Tenant requests cover the gamut from legitimate to frivolous. You have most probably found yourself questioning requests made by tenants and wondering whether you should or shouldn’t make the repairs. Repairs are costly in both time and money. Therefore, establishing boundaries with renters and a maintenance process is crucial for your sanity and to watch your money, your most valuable resource—time, and to make sure you meet all legal requirements. Continue reading to learn how to establish the boundaries and maintenance process, so your tenants understand how to submit a maintenance request and when you can decline one.
Establishing a Maintenance Clause in Your Lease
A lease should clearly state what tenants are responsible for when it comes to keeping up the property and maintenance.
For example, a lease can state that a tenant keeps the property clean and sanitary. In addition, tenants are responsible for any property damage they cause or maintenance needed due to their neglect, i.e., broken windows and internal wall damage.
For any necessary repairs needed that the tenant did not cause, it is the tenant’s responsibility to notify the landlord as soon as possible.
Landlords must keep the property safe and habitable for tenants. They must always meet all federal, state, and local building and health codes. If you’re a landlord, be sure to understand the laws that pertain to you. Most states entitle tenants to *”safe and livable” housing. This means the rental unit meets basic requirements such as:
- Sufficient hot water
- Reliable heat
- Walls and floors that aren’t in danger of impending collapse
- No “acceptable” threat from environmental hazards such as lead, asbestos, and mold
- Reasonable protection from criminal intrusion
*NOTE—See Implied Warranty of Habitability (recognized on a state level in all states except Arkansas).
To help you better determine the difference between a habitability problem and a minor maintenance problem, read Classifying Your Repair Problem as a guide for considering the two types of problems so you can better differentiate what repairs are required and who is responsible for making those repairs.
Establish a Maintenance Process
It’s wise to set up a process for tenants to request repairs. Organizing the flow of requests mitigates confusion, keeps you responsive with low stress, and can cut down on frivolous requests.
Here are simple steps for a Repair Request Guide:
- First, Explain what constitutes an emergency. For example, a maintenance emergency requires immediate action. If immediate action isn’t taken, the problem could cause injury, death, or severe property damage. Emergencies such as fire, a gas leak, flooding, carbon monoxide, no water, loss of electricity,
- List the process of reporting any maintenance concerns.
- Maintenance requests must be in writing. Documenting these requests can assist if there are ever legal questions.
- You can accept repair requests by email, certified letter, or personal delivery from the tenant. If the letter is personally delivered, it’s wise to have a witness to confirm delivery and acceptance.
- Depending on your state law, know how long you have to respond to an emergency request and make sure you begin your assessment within the proper time. Also, be sure the tenant understands the timeline for your response to maintenance requests.
- Assess the priority level of the request—low, medium, or high priority
- Give the landlord or property manager contact information.
- List emergency maintenance contacts for repairs to be completed by tenants.
Declining a Maintenance Request
Once you’ve added a maintenance clause to your lease, developed your maintenance process, and established a guide for your tenants, you now have something to refer to when tenants come to you with frivolous requests because they will.
Remember, maintaining your property so it is habitable is required by law. In addition, keeping up on maintenance over time will help keep your property up-to-date and save you money in the long run.
Landlords are not responsible for:
- Any damage caused by tenants or their guests
- Damage due to any misuse of the property as stated in the lease. For example, suppose the tenant has a pet even though the lease says pets are prohibited. In that case, they are responsible for any cleaning costs associated with the pet or smoking stains or smells from smoking if the lease agreement states, “no smoking.”
If tenants make requests for repairing damage caused by them, the landlord is not responsible. The landlord can decline these repairs.
*NOTE—Check the state and municipal laws to make sure you understand what landlords are and are not required to do regarding maintenance.
Overall, it is always wise to repair what you can for both the landlord-tenant relationship and the property’s continuing value.
A Final Thought
While landlord and tenant maintenance responsibilities vary by state, it is wise to constantly weigh the value of fulfilling maintenance requests against the cost of not doing so. The only correct answer regarding maintenance requests is to make sure landlords follow the law for keeping habitable living units. Any other choice is determined based on the situation, the time and money involved, and the desired outcome for both parties.