Maintaining a property is important to any investment and normally the property owner’s responsibility. However, there are times when the tenant could be responsible and that may be difficult to determine.
Habitability is essential
Even if landlord and tenant sign an agreement in writing that the tenant is responsible for ALL maintenance, no owner can hold a tenant responsible for all repairs, This evolved from the Uniform Residential Landlord Tenant Act (URLTA), which established that landlord’s must provide “habitability” for all tenants. Using this as a basis, courts have passed down many judgments against owners who have tried to use a written rental agreement to avoid their responsibilities.
This act, however, does not mean that a tenant cannot be responsible for any damage that caused “inhabitability.” Property owners must prove the tenant caused the damage prior to charging them for the repair. In addition, it is a mistake for owners to withhold a repair until the tenant pays, particularly when it affects habitability. Make the repair in a timely manner, then charge the tenant, seeking legal methods, if necessary, to obtain the damages.
Here is an example. A resident, Mrs. Wilson, placed a frantic call to her Property Manager because the toilet was overflowing and flooding the upstairs bathroom. The manager calls for a plumber to go to the property immediately. He resolves the problem and stops the flooding, but discovers that Mrs. Wilson’s son, Timmy, dropped a small toy truck in the toilet where it became lodged, causing the blockage and damage. The Property Manager acted responsibly on behalf of the owner by quickly calling the plumber to resolve the problem. However, the Property Manager charged the tenant, Mrs. Wilson, with the plumbing and repair bills, which Mrs. Wilson then paid, reimbursing the owner.
What is a reasonable tenant repair?
There is maintenance that property owners can require of residents, such as replacing light bulbs, keeping the residence clean, changing the smoke alarm battery, cleaning the trash receptacle, picking up debris, landscape care as agreed in writing, etc. This falls under “reasonable care of the property,” and is contained in the rental agreement. It is the tenant’s residence and while living there, they should maintain it in a clean and orderly manner.