When Can a Landlord Make a Tenant Pay for Repairs?

Learn about the obligations of landlords and tenants when paying for repairs in rental properties

Nichole Stohler
Last Updated
November 3, 2023
When Can a Landlord Make a Tenant Pay for Repairs?

Is your landlord trying to stick you with the bill for appliance repairs? Or are your tenants calling you every time a lightbulb burns out? Who should pay for repairs when something breaks in a rental unit?

As a tenant, you want a livable space but may worry about surprise repair bills. As a landlord, you want to provide a well-maintained property but don't want to shoulder costs for damages you didn't cause.

In this article, we clarify whether landlords can charge tenants for repairs. You'll learn about landlord and tenant rights and responsibilities around maintenance issues. We provide tips for preventing confusion and tips for a strong landlord-tenant relationship.

Whether you rent out or live in a rental unit, you'll gain insights to navigate tricky repair cost conversations. Read on to fully understand your role as a tenant or landlord when it comes to repairs and maintenance.

Is it really "your property, your rules"?

You may have heard the phrase "your property, your rules" thrown around. While it's true that landlords have certain rights over their properties, there are still limitations and local laws they must follow.

Here are the boundaries of landlord authority:

  • Compliance with laws: Landlords' rules should not violate local, state, or federal laws. Tenants have rights protected by law, and landlords cannot disregard these rights.
  • Health and safety obligations: Landlords are responsible for providing their tenants with safe and habitable living conditions. It includes maintaining needed services such as electricity, plumbing, and heating, in addition to making sure that the property is free from hazards.
  • Non-discriminatory practices: Landlords cannot enforce rules that discriminate against protected classes, such as race, religion, gender, disability, or familial status. Fair housing laws protect tenants from discrimination in the rental process.
  • Reasonable rule enforcement: Landlords must enforce rules fairly and consistently. They cannot selectively apply rules or engage in practices that harass or intimidate tenants.

While the notion of "your property, your rules" provides a general overview of a landlord's authority, the lease agreement outlines the specific details and boundaries of this authority. This legal document is the foundation for landlords' and tenants' rights and responsibilities.

The lease agreement is your guide

The lease agreement is a legal contract between the landlord and tenant, outlining the rights and obligations of both parties. In the rental agreement, you will typically find information regarding repair responsibilities, including:

Landlord's responsibilities

  • Major structural repairs or damages caused by natural disasters.
  • Maintenance of common areas such as hallways, staircases, and elevators.
  • Repairing or replacing faulty appliances provided by the landlord.

Tenant's responsibilities

  • Minor repairs include changing light bulbs, unclogging drains, or replacing batteries in smoke detectors.
  • Any damage caused by the tenant's negligence or intentional actions.
  • Keeping the rental unit clean and taking preventive measures to avoid damage.

Reporting procedures

  • Instructions on how and when to report repair issues to the landlord or property manager.
  • Any requirements for written notice or documentation of the problem.

Timelines for repairs

  • The time frame within which the landlord must address repair requests.
  • Any procedures or remedies available if the landlord does not complete repairs within a reasonable time.

Check the lease agreement carefully to understand the terms that make the landlord or tenant responsible for the repairs in a rental property.

Landlord's obligations

For a harmonious and legally compliant landlord-tenant relationship, landlords typically must adhere to specific obligations. Fulfilling these duties establishes the foundation for trust and understanding between both parties. Key obligations include:

  • Providing safe and habitable conditions: Make sure the property is free from hazards and fit for living.
  • Making necessary repairs: Address and fix any structural or functional issues in the property.
  • Maintaining common areas: Keep spaces like hallways, staircases, and gardens clean and well-maintained.
  • Addressing tenant complaints and requests: Be responsive to any concerns or needs the tenant might raise.
  • Respecting tenant privacy: Honor the tenant's right to privacy by not intruding without notice or valid reason.
  • Handling security deposits properly: Manage and return deposits in accordance with the law and lease terms.

Tenant's rights and duties

Tenants have rights and duties when renting a property. It is important to understand these responsibilities to protect your interests and maintain a good relationship with the landlord.

Tenant's rights

  • Safe and decent housing: Tenants are entitled to a living space free from hazards and maintained to a reasonable standard.
  • Privacy: Landlords should respect the tenant's personal space and not intrude without due notice.
  • Non-discrimination: Tenants should not face discrimination based on race, religion, gender, disability, or other protected categories.
  • Repairs and maintenance: Landlords are responsible for making sure the property remains habitable.

Tenant's duties

  • Pay rent on time: Tenants must follow the payment schedule as outlined in the lease.
  • Maintain cleanliness: The tenant is often responsible for keeping the rental space clean and tidy.
  • Report issues: Promptly report any issues or concerns related to the property.
  • Respect property: Avoid causing unnecessary damage and treat the property as your own.

For specific concerns or clarifications regarding tenant rights, consult the local landlord-tenant laws or seek legal advice.

When should landlords pay for repairs?

Landlords bear the primary responsibility for most repairs within a rental property. Here's a breakdown of scenarios where landlords should foot the bill:

  • Safety hazards: Issues that threaten tenant safety, such as broken windows or leaky roofs, are the landlord's responsibility to address promptly.
  • Basic services: Landlords must provide fundamental utilities as specified in the lease agreement, like plumbing, heating, and electricity.
  • Lease agreements: Specific maintenance clauses in the rental agreement bind the landlord to cover those costs.
  • Normal wear and tear: Over time, certain aspects of the property will degrade, like chipped paint or a worn-out faucet. These repairs fall under the landlord's jurisdiction.
  • Local regulations: Some local laws dictate that specific repairs, even if not mentioned in the lease, are the landlord's duty. Learn about local regulations to stay compliant.
  • Damage not caused by tenants: Landlords should bear the costs if damages arise from external factors, such as weather-related pipe bursts.
  • Emergency repairs: Immediate issues like a major water leak or a malfunctioning heating system during cold months require quick action and are typically the landlord's responsibility.

When does a tenant pay for repairs?

There are times when tenants pay for repairs in a rental property. Consider these potential situations:

  • Self-inflicted damage: Tenants are accountable for repairs if they accidentally cause damage, such as breaking a window or putting a hole in the wall.
  • Neglect or carelessness: Costs arising from tenant negligence, like failing to report a worsening leak leading to ceiling damage, fall on the tenant.
  • Routine maintenance: Tenants are expected to handle non-emergency maintenance, like changing burnt-out lightbulbs, unclogging drains, or replacing air filters.
  • Cosmetic alterations: If tenants choose to make cosmetic changes, such as painting a room a different color, they bear the costs and must restore the room to its original state upon moving out.
  • Lease conditions: Tenants should adhere to the lease agreement's specifications, primarily if it outlines specific repair responsibilities.
  • Unauthorized modifications or pet damage: Costs from damages caused by unauthorized pets or alterations to the property, like removing a built-in shelf, are the tenant's responsibility.

Payment for repairs by the tenant can either be made directly to the landlord or deducted from their security deposit.

Protect yourself against unnecessary repair costs

Proactive measures can help landlords and tenants avoid costly repairs and maintain a smooth renting experience. You can protect yourself from unexpected financial burdens by following these tips:

For landlords

Regular maintenance and inspections

Conduct inspections regularly to pinpoint potential maintenance issues early. Prioritize routine maintenance tasks, including:

  • HVAC system servicing
  • Gutter cleaning
  • Pest control

Address maintenance concerns promptly to prevent them from becoming larger, more expensive problems.

Clear communication and documentation

Maintain open communication with tenants about their maintenance and repair duties:

  • Document every interaction, ranging from repair requests to agreements.
  • Keep an organized record of the property's maintenance history for future reference.

Tenant screening

Screen potential tenants thoroughly by:

  • Checking references.
  • Conducting background checks.
  • Verifying employment and income.

Opt for tenants with a track record of responsible behavior and property care.

For tenants

Prompt issue reporting

Inform the landlord immediately about any major repairs or maintenance issues. Offer detailed information about the problem to help the landlord address it efficiently.

Proper usage and care

Use property amenities, appliances, and fixtures as intended. Follow maintenance guidelines like:

  • Cleaning filters regularly.
  • Changing batteries as needed.
  • Avoiding overloaded electrical outlets.

Preventive measures

Implement steps to prevent potential damages, such as:

  • Using mats to safeguard floors.
  • Reporting leaks swiftly to avoid water damage.
  • Making sure the property remains tidy and well-kept.

Understanding lease terms

Review the lease, especially the clauses concerning maintenance and repairs. If any terms seem ambiguous, discuss them with your landlord to ensure mutual understanding.

Following these measures will help you reduce the risk of unnecessary repair costs.

Can landlords charge for repairs?

Landlords are generally responsible for repairs, but there are cases where tenants may be liable for damages caused by negligence or failure to report issues promptly.

To avoid confusion, landlords and tenants should communicate clearly so that both understand their respective responsibilities.

Acknowledge each other's roles to have a harmonious rental relationship.

Can a landlord make a tenant pay for repairs FAQs

What to do if the landlord fails to carry out the repairs on the property?

If the landlord doesn't handle repairs on the property, you can report the issue to the local housing authority, inspectors, or code enforcement authorities who can investigate and take action against the landlord if necessary.

What if a tenant makes unauthorized repairs?

Before making any repairs on the property, tenants should consult with the landlord. Making unauthorized repairs might violate the lease agreement, leading to financial consequences. This could mean a loss of the security deposit or, in severe cases, eviction.

Important Note: This post is for informational and educational purposes only. It should not be taken as legal, accounting, or tax advice, nor should it be used as a substitute for such services. Always consult your own legal, accounting, or tax counsel before taking any action based on this information.

Nichole Stohler

Nichole co-founded Gateway Private Equity Group, with a history of investments in single-family and multi-family properties, and now a specialization in hotel real estate investments. She is also the creator of NicsGuide.com, a blog dedicated to real estate investing.

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