With any property comes regular wear and tear, but with those with tenants, proper maintenance and repairs should always be regarded with the utmost importance. Ignoring damage can cause your property to quickly deteriorate and you may even find yourself in an expensive lawsuit if the damage affects your tenants. Because of these consequences,s it’s important that you set up a comprehensive system for receiving and responding to maintenance and repair requests.
Streamline the process and document everything
First and foremost, you must ensure that your tenants know what to do if maintenance and repairs are needed in their unit. Maintenance requests ensure that you fix issues in individual rental units so that they remain fit dwellings for your tenants to inhabit. You should make the request process clear to your tenants at the time of their lease signing; include your policies in writing with their rental agreement. The rental agreement should also include the best phone number for your tenants to use if they have a non-emergency maintenance request, as well as the proper phone number used for maintenance emergencies.
When they move in, your tenants should be made aware of what maintenance they are responsible for completing and the maintenance that you will take care of. This should be clearly stated in the rental agreement. Communicate clearly to the tenants which items will come out of their security deposit if damaged. If your tenant does request repairs on an item that will be covered by the security deposit, inform them of this prior to making any repair.
You should properly document all requests in writing. In order to protect yourself from lawsuits, require your tenants to submit a written maintenance request for all non-emergency situations. You can provide hard copies of the form for tenants to give to you, or require your tenants to submit requests online to streamline the process. The request form should have useful information the tenant will need to know and should be specific as possible about the problem. Lastly, all written requests should require the tenant to note the date and time that they have made the submission; this will ensure that you respond within the necessary time frame.
In many emergency situations, the tenant will make a maintenance or repair request over the phone. Don’t assume that just because you have taken the request verbally that you cannot keep a written record of the submission; instead, make a written note of the time and date of the conversation. Because you must respond to emergency requests as soon as possible, this written documentation will be invaluable evidence should you end up in a lawsuit.
You should always inform the tenants of your estimate time for when the repair will be completed. Provide them with the time and date in writing, if possible, or make a written note of any verbal confirmation you do provide to tenants.
After the repair is completed, make sure that the tenant signs a statement that the work was, in fact, completed and addressed in the amount of time previously specified. Include the date on this statement, so that your tenant cannot claim that you failed to fix their problem in a timely manner. In addition, the repairman/woman should provide you with a signed written document that details all of the work that has been completed.
You can avoid potential lawsuits and serious repairs by being proactive about your property’s maintenance. The following can quickly and easily be completed in order to maintain a habitable property and minimize extreme damage:
- Check your roof and siding for visible deterioration and make repairs before your tenants complain about leaks
- Fix gutter leaks in order to prevent severe erosion and damage to your property’s foundation
- Watch for repeat maintenance requests from different tenants to identify potentially larger repair problems
- Replace lights in community spaces at a set time rather than when they individually burn out
- Do not rely on “band-aid” solutions that ignore reoccurring, larger problems
Tracking all maintenance and repair requests is an important element of staying ahead of maintenance and repairs. Review your data frequently, and flag tenants who seem to make requests exceedingly or frivolously; you may notice that certain tenants are costing you money and time. If you do find yourself with a tenant who repeatedly submits frivolous requests, consider offering to terminate their lease early so that you can find a better replacement.
With this in mind, you should also be aware of the repairs that you are NOT responsible for. As a landlord, you are not responsible for replacing smoke detector batteries inside of a unit, removing garbage from a unit, or damages caused by the tenants or their guests. However, if a tenant does cause damage to a unit, you should make repairs only after charging the tenant a fee for the damage.
Decide: Outsource or in-house?
If you’re a small property owner or the manager for your own property, you may think that you can perform repairs all on your own. That may be the case for clogged toilets and other small repairs, but you should ask yourself if you can reasonably expect to be able to fix more serious problems like leaking roofs or foundation erosion. Therefore, you should evaluate your abilities as a handyman/woman and decide if you will plan on handling requests in-house, outsourcing them, or relying on a combination of the two.
One option is to hire a professional property management company to work on your property. Professional companies will have a team of handymen to fix any problems that your tenants report, both big and small. However, property management companies will require you to pay multiple salaries even if there are no maintenance or repair requests made. Although this is the most convenient option, it is also the most expensive.
You can also outsource maintenance and repair requests for each individual issue a tenant reports. For example, you’ll hire a plumber if a pipe bursts and an electrician for faulty wiring. By doing so, you will avoid paying monthly salaries and will only have to cover the costs of the repair. If you opt to outsource repairs on a case by case basis, you should identify reputable repairmen and contractors before damage takes place. In addition, you should make sure you know their availability especially on late nights and weekends should an emergency occur. The only thing worse than a broken hot water furnace is not having a repairman to fix it.
As the landlord, it is your legal responsibility to make sure your properties are “habitable;” therefore you must fix any damages that keep your units from being considered habitable. This generally includes plumbing and heat problems, broken appliances that you provide, and structural issues. The law requires that you address any heat and plumbing problems within 24 hours of being notified, while other non-emergency repairs must be addressed within 48 hours. Other high urgency requests that you must address in order to maintain habitability include extended lack of hot water, serious leaks, clogged toilets, gas smells, and safety issues like broken locks or windows.
If you fail to make the repairs requested in a reasonable period of time, you may incur a variety of consequences depending on state and city laws. Your tenant can legally elect to withhold rent or pay less rent until repairs are made, depriving you of your stream of income. If you ignore requests for an unreasonable amount of time (usually more than 2 days), the tenant can hire an outside party to make the needed repairs and then deduct the cost of the outsourced work from their next rent check. Your tenant can also contact the local authorities if the maintenance problem violates building and/or health codes for the area. Should an inspector visit your property and find any problems, you will not only be required to immediately fix the problem, but you will also likely incur hefty fines for violating the law.
Because ignoring repairs is likely in violation of your rental agreement with the tenant, they may move out and are legally allowed to end their rental agreement; this can also lead to a constructive eviction lawsuit where you may be held responsible for paying various money damages to the client. Based on the extensive rights granted to your tenants, you should never ignore requests and should respond as soon as possible.
There are also specific laws pertaining to your entrance into the tenant’s unit to perform maintenance or repairs. The laws vary from state to state, but most laws require that you provide your tenants with at least 24-48 hours before entering their residence. However, landlords are legally allowed to enter a rental property at any time, without notice, if you need to make an emergency repair. Violating these laws will leave you open to a lawsuit; your tenant may sue you for harassment should you enter their dwelling to make a simple repair without giving them proper notice.
Make sure that you are aware of all laws and prepared for any utility situation that may occur, so that your tenants are satisfied and safe.