Rental Maintenance & Repair - Who is Responsible?
This guide helps determine who is responsible for rental maintenance and repairs between a landlord and tenant. This article serves as a general guideline, and your lease and/or State laws supersede the below.
While rules and regulation surrounding rental issues can be hard to come by, there are some in place to protect both parties. The Uniform Residential Landlord and Tenant Act (ULTRA) was created in 1972 to ensure equality in these rental situations. Originally created to hold landlords to a set of standards, ULTRA also outlines the responsibility of tenants when damage is inflicted on the property or maintenance is needed.
A copy of ULTRA can be found here for personal reference.
Replacing Light Bulbs
It is expected that the light bulbs are in working condition when the tenant moves into the rental unit. This is the responsibility of the landlord. It is common practice now for landlords to install long-lasting, LED lightbulbs to extend life and reduce the need to change the light bulbs on turnovers.
After the tenant moves into the property, the responsibility of light bulbs is typically passed on to the tenant. The tenant determines the usage of the light bulb, and thus, should be also responsible for replacing them.
The landlord is only responsible for lights located outside of the rental in a common area or under special circumstances, such as safety issues with the height of the ceilings.
In most cases, especially single family homes, tenants are responsible for cleaning the windows which includes the exterior & the interior. Failure to clean windows may cause them to deteriorate where they cannot open or close properly. Hopefully, the windows are easily accessible to routinely clean. For larger buildings, where the tenant may not be able to access the outside of their windows, landlords or an HOA will likely be responsible for the window cleaning. Tenants should start by checking the lease. In the case where a tenant is responsible for their windows, we recommend hiring a third party and approving it by landlord. Remember that safety is always a top priority.
Upon move in, document the condition of the rental unit. Hemlane has a tracking sheet specifically for documenting maintenance.Tenants are not liable for damages caused prior to their residency nor are they responsible for "reasonable wear & tear" while living in the unit. Next check local laws and regulations. County and state building codes supersede lease agreements protecting tenants from health risks such as mold, asbestos, rodents etc and it is the responsibility of the landlord to keep the unit up to local safety standards. However if tenants are responsible for these health conditions either through negligence or direct acts, there will likely be cause for eviction and/or restitution.
If the mess is caused by the tenant, then it is a different story. Your mess is your mess. Tenants are responsible for their own cleaning, including shampooing of carpets. And, landlords are not expected to clean the property during a lease renewal.
Similar to cleaning, the tenant may be responsible to pay for any damage they cause to the property. Landlords have the right to request reimbursement due to tenant damage, beyond normal wear and tear. These damages include but are not limited to:
- Garbage disposal damage: When particular foods and other items are put down the garbage disposal, which cause damage to the disposal and plumbing, then the tenant may be responsible to pay for the service professionals call. Please refer to our Plumbing Maintenance Guide for more detail.
- Property lockout: When a tenant has lost their keys or gotten locked out, then they may be financially responsible for the new key or the service call. In most cases, this is a pretty common request and the lease agreement may outline the terms associated with the chargeback.
Refer to this article on "How to conduct inspections" which lays out more specifically what to look for during “mid-tenancy inspections”
Keep in mind that tenants will not always take responsibility for these actions and you may need to provide some sort of evidence (unless the responsibility is clear). This is another reason why it's important to have a thoroughly completed pre-move in property condition report completed with pictures/videos. Sometimes trades/repairmen are able to provide insight on how the problem could have occurred (for example: a fork that went down a drain originating from the unit which damaged the piping).
Landlord and Manager Responsibilities
These unwanted visitors can often be a sign of a larger problem. Mentioned above, it is the responsibility of the tenant to maintain a clean living environment as to not attract any insects or rodents. Tenants can be held financially responsible in cases where the pest can be related to their actions. Make sure to not bring in infested furniture, such as mattresses and couches. In cases where pests are present and it's not attributed to the tenant's cleanliness, the landlord is responsible to handle extermination. In other words, landlords are typically responsible for pest control. In most rental situations, we recommend landlords do annual or semi-annual pest control inspection and maintenance (spray the perimeter) to keep unwanted critters out of the residence. The frequency of pest control will depend on the location of your house and the density of critters. It is best to check with your local pest controller on the frequency of treatments.
Like pests, bed bugs are a prevalent problem that needs to be contained and controlled. It starts with prevention, in checking all furniture and belongings that are coming in with a new tenant to ensure they are not infected. Awareness is also critical, informing tenant how to spot bed bugs. Bed bugs can often hitch a ride on luggage when traveling and be brought back to the rental unit. Perhapes the most important consideration for owner's & managers to be aware of is bed bugs in one unit can easily migrate to neighboring units, greatly increasing the remediation cost. All the reason why absolute care needs to be put into preventing the bed bugs from entering the rental unit in the first place.
Safety and Security
The landlord is responsible for keeping the property secure and safe, but there are different levels of priority. High priority items, such as a broken down furnace at extreme temperatures, require action to ensure the tenant’s immediate safety. State and local laws outline what temperatures constitute an inhabitable environment for the tenant. In these situations, landlords are responsible to take immediate action. You can also read some general guidelines in Hemlane's Emergency Request Guide. Owners & managers can be found liable if someone was harmed due to hypothermia or heat exhaustion.
Other repairs are necessary to ensure a safe living environment but do not require the same sense of urgency. Landlords are responsible to fix items such as broken deadbolts due to tenant damage. A landlord can ask the tenant for reimbursement if they caused it, but it is the responsibility of the landlord to see to it that the damage is repaired.
When an appliance is listed on the lease and provided by the landlord, then it is the responsibility of the landlord to keep it in working condition. If the damage can be linked to the tenant, then the tenant can be financially responsible for the repair.
Outlined in the Lease
Landscaping & Yard Work
This is another gray area that should be detailed in the lease. Leases typically outline one of these three possible agreements for lawn maintenance:
- Self-Service Lawn Care - In this agreement, the tenant is responsible to maintain the lawn to the conditions outlined by local codes. This includes frequent tasks such as mowing the lawn and trimming bushes. Failure to do so could result in penalties. Larger maintenance such as tree planting and removal should be approved by landlords. Tree removal and other major landscaping tasks could very well need a permit.
- Full-Service Lawn Care - This agreement places the full responsibility on the landlord. The landlord can then opt to do the maintenance themselves or hire a service.
- A-La-Carte Agreement - This is a middle ground between the above agreements. Landlords may outline specific tasks that each party is responsible for in the lease.
For single-family residences and townhouses, one of the three agreements should be outlined in the lease. If not, responsibility falls to the tenant as they rent the entire property including the lawn.
We recommend landlords to put in their lease that tenants are responsible for gardening and yard maintenance, including the sidewalk and driveway, unless the yard is shared with other tenants. It may be advantageous to provide necessary tools to promote that they maintain the yard in a suitable way.
The lease should stipulate who is responsible for gutter cleaning. When gutter cleaning is not mentioned in the lease, then the landlord is typically responsible. Since gutter cleaning requires climbing on the roof (liability) and is part of the general structure (not tenant conduct), most lawyers would put the responsibility on the landlord. If a lease does stipulate that a tenant is responsible, then it should also require the tenant to hire a professional gutter cleaner with the correct licensing and insurance.
Hurricane and Natural Disaster Preparation
Some landlords opt to have the tenant prepare the rental property in the face of a natural disaster, such as Hurricane Harvey or the Sonoma Fires. This is normally indicated in the lease. While technically this is legal, tenants are going to be more concerned about protecting their personal property rather than the physical property. There is also the possibility that their levels of proofing the property does not meet your standards. The only way to ensure this is for the landlord to do it themselves or hire someone.
If unfortunately a natural disaster does occur, the landlord is not responsible for damage to the personal property of the tenant. Tenants should have renter’s insurance for situations likes these. The landlord is responsible in providing a safe living environment and therefore responsible to repair the damage caused by a natural disaster.
Tenant and landlord conflict is often a result of miscommunication and misguided expectations. We hope this clarifies some of the frequent questions that we receive on who is responsible for certain items.