January 23, 2012

Landlord vs. tenants: What you need to know about repairs

By Jessica Hickok, Special to Zillow

It can be extremely frustrating to tenants when the landlord has taken their sweet time to make a simple repair to the outlet in the kitchen that won’t work, or replace that dishwasher that died several months ago.  Minor home repairs are not uncommon in almost any kind of place you live in and the benefit of being the tenant is that most of the time it is the landlord’s responsibility to maintain and perform these repairs.  As the tenant, you may be agitated, but you should really think it through before you just take it upon yourself to make the repair.

Tenant’s Rights

In most states, the Landlord/Tenant Law outlines what kinds of repairs a tenant can make.  It depends on how long you’ve lived in the property, how many times you’ve pestered your landlord about making the repair, etc.  A lot of times, you can request that the landlord pays for the repair, but depending how the law is written, they may not have to.  Most of the time, even if the landlord does pay for the repair, the law states that it cannot be deducted from your monthly rent payment.  You will want to be cognizant of what the law states before you go ahead with the repair.  The law varies from state to state, so be sure to Google yours before proceeding.

Landlord’s Considerations

Now maybe as the landlord you are feeling indifferent to whether or not the tenant does a repair to your investment.  This is more than okay considering it’s your property and you can do whatever it is that you want with it.

However, there are a few items you should consider before giving the green light to your tenant to make the repair, improvement or enhancement to the property.

  1. Prepare yourself for DIY-type work.  Don’t expect complete professional craftsmanship, unless this is your tenant’s actual day job.
  2. Consider the items that your tenant would like repaired and ask yourself the question “will this require a permit?”  Many laws require that you file a permit (or pull a permit) with the city for any repairs or moderations made to electrical, gas, and your HVAC.  This often includes a replacement of a hot water tank. If you have to pull a permit, chances are you have to use a licensed professional to perform the work.
  3. Once you’ve agreed on what kind of work is to be performed, get it in writing.  Write up an addendum agreement to your lease or some sort of affidavit that states the scope of the work to be performed, who will pay for it and what kind of time frames the work will be done in.
  4. Whether or not you pay for it, as the landlord, the last thing you need to discuss with your tenant and put in writing is whether or not the repairs/modifications or enhancements made will remain with the home when the tenant vacates.

Remember, communication is key. If you feel like you are in a competitive game of tug o’ war in getting the repairs issues addressed, then be sure to document everything in writing.  Be courteous and patient with one another and it won’t be such a war after all.

Jessica Hickok is a REALTOR® Broker and Property Manager/Landlord with Dizmang Properties, Inc. (www.getpaul.com) in Springfield, Missouri. She can also be found on Twitter as @SugarCube.

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