As a landlord, you may have some questions about how to approach the upkeep of your rental. What repairs and maintenance issues are you responsible for? How quickly do you need to resolve them? Can you delegate some tasks to your tenant, and if so, which ones? Is your tenant ever financially liable for any repair work, or do you bear all the costs?
To help you navigate this sometimes murky area of rental property management, we’ve compiled a list of guidelines to help you make the right decision when something needs fixing.
What are a landlord’s legal responsibilities for repairs?
Keeping your rental property in top shape isn’t only a wise business investment: it’s a legal requirement. Ensure you become familiar with your region’s residential tenancy laws.
Aside from local laws, your lease agreement will contain specific details about your role (and that of your tenant’s) regarding repairs and maintenance.
Residential tenancy laws
Legal obligations related to rental property repairs and maintenance vary by region. While they can sometimes be vague, most laws hold landlords accountable for a majority of the repairs and maintenance in a rental property
For example, in Alberta, The Residential Tenancy Act (RTA) requires landlords to meet the Minimum Housing and Health Standards under the province’s Public Health Act. Among other things, the landlord must keep the property in “good repair, safe condition, and structurally sound” and ensure essential utilities are provided, such as heat, water, and electricity.
In the U.S., regulations vary a great deal. For example, in California, residential tenancy laws under Civil Code section 1941 specify that the landlord must conduct any repairs that make the property unhabitable, except for problems caused by the tenant or their pet and guests.
Outlining maintenance responsibilities in a lease agreement
In case of a dispute over a maintenance issue, the lease should provide a clear answer on who is responsible. Therefore, a more comprehensive and detailed lease will enable you to address gray areas.
Remember that a lease agreement is a legal contract, so it’s enforceable. Both you and your tenant should clearly understand your rights and responsibilities before signing it.
Before allocating repairs and maintenance duties in your lease agreement, review the requirements of your region’s residential tenancy laws. Avoid assigning to your tenant tasks for which you, as the landlord, are legally responsible.
What is a landlord responsible for repairing?
As a landlord, you’re accountable for rental repairs arising from general wear and tear. Here’s a list of your responsibilities.
Heat, water, and electricity. These essential utilities must function correctly and be free of hazards. Your residents should have access to cold and hot water, adequate heat during the winter, and a reliable electrical system.
Structural integrity and weatherproofing. To be considered habitable and safe for tenants, your rental must be structurally sound and provide adequate shelter from the elements. This means you should perform regular maintenance on any related components, including the roof, windows, doors, siding, walls, ceilings, stairs, and floors.
Thermostat adjustments. Make sure to set the temperature in your rental property at a comfortable level for your renters. The living space should supply a reasonable amount of heat, especially during winter. Tenants may occasionally ask that you adjust the settings, so be prepared to accommodate reasonable requests. Of course, you’re also responsible for ensuring the thermostat and heating system function properly at all times.
Safety and security systems. Test all locks on doors and windows to ensure they’re operable. Be sure to change the door locks each time a new tenant arrives. All emergency exits should be clear of debris to allow for an easy escape route, storage areas should be free of combustible materials, and smoke and carbon monoxide detectors should always be in working order.
Appliances. It’s your responsibility to oversee all major appliance repairs and replacements. At a minimum, ensure that the fridge and stove are always in good working order. Maintain the microwave, dishwasher, washer, and dryer if they’re part of the lease agreement.
Mold and mildew. Any mold or mildew issues must be resolved by the landlord, provided it appears due to excessive humidity, water damage, or another issue related to your maintenance duties. Mold can adversely affect tenants’ health and be expensive to eliminate if allowed to spread, so ensure you deal with it promptly.
Pest control. Pests can cause significant damage to your property and produce unsanitary living conditions. Some also carry diseases, posing a health hazard to tenants. If you discover an infestation, eliminate it as quickly as possible (it’s best to hire a professional exterminator). Take preventative measures to deter pests from invading your rental, such as sealing cracks in walls and replacing broken shingles.
Mac's Pro Tip
Ensure your rental maintenance work complies with local building codes, fire codes, zoning laws, and health and safety standards. If it doesn’t, make the necessary improvements to avoid getting hit with a fine or a lawsuit.
What is a tenant responsible for repairing?
While most repairs and maintenance rests with you as the landlord, tenants also have a role to play. Here are some tasks a renter would be responsible for undertaking.
General cleanliness. Tenants must keep the living space reasonably clean and tidy by washing their dishes, emptying the dryer lint trap, vacuuming the floors, and dusting the furniture. To prevent the occurrence of pests and mold, they should also regularly remove trash from the property.
Damage caused by the tenant. If the tenant causes damage to your property, either willfully or through negligence, they’re likely financially responsible for the repairs. An example would be if your tenant repeatedly poured grease down the kitchen sink, causing it to become plugged. Similarly, your renter is liable for any deterioration resulting from a lease violation. An example is if they smoke on the property, leaving stains on the walls and floors.
Small repairs. Tenants can assume responsibility for simple and cheap repair work, provided they agree to do so per the lease agreement’s terms. Some tasks you can safely assign to your tenant include:
- Changing light bulbs
- Replacing batteries in keyless locks
- Cleaning minor carpet stains
- Fixing loose cabinet handles
- Washing window interiors
Outdoor maintenance. Just as the inside of a rental home must be cleaned, tenants may help maintain the outside as well. Some examples of exterior maintenance include raking leaves, shoveling snow, and clearing weeds.
Informing the landlord of necessary repairs. Your tenant must notify you of any maintenance issues as soon as possible. You can make this process smoother by establishing a straightforward method for requesting repairs and responding to their requests promptly.
Mac's Pro Tip
If the cost of the repair is $20 or less, the tenant should be accountable for it. Still, occasionally conducting minor maintenance tasks personally, such as replacing the furnace filter, can be beneficial. You can use the opportunity to visit your rental and assess its condition.
Deciding how quickly something needs to be fixed
We’ve already established that it’s your job to address most maintenance issues. But how fast do you have to resolve them? Here are the three factors to consider when deciding the urgency of a repair:
1. Is it an emergency?
Emergency repairs are those that threaten your tenant’s health and safety or negatively impact one or more of their essential needs (e.g., heat, water, air quality, hygiene, etc.). Any issue that puts the entire building at risk is also considered an emergency. Generally, you should respond to emergency issues in 24 hours or less.
Some jurisdictions have laws stipulating how long you have to fix a maintenance issue at your rental property. You usually have between two and seven days to resolve critical repairs and 30 days to deal with general, non-urgent problems. Be sure to get acquainted with the laws in your region to ensure that you’re completing all repairs on time.
2. Is there a backup?
Before rushing to fix a problem, consider if the issue would make the rental property uninhabitable.
For example, let’s say the lone toilet in your rental gets clogged up. Naturally, this issue would pose a significant inconvenience for your renter, so it’s best to resolve it immediately.
However, if the home contains three toilets, the negative impact is far less severe since the residents still have access to the other two. In this case, postponing the repair is acceptable to save time and keep your maintenance costs down.
3. Does the issue directly affect the building?
Not all rental maintenance issues will adversely impact your tenant’s living conditions, at least not immediately. However, they may pose a danger to the entire building, and if not dealt with promptly, may lead to extensive damage. For this reason, tackle them as soon as possible.
For example, let’s say your rental has one or more leaky gutters. Over time, this could cause damage to the roof, attic, siding, foundation, and basement. The resulting repairs can cost you a bundle compared to replacing the gutters, which would prevent this scenario from occurring in the first place.
Mac's Pro Tip
Let your tenants know how long they can expect to wait for you to fix maintenance issues. Help educate them about reasonable time frames for emergency and non-emergency repairs. If in doubt, put yourself in the renter’s shoes and try to understand their expectations for repair timeframes.
Our final thoughts
As a landlord, you bear most of the responsibility for repairs and maintenance in your rental. To understand your obligations, familiarize yourself with your region’s rental property maintenance laws. Then, outline these responsibilities clearly in your lease agreement. Be sure to allow your tenant to ask questions and propose changes if they feel uncomfortable about taking on specific tasks. Learn more about how to manage maintenance and repairs, including establishing a rental property maintenance schedule and troubleshooting any issues.