Maintenance Emergency 101: What Tenants Need to Know

Get what you need to know as a tenant to identify and properly handle a maintenance emergency in your rental unit.

Nichole Stohler
Last Updated
November 8, 2023
Maintenance Emergency 101: What Tenants Need to Know

Smell gas in your apartment?

See smoke coming from a vent?

Just got locked out, and it's freezing outside?

A maintenance emergency can be stressful and dangerous if not handled properly. As a tenant, it's important to know how to identify emergencies that require immediate action. Getting the situation addressed quickly can prevent further damage and even save lives.

Read on to learn what is considered an emergency, what steps to take, how to prevent problems, and key questions to ask to help you stay safe and handle maintenance crises effectively.

What is emergency maintenance?

Emergency maintenance refers to urgent repairs or issues that require immediate attention from the landlord.

These situations could harm you, cause damage to the property, or disrupt essential services like water, electricity, or heating.

What is considered a maintenance emergency?

When you encounter an emergency maintenance issue, you'll probably know it. These issues threaten your health and safety and affect your ability to live in your home.

Submit an emergency maintenance request to your landlord or contact the appropriate authorities if you are experiencing the below, which are all considered emergency maintenance problems:

  • No water: A sudden water loss can disrupt your daily activities. Without water, you will struggle to drink, cook and clean. The situation impacts your basic needs and demands immediate resolution.
    If you're experiencing a lack of running water, look for leaks, turn off the water if you find any, and if needed, call a plumber. If it's affecting your entire home, contact your landlord or water company for help.
  • Gas leaks: Gas leaks can pose extreme hazards. Breathing in gas fumes can cause dizziness, nausea, and even unconsciousness. Gas leaks also increase the risk of fire and explosion.
    If you ever smell gas or suspect a gas leak, you should get out of the building or area immediately. Don't use electronic devices, like light switches or phones, as they can spark and ignite the gas.
    Call your local gas company and inform them about the situation once you're at a safe distance. Do not go back inside until the professionals say it's safe.
  • Fire: Fires are one of the most serious emergencies that can occur in your home. They can spread rapidly, endangering your life. Fires can also cause serious property damage, leading to financial and emotional distress.
    If there's a fire, follow fire safety protocol. Leave the building as fast as possible. Once you're safely outside, call 911 right away to report the fire.
  • Flooding: Flooding can happen due to burst pipes or heavy rainfall. It can damage your belongings, furniture, and even the structural integrity of the apartment. If your apartment experiences prolonged exposure to water, it can also create a breeding ground for mold and mildew, which impacts your health.
    Contact your property management company or a plumber to fix the issue and prevent further damage. Move your belongings away from the water if you can, but remember to prioritize your safety. Don't stay in the flooded area for too long, and avoid touching electrical items in the water.
  • Carbon monoxide: Fuel-burning appliances like stoves, furnaces, and water heaters release this poisonous gas. Inhaling carbon monoxide can cause dizziness, nausea, headaches, and even death.
    Call 911 or your local emergency number to report the situation. It is important to detect and address carbon monoxide leaks promptly to protect yourself and your loved ones.
  • No electricity: Losing electricity can disrupt your daily routine and affect lighting, refrigeration, and communication. It can leave you without access to electronic devices, making it hard to stay connected and up-to-date with important information.
    Contact your landlord or local electric company to report the outage. While waiting for the power to come back, use flashlights or battery-powered lights for safety, and avoid opening the fridge or freezer more than necessary to keep your food from spoiling.
  • Malfunctioning smoke detector: A malfunctioning smoke detector compromises the home's fire safety measures. A non-functioning smoke detector may not provide early warning, leaving you at greater fire risk.
    Check and maintain smoke detectors regularly to verify that they are in proper working condition and give you time to evacuate safely in case of a fire.
  • HVAC system malfunction: A malfunctioning heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) system can affect your comfort and indoor air quality. Extreme temperatures can pose health risks, especially for vulnerable individuals.
    Regularly service and promptly address HVAC system malfunctions for efficient operation and a comfortable living environment.

Understanding what qualifies as an emergency maintenance issue will ensure you know when to act quickly to help keep yourself safe.

If you encounter any of these problems, report them to the apartment building management or emergency services so they can address the issues as quickly as possible.

What isn't considered emergency maintenance?

Knowing what's not an emergency issue in your rental is just as important as knowing what is. Understanding the severity of a maintenance concern allows both sides to manage their expectations accordingly -- for example, a tenant shouldn't expect a landlord to fix a leaky faucet overnight.

As a general rule of thumb, any maintenance concerns that don't pose an immediate threat to your health probably don't qualify as an emergency. We've provided examples of non-emergency maintenance issues below:

  • Leaky faucet: A leaky faucet may not pose an immediate threat but can waste water and increase utility bills over time. It can also lead to water stains, mold growth, and damage to fixtures if left unattended. Promptly report a leaky faucet for on-time repairs and to prevent further complications.
  • Clogged drain: A clogged drain can be frustrating and inconvenient. Ignoring it for a long time can lead to more severe blockages and potential water damage.
  • Broken window: A broken window can compromise the apartment's security and insulation, allowing drafts and potential pests to enter. You should address it on time to maintain a safe living environment.
  • Appliance malfunction: When an appliance such as a microwave or dishwasher malfunctions, it can affect your daily routine and make household tasks harder. Report this issue for timely repairs or replacements for convenience.
  • Minor electrical issues: A non-functioning light switch or a faulty outlet can inconvenience you and impact your daily activities. Alert maintenance about these issues so they fix them on time and prevent them from becoming bigger problems.
  • Cosmetic repairs: Cosmetic repairs, like minor wall damage, may not affect the apartment's functionality, but addressing them can help maintain your rental unit's appearance and quality.

Report and submit a routine maintenance request on time to mitigate the risk of these issues escalating into more significant problems and to facilitate an efficient repair process.

Non-emergency situations

Non-emergency situations, while important, do not immediately threaten your health or safety. Here are some examples of non-emergency maintenance issues:

  • Locked out of the apartment:
    Being locked out of the apartment can be frustrating, but it is not an emergency unless it poses a safety risk.
    If you are locked out, check with the apartment management first to see if they can assist you during normal business hours. Some apartments also provide emergency locksmith services but may charge a fee.
  • Noisy neighbors:
    Noisy neighbors can be bothersome, but this is not considered an emergency. While it may affect your quality of life, it does not immediately threaten your safety. Try to resolve the issue with your neighbors directly or report it to apartment management.

These issues should still be reported to the apartment management for resolution. Keep in mind that response times for non-emergency concerns may vary, and you can discuss the appropriate course of action with your landlord or property management.

Proactive maintenance tips

Being proactive in caring for your rental unit can save you from future, larger headaches.

Preventative measures to take include:

  • Clean drain covers regularly to avoid clogs.
  • Don't put hard foods in the garbage disposal to prevent jams.
  • Inspect window and door seals before winter to keep out drafts.
  • Regularly ventilate bathrooms and kitchens to deter mold.
  • Change HVAC filters for clean air and efficiency.
  • Inspect under sinks for leaks.
  • Store food properly to avoid pests.
  • Use cold water with garbage disposals and avoid grease.
  • Clean major appliances like ovens and dryers.
  • Only flush toilet-friendly items.

Maintenance emergencies

Maintenance emergencies can be stressful, but knowing how to handle them can make a big difference. Stay safe, communicate with your property manager, and get help from a professional when needed. Your safety is the top priority, so don't hesitate to call for help in an emergency.

Maintenance emergency FAQs

How long does emergency maintenance take?

Professionals can typically finish emergency maintenance within a few hours. In complex cases, the maintenance team may require specialists or parts, which can cause delays.

What is the difference between preventive and emergency maintenance?

Preventive maintenance involves regular inspections and tasks to prevent problems, such as checking leaks and changing air filters.

Emergency maintenance is for immediate attention to unexpected issues like fire or power outages, assuring tenant safety and comfort.

Will the tenant be charged for emergency maintenance?

It depends on the situation and the terms of your lease agreement.

In most cases, landlords are responsible for covering the cost of repairs during maintenance emergencies. Clarify this with landlords or property managers.

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, a blog dedicated to real estate investing.

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