Property repairs are usually not cheap. If you’re a renter, it can be easy to find yourself in a dispute with your landlord trying to determine who is responsible for repairs, damages, and maintenance costs.
If you own your home, you are responsible for any damages that occur, no matter the cost. However, rental properties are not that simple. Sometimes, landlords are responsible for repairs; other times, the responsibility falls on the tenant’s shoulders.
As either a tenant or landlord, the best way to protect yourself from unexpected costs is to understand your rights, especially when it comes to the most commonly asked questions regarding damages and repairs to rental properties.
Can a landlord make a tenant pay for repairs?
In most jurisdictions, landlords are responsible for ensuring their rental properties are in habitable condition. Properties must meet the minimum standards for health and safety as established in local housing codes.
Landlords must meet certain standards to comply with housing codes. Often, these standards include:
- Plumbing: Broken toilets, water leaks, and other plumbing issues can be unsanitary and cause water damage.
- Heating systems: Depending on where you live, a broken radiator can make your home incredibly uncomfortable and potentially dangerous.
- Pests: Bed bugs, cockroaches, and mice can be distressing and may pose many health hazards.
- Electrical systems: Faulty and crossed wires are fire hazards.
When damages or issues affect a rental unit’s liveability, it is the landlord’s responsibility to fix these damages at no cost to the tenant.
Landlords are also responsible for repairing (and sometimes replacing) damaged items or appliances that are in the lease agreement. This usually includes dishwashers, ovens, and washing machines. A tenant pays to live in the unit as the Lease Agreement describes it. If the unit is not as described, it is the landlord’s responsibility to make it satisfactory.
However, landlords aren’t always required to fix certain damages, like cosmetic issues that don’t affect the safety of the property. For instance, landlords may not be responsible for repairing stained rugs, small holes in the wall, or dripping faucets. And if the tenant causes damage, they will likely have to cover the cost of repairs.
Can my security deposit pay for repairs?
A security deposit, also known as a damage deposit, is a financial deposit a tenant pays to cover any damages they cause to the property during their occupancy. Landlords may also use the deposit to cover any rent payments their tenants have failed to make. At the end of a tenant’s occupancy, if there are no damages and all rent is paid, the deposit is returned to the tenant.
Often when a tenant moves into a property, the landlord will fill out a Rental Inspection Report to record the unit’s condition. The landlord should complete another inspection when the tenant moves out to assess any damages that happened during the tenant’s lease. If needed, the landlord deducts money from the security deposit to cover any damages found during the inspection—except when the damages qualify as ordinary wear and tear.
Over time, everyday activities cause ordinary wear and tear, even when the tenant takes reasonable care of the property. These kinds of damages are the landlord’s responsibility to fix. Cracked linoleum, calcium buildup on sinks, and worn-out carpet are all examples of ordinary wear and tear.
“A landlord can’t use your deposit to pay for basic cleaning, but if you leave trash all over the apartment, food rotting in the fridge, and a layer of grime in the bathroom, your landlord will definitely deduct cleaning costs from your deposit.”What Can a Landlord Deduct from Your Security Deposit?
How do I request a repair to my rental property?
As a tenant, if you require a repair on your property, you must inform your landlord or property manager. The best way to do this is by using a Repair Notice: a document that notifies your landlord that the property needs maintenance. If you notice damage to your rental property, it’s important to notify your landlord as soon as possible to avoid blame for damages that aren’t your fault.
Landlords must address a repair notice in a reasonable timeframe, which is usually around 14–30 days after the notice is received. If your landlord fails to address the issue within the appropriate time, you may need to contact your local housing agency or file a claim for breach of contract.
However, in the case of an emergency (such as a major flooding), landlords must repair the damage as soon as possible. In cases of flooding, more damage can occur if the landlord doesn’t handle the issue within a reasonable time.
As a renter, if there is neglected damage to your home, you can’t stop paying rent or deduct repair expenses from your rent payment on your own accord. This is a breach of the lease agreement and reasonable grounds for eviction.
Handling repair issues in a rental property
As a tenant, it’s important to review your rights and know which damages are not your responsibility to cover. In order to stay well-informed, familiarize yourself with your rights regarding deposits, repair costs, repair requests, and other issues. The better informed you are, the less likely you are to find yourself stuck in a bad rental situation.
For more, read our FAQ: What are My Rights as a Tenant?