serious problems (and some minor ones), you should seek out a mediation service specializing in landlord-tenant disputes. It's not binding nor adversarial, so it won't necessarily erode your relationship. You may consider contacting your local authority if it's a building or housing code violation. But you want to ensure it's worth it since it typically damages the landlord-tenant relationship.

If you need more help, hire a landlord-tenant attorney to help you get what you need.

To learn more about repairs and maintenance in rental units, including the rights and responsibilities of both parties, click on one of the links below.

Learn About Repairs and Maintenance

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