Whether you own a home or rent one, things eventually break, malfunction, or wear out. Generally, if a renter breaks something, they must pay to repair it. Minor repairs that are simple and inexpensive can be handled by the tenant. However, if something in the property breaks due to no fault of the tenant (like from normal wear and tear), the landlord is typically responsible for the repairs.

First Things First, Check the Lease Agreement

When questioning who is in charge of repairs, check the rental agreement. In most cases, the contract discusses which repairs are the landlord’s responsibility and which are the tenant’s. Landlords should make expectations about repairs crystal clear in the lease and should openly communicate their policies with potential tenants. This allows everyone to get on the same page and avoid unnecessary disagreements and subsequent tenant turnover

Additionally, as a landlord, you should let tenants know that they should not make major repairs themselves without your consent (and state such in the lease). Depending on the repair, you may prefer to use your own contractor or even do the work yourself, and simply send the bill to the tenant if it’s their responsibility. Finally, when creating a lease agreement, landlords should keep in mind that tenants have a right to habitable living conditions in every state. As a landlord, check your state laws on the matter to full understand what is expected of you.

When Should Landlords Pay for Repairs?

In general, landlords are responsible for anything that breaks due to age, normal wear and tear, or that presents a safety issue. Common repairs landlords should pay for include:

  • Pest infestation (unless it’s a direct result of tenant negligence)
  • Broken locks (only if the tenant is not at fault)
  • Plumbing issues
  • Electrical issues
  • Heating repairs
  • Visible mold

If a landlord refuses to make necessary repairs, tenants may decide to stop paying rent or take legal action. Depending on the state, if you don’t fix an issue that inhibits habitability within a certain time frame, tenants may have the right to make those types of necessary repairs themselves (or through a contractor) and deduct rent to pay for them, often referred to as “repair and deduct.”

As the landlord, it’s important to check with your state laws to see how quickly you need to make certain repairs. You’ll also want to assess the urgency of the situation. For instance, if something is making the rental property uninhabitable (e.g. a flood or broken heater), most states require that you respond and remedy the situation within a 24-hour period.

If the maintenance request doesn’t require an emergency response, then a 48-hour period should be appropriate. Keep in mind that the quicker you respond to requests from your tenant, the better the landlord-tenant relationship will be. After all, there are many benefits to keeping long-term tenants and it is your responsibility as a landlord to communicate openly with your tenant and help them when needed, especially when it comes to serious maintenance requests.

When Should Tenants Pay for Repairs?

Tenants are typically responsible for minor inconveniences and damages incurred themselves. Common repairs tenants should pay for include:

  • Damages cause by a pet, such as chewed blinds or soiled carpet
  • Burnt-out lightbulbs (an easy, quick fix you tenants can do themselves without contacting the landlord)
  • Any damage caused by the tenant or their guests (broken windows, doors, or appliances)
  • Stains or smells from smoking inside in a non-smoking unit
  • Any issue that was left for a long period of time without being reported, and therefore worsening a situation that could’ve been easily remedied if the landlord was notified in time

It’s best for tenants to abide by the terms of the lease and avoid any sort of damage to the property. However, things happen, and the tenant will be legally obligated to pay for the repairs for the damage they’ve caused. As the landlord, it’s important to encourage your tenants to communicate with you about repairs and responsibility. It’s better to know about damage when it happens than be surprised right before the tenant vacates (or immediately after).

Can landlords make tenants pay for repairs?

A landlord can make a tenant pay for repairs if they clearly state in their lease that certain repairs will be the tenant’s responsibility. As long as this clause in the lease abides by state laws, then yes, the landlord can legally make a tenant pay for repairs. If a tenant refuses to pay for repairs, then they will be breaking their lease, therefore it is within your right to start the formal eviction process. Keep in mind that the cost of repairs may be deducted from the security deposit. If the security deposit doesn’t cover the damage, you have other options to consider. However, it’s always best to have a calm discussion with tenants and give them their options before making any rash decisions.

What if a tenant makes unauthorized repairs?

Tenants should always consult with landlords before making a repair themselves to avoid accidentally breaking their lease, unless it is a minor fix like replacing a lightbulb. What tenants can and cannot do varies by state, so be sure to check your local laws. If a tenant makes an unauthorized repair, you will have to remedy the situation, such as making them pay for the repair. If the repair goes against the terms of their lease, you may have the choice to evict, depending on your state laws.

Communication Is Key

Most landlord-tenant disputes can be avoided with proper communication and documentation in the lease. By setting clear expectations upfront, landlords can set themselves and their tenants up for a successful lease (with hopefully few repairs). Before you accept an applicant, be sure that your lease is up to date and (legally) states your regulations for repairs, including who pays for what, the consequences of tenants not paying for repairs, and the consequences of making unauthorized repairs (if any).