As a landlord, you are obligated to maintain your rental property and make it comfortable and habitable for your tenants. Some states have laws governing how landlords much keep up their rental properties, while others leave it up to the landlord how to care for his or her property.
Taking care of your property can generally be split into two categories: maintenance and repair.
Repair. When something breaks, malfunctions, or becomes inoperable, it is generally the responsibility of the landlord to repair it as quickly as possible. There are also repairs that are considered necessities of daily life, including running and/or hot water, heat, air conditioning, and proper ventilation.
Normally, a landlord is required to provide repair when the damage is not the fault of the tenant, such as a water line breaking, or other problem that was not caused by the direct action of a tenant. But even if the damage is deliberate, you will still likely have to repair the damage — for which you can bill the tenant.
For example, if a tenant knocks over a water heater, rendering it inoperable, it will still need to be fixed as quickly as possible. Since hot water is considered a necessity of daily life, this is not a repair that can be put off, even if the tenant is unable to pay for the replacement at the time. You may end up covering the costs of repair or replacement at first, and then working out a repayment schedule with the tenant over time.
If damage is done to the structure of the rental property, again, you will first need to determine who or what was responsible. If the tenant caused the damage, they will need to provide payment for the repair, but it is still up to you to coordinate the repair.
In some instances, a tenant may not inform you of a problem right away and then attempt to fix it and deduct the amount of the repair from the rent. Whether or not you allow the tenant to deduct the amount of the repair from the rent payment, make sure your tenants know that they are required to notify you of any damage or accidents in a timely fashion. If you are not aware of damage to your rental unit, you cannot meet your obligation to provide a safe and functional dwelling for your tenants.
If you have provided appliances, such as a stove, refrigerator, or microwave, it is typically your responsibility to repair these items if they break. You may wish to add a clause to your lease agreement limiting your responsibility to normal repair or replacement, unless the appliance has been damaged by the tenant.
Maintenance. You are responsible for general maintenance and upkeep of your property. Depending on the situation, this can mean something as small as keeping the lawn mowed or as substantial as paying for a new roof. You may wish to require your tenants to have an active role in the upkeep of your property, such as snow removal or mowing. If you require this from your tenants, you will need to state this in your written rental or lease agreement to ensure that there is no confusion over the tenant’s duties.
Some tenants may offer to handle general maintenance to a property in exchange for a reduction in rent. If you have only one rental property, this can be a relatively cheap and efficient way to maintain your property. You will need to weigh the frequency of needed maintenance to the property to determine how much of a discount on the rent you can offer.
If you have several rental properties or do not have the time to provide necessary repairs and maintenance, you may need to outsource these duties. You can contact a property management company skilled in providing these services, or you can hire a maintenance worker to handle any problems. In a large apartment complex, you may need to provide a living arrangement for your repair person to ensure that any problems are handled in a timely fashion.
With proper preventive maintenance, your rental property should not require excessive repairs over time. However, it is still a good idea to make plans ahead of time to deal with any necessary repairs or maintenance problems.