Which maintenance responsibilities may be included in a Lease Agreement?
A Lease Agreement may outline what type of repairs or maintenance a tenant may do on their own. This often includes very minor maintenance, like changing light bulbs, smoke detector batteries, or air filters. When renting an entire home, rather than a single unit in a multifamily property, leases sometimes include more significant duties like landscaping, snow removal, and clearing clogged pipes.
Generally, landlords are responsible for the following:
- Plumbing, heating and air conditioning. The landlord must keep these systems in working order, as fixing any of them qualifies as a major repair. A lease may, however, assign responsibility for keeping pipes clear and replacing air filters as necessary to the tenant.
- Sprinkler systems, fire alarms and carbon monoxide detectors. Such safety measures must be kept in working order by the landlord, but the lease may assign responsibility for replacement of batteries to the tenant. Note that some landlords may provide tenants with batteries upon request, or annually, rather than risking a tenant not changing the batteries in a smoke detector.
- Exterior door and window locks. State and local laws typically require a landlord to maintain all exterior doors and windows. If these do not operate, or lock, properly, it can be a significant safety risk.
- Management of known toxins. Federal law requires landlords to warn tenants of the presence of lead paint dust, asbestos and mold in the rental property. Additionally, a landlord must manage such toxins to ensure they do not pose a health danger to tenants.
- Appliances. If the lease includes mention of an appliance or feature, such as an air conditioner, dishwasher, or washing machine, the landlord must keep it in working order. If the tenant causes damage to the appliance, however, the landlord may deduct the amount paid for repairs from the security deposit.
- Pest control. The landlord also must take responsibility for problems with pests, but the tenant must keep the property sanitary as to not invite infestation. If the tenant does not keep a clean home, the landlord may deduct the amount paid for extermination from a tenant's security deposit.
- Landscaping. Who holds responsibility for maintenance of the rental property's lawn and other greenery, or for snow removal, could fall on the landlord or the tenant. Ultimately, though, the landlord has responsibility for an unmaintained property if it violates local laws or a homeowners' association rules. If the landlord assigned landscaping to the tenant in the lease, though, the landlord may pass on any fines to the tenant.
- Common areas. The landlord must keep all common areas of a multifamily residential property safe and clean, providing appropriate trash receptacles and arranging for regular pickup. Elevators and other common-use systems also fall under a landlord's area of responsibility.
What is the procedure for requesting maintenance?
A landlord may not be able to do anything if they do not know there is a problem. This means that tenants are required to let their landlord know when maintenance or repairs are required inside their unit, or around their property. In multifamily properties, landlords, however, may want to regularly inspect the common areas for wear and tear, and fixtures that need to be replaced or repaired.
Residential Lease Agreements typically include procedures for requesting maintenance, both major and minor. The landlord may request that all repair and maintenance requests be submitted in writing, or the lease may instruct the tenant to call a management company with any requests. The landlord also may request that the tenant coordinate and pay for any approved minor repairs, the cost of which may then be deducted from the next month's rent.
How do I resolve a maintenance or repair request?
Significant maintenance or repair requests, like a faulty heater or air conditioner, must be addressed in a reasonable amount of time after a landlord is notified of the problem. The amount of time that is considered reasonable may vary from one state or city to another, and the time of year. If a landlord delays fixing something that makes a unit unlivable for too long, they may face legal consequences including fines, or paying a tenant’s relocation costs, if a tenant complains to the authorities.
The tenant, though, has a responsibility to let the landlord know of needed major repairs immediately. If the cost of the repair increases significantly because of inaction on the tenant's part, the landlord may deduct partial cost of the repairs from the security deposit per the lease.
The landlord has more leeway when it comes to resolving minor maintenance issues, like a broken icemaker in a refrigerator. Some cosmetic repairs, like chipped or scratched paint, may be put off until the tenant moves out.
Where can I find information about my area?
The local building or housing authority may provide general information to both landlords and tenants. City, county, and state government websites may also serve as excellent resources. However, there is generally no substitute for asking a lawyer about your specific situation.
Regardless of what is in the lease, state and local laws, as well as local building and housing codes, dictate much of where the legal responsibility falls for rental property maintenance. If you are a property owner, familiarize yourself with local landlord responsibilities, or ask a lawyer, before putting together your Lease Agreements. If you are a potential tenant, learning about both the landlord and tenant responsibilities before signing a lease can help you negotiate more favorable terms, and may protect you if something goes wrong.
If you have more questions about your responsibilities when it comes to maintenance and repairs for your rental, reach out to a Rocket Lawyer network attorney for affordable legal advice.
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.