How Long Does a Landlord Have to Make Repairs? A Guide for Landlords and Tenants
Picture this: It's the dead of winter. You're just getting home after a long day and excited to cozy up and get warm. Your place feels colder than usual -- you check the heater, and it's broken. Not only does this ruin your cozy plans for the night, but it also puts you at risk of getting sick. It might even make your home uninhabitable. What will you do?
Naturally, your first instinct is to call someone who can quickly fix this. For renters, this means contacting the landlord. Getting this repair made to their apartment has just become their main priority. The landlord might be juggling several tenants' issues at once, making it challenging to get to this tenant's issue as fast as they might like. On both ends, knowing how long a landlord legally has to make the needed repairs will go a long way in managing expectations and keeping everybody happy, healthy, and safe.
In this blog post, we'll cover repair time frames, the distinction between emergency, non-urgent, and tenant-caused repairs, and what both parties can expect if repairs fail to be made reasonably.
How long does a landlord have to fix repairs?
When a tenant experiences property damage that affects their day to day, the issue will inevitably stay at the front of their minds until it's addressed. The longer it takes the property manager to make the repairs, the more frustrated the tenant becomes. If enough time passes, the landlord can even face legal consequences for their negligence. For these reasons, a landlord or property manager should aim to fix an issue as soon as realistically possible.
Most states have guidelines for how long a landlord has to repair property damage, so consult your state's laws for specific time frames. Generally speaking, though, once a tenant reports an issue with a rental unit or apartment building, the landlord has three to seven days to address serious damage and thirty days for minor damage.
Following state laws, the amount of time a landlord will have to fix the damage depends on whether the issue is considered a critical or non-critical repair, which we'll cover in-depth below.
Major vs. minor repairs
Understanding the distinction between major and minor repairs will help both parties manage their expectations should issues with the property's condition arise. Major, critical repairs require an urgent response, whereas minor, non-critical repairs do not require immediate prioritization.
Major repairs typically involve issues that create uninhabitable living conditions, such as plumbing problems, heating/cooling malfunctions, or structural issues. These problems can either be contained within one unit, or they might be affecting the entire building. Whether 1 or 100 tenants are affected, concerns that pose health and safety risks demand immediate attention and are considered required repairs, as failure to act promptly can lead to severe consequences.
Significant issues in a property include damage to the following:
- Refrigerator: Because a fridge must remain on at all times, it gets old and stops functioning every few years. This being said, landlords should expect to receive a complaint about such an issue sooner or later. When a fridge breaks, a tenant's food will spoil, and they won't be able to keep perishable food at home until the issue's fixed, so a landlord should promptly arrange for a replacement.
- Water: Whether we're talking about hot water, drinkable water, or basic running water, all are essential to a rental's habitability. When the issue arises, always prioritize restoring water to a unit or building within two days at most.
- Electricity: Today, electricity is required daily for many reasons, from an air conditioning unit to a refrigerator and everything in between. Without it, a home is considered uninhabitable. Make sure to have electrical work completed promptly when necessary.
- Air conditioning and heating: A broken air conditioning system or broken heater may not seem essential to those living in temperate climates, but for those who live in states with extreme temperatures, such as Texas or Alaska, a functioning air conditioner and heater can save lives.
- Pests: Cockroaches, mice, rats, and the like can carry disease and potentially cause further damage to a property. When a tenant informs a landlord of a pest issue, the landlord must make arrangements with an exterminator immediately.
- Barriers to entry: Broken exterior doors, door locks, and windows pose an immediate threat to a tenant's safety, and as such, must be repaired promptly.
- Carbon monoxide detectors and smoke detectors: Functioning carbon monoxide detectors and smoke detectors are inarguably vital to a rental unit.
While these significant issues can disrupt your schedule and cause frustration, exercise empathy when approaching these situations -- fixing a tenant's problem quickly will not only help you avoid legal repercussions, but it'll improve their lives, enforcing a healthy and happy landlord-tenant relationship.
For non-urgent repairs, landlords typically have more flexibility regarding response times, as minor repairs don't seriously impede a tenant's quality of life. However, maintaining a fully functional rental property is important to the success of your business.
Make arrangements to attend to the repairs needed in a reasonable time frame and stick to them to keep your tenants happy. Addressing damages while they're still minor could help prevent further damage that might cost you more to repair down the line.
Examples of minor, non-critical repairs include:
- Broken cabinet handles
- Chipped paint
- A leaking roof
- Worn-down carpeting
- Normal wear and tear
Add routine maintenance to your business plan to maximize your success as a landlord. A good property manager responds to tenant maintenance requests in a reasonable amount of time, but a great one maintains the property proactively. Furthermore, proactive maintenance can help keep your repair costs down long-term, and who wouldn't want that?
For both the tenant and the property manager, having an open line of communication is important, especially when addressing maintenance requests. While each landlord has their own system, some are more efficient and legitimate than others.
For example, if a tenant's only option is to call their landlord and leave a voicemail if something goes wrong in their rental, there won't be much evidence of a report, and the voicemail may get lost in the metaphorical pile in the landlord's phone. On the other hand, if the tenant has a maintenance request reporting system available to them, both the landlord and tenant will know exactly where to go to make or fulfill a request. Furthermore, the reporting system will record what requests were made and when, which can be helpful in litigious circumstances.
Landlord's response time
Responding to maintenance requests, whether for emergency repairs or minor repairs, should happen in a reasonable manner and in a reasonable amount of time. The permitted time frame a landlord has to make repairs varies from state to state and depending on the severity of the issue, so stay up to date with your local laws. On average, most landlords have about 30 days from when the issue is reported.
Landlords must establish clear expectations for their response times to repair requests. Communicate with your tenants about how quickly they can expect a response and resolution.
Advance notice to access the unit
A landlord has the right to access a rental property to conduct repairs, but they must follow specific rules and provide proper notice to tenants. Typically, at least 24 hours' advance notice must be provided before entering a tenant's apartment. Still, a landlord may give a shorter advance notice, or even none, in emergencies. As with response times, the advance notice required varies from state to state, so consult your local laws.
In addition, some landlords may require tenants to be home to provide entry to the repair person, while other landlords will let the repair person in themselves. If either party has specific time constraints or prior engagements that prevent them from being in the unit during the repair, communicate that in advance so everyone can plan accordingly.
Damage caused by tenants
Many maintenance issues in a rental property result from normal wear and tear; however, a landlord will occasionally face circumstances in which a tenant damages the unit due to negligence or irresponsibility. If a tenant creates holes in the walls or breaks appliances, for example, it is the tenant's responsibility to repair and pay for the damage.
Who pays for tenant damages?
A landlord has several options for funding the repair cost of tenant damages, including:
- The landlord pays out of their pocket and adds the total repair cost to the tenant's next month's rent.
- Withholding some or all of the tenant's security deposit, typically equivalent to a month's rent amount.
- Asking the tenant to make and pay for the repairs themselves.
The role of the lease agreement
Leases play a significant role in defining repair obligations. A lease agreement specifies the responsibilities of both parties, outlines repair timelines, and legally binds the tenant and landlord to the duties contained within it. Thoroughly review and understand these terms before entering into a lease.
Once both parties have signed a lease agreement, an implied warranty of habitability goes into effect. With an implied warranty of habitability, the landlord promises to provide the tenant with a safe, habitable, clean, and functional rental unit.
The implied warranty of habitability provides a foundation for how a rental property should be maintained, and state and local laws build on this to hold landlords accountable. Each state and municipality has their building codes that landlords must adhere to. A rental property must stay current on various inspections, including those for plumbing, electricity, and fire.
If a building isn't up to code, tenants might be within their rights to withhold rent or take the landlord to small claims court. With that said, familiarize yourself with your area's landlord-tenant laws and remain vigilant in making repairs to avoid costly repercussions and keep your tenants safe and happy.
Steps tenants can take if repairs aren't made
Tenants have rights when it comes to repairs. If a landlord fails to address repairs in a reasonable timeframe, tenants will seek alternative remedies that, most likely, won't favor the landlord. These options vary from state to state but include:
- Withholding rent: If a unit becomes uninhabitable, the tenant might not have to pay rent while the repairs are made. The tenant can withhold rent in certain states until the property becomes liveable again.
- Repair-and-deduct: Tenants may pay for the repairs themselves and deduct the amount from the next month's rent if the landlord didn't make the repairs in the mandated time frame.
- Seeking legal action: A frustrated tenant might consult legal counsel. If a landlord loses in small claims court, they might owe thousands of dollars to the tenant as a result.
- Fleeing: A tenant might abandon the property if it's dangerous. Under specific laws, the tenant wouldn't be penalized for breaking their lease, and the landlord would take on the financial responsibility of the remainder of the tenant's lease.
As a landlord, you don't want to be in any of these situations. Have a transparent, organized system for tenants to report damages and respond to issues within the legally permitted time to avoid further problems.
Key insights: How long does a landlord have to fix damages?
Understanding repair timelines and responsibilities is crucial for both landlords and tenants. By fulfilling their respective roles, landlords can protect their investments and maintain positive tenant relationships, while tenants can ensure their living conditions remain safe and comfortable.
Remember, a well-maintained property benefits everyone involved in the landlord-tenant relationship. And, finally, as with every issue we face in life, communication goes a long way, so make sure to keep an open line of communication between you and your tenants.
How long does a landlord have to make repairs? FAQs
What are the repair laws for landlords in Washington state?
Under the Washington State Residential Landlord-Tenant Act, landlords are responsible for repairing any damages not caused by the tenant. They must keep the unit safe and clean.
If a unit no longer has running water, hot or cold water, or electricity, the landlord has 24 hours to remedy the situation. If a unit's plumbing, refrigerator, range, or oven has broken, the landlord must repair it within 72 hours. All other non-life-threatening issues have a 10-day repair window.
How long does a landlord have to fix something in New York State?
Although New York State housing laws do not mandate that landlords make repairs within a certain period, tenants have the right to sue a landlord for breaching the warranty of habitability.
Tenants also have the power to file a complaint against the landlord with New York State's Division of Housing and Community Renewal (DHCR), but this must be done between 10 and 60 days after notifying the landlord of the issue.