Why should landlords and managers be diligent about maintenance?
There are many reasons for landlords to be diligent and generous when it comes to maintenance. Primarily, landlords want to keep tenants happy while protecting their investment property. Happy tenants lead to better tenants, which means tenants will feel they are getting good value, even when a landlord increases the rent. Additionally, offering free maintenance services for fixing routine problems like clogged drains or toilets can help prevent small problems from becoming larger issues that impact multiple tenants.
Landlords have a legal obligation to perform certain levels of maintenance. In some jurisdictions, this could be meeting minimum habitability requirements like working heat, hot water, plumbing, and extermination services. There may also be obligations under state or local law, or in the Lease Agreement, to take care of appliances like air conditioners and the kitchen stove. A lease is a legal obligation. It may call for specific maintenance or there may be an implied obligation to maintain amenities, meaning that when the air conditioning breaks, it must be fixed.
In some situations, not fulfilling maintenance obligations could be a breach of the lease agreement. When a landlord breaches the agreement, it may allow a tenant to break their lease or leave the landlord liable for damages or subject to fines. Not keeping up with maintenance could also hurt property value or lead to higher maintenance and repair costs to make up for past neglect.
What can be done about nitpicky tenants?
While most tenants are reasonable, nitpicky tenants are not uncommon. They may have unreasonable expectations about what a landlord should take care of, they may complain to gain an upper hand in rent negotiations, or they may be looking for a reason to break the lease.
When a tenant requests maintenance or a repair, a landlord must decide whether to fulfill the request. If the request is for something required by law or the lease, it will need to be done in a reasonable time. What constitutes a reasonable time will vary based on what’s needed and the impact to the living conditions.
If a tenant requests an upgrade, a landlord does not have to provide it. When landlords do make improvements, they generally pay for those costs and document the work on a Maintenance Report Form. However, improvements can be the basis for rent increases down the road.
When landlords believe a request is unreasonable because it is not required by law or the lease, they can deny the request. Some landlords may offer to do the work but with the understanding that the tenant will be charged. For example, if they don't like their oven but it works fine, a landlord can offer to upgrade it at their expense or if the tenant will agree to a rent increase. When a tenant agrees to pay for an improvement, a Lease Amendment can properly document that agreement. When landlords decline a request, they should explain in writing whether it is not required by law or the lease, and offer alternative solutions, such as the tenant hiring a handyman.
It can also be a good idea to have tenants use a Tenant Maintenance Request document to formally track requests. If a tenant does not like the resolution, a Complaint to Landlord form can document their objections and potentially lead to a workable compromise.
How to handle tenants that do not report problems or break things?
If a tenant does not report problems, it's important for landlords to find out why. Tenants may worry about increased costs, getting evicted, appearing difficult, or they may not think it's a big deal. In those cases, landlords should remind tenants that they will take care of things but need to be informed if something is wrong. For tenants that pose this risk, landlords may want to schedule annual inspections to be sure everything is okay.
In some cases, tenants avoid reporting problems which then leads to more damage, or worse, the tenants may intentionally be causing the damage. In those cases, a landlord may have a right to evict, retain the security deposit, as well as seek additional monetary compensation from the tenant for the cost to repair any damage.
Do I need to give a notice to enter in cases of emergency?
Even in an emergency, if there is time, landlords should first try to get in touch with the tenant by calling them if they aren't home. Generally speaking, landlords don't need to give notice to enter during bonafide emergencies, but before entering, they should always knock loudly, announce who they are and that they are about to enter in order to avoid surprises. If a landlord plans to allow workers into a tenants unit while they are not home and haven’t been reached, it’s a good idea to ensure those workers are supervised. In this scenario, landlords should consider only having workers do the minimum necessary to control the issue until the tenant has been notified.
For example, if a downstairs tenant reports a major leak from above that isn’t stopping, landlords typically wouldn't need to give 24 hours written Notice to Enter if the upstairs tenant where the leak is presumed to originate is not home or answering their phone. However, if there’s a way to fix the problem temporarily without entering, such as by shutting off the water to the unit from outside the unit, it may be wise to start there to give the tenant as much time as possible before entering.
It's a good practice for landlords to include language in every lease allowing them to enter in an emergency to protect their right to enter and to make tenants aware in case emergency repairs are ever needed. To get help with or to learn more about maintenance responsibilities as a landlord or property manager, reach out to a Rocket Lawyer On Call® attorney.
This article contains general legal information and does not contain legal advice. Rocket Lawyer is not a law firm or a substitute for an attorney or law firm. The law is complex and changes often. For legal advice, please ask a lawyer.