Maintenance being performed on shower

Maintenance Issues Landlords Should Handle

Updated January 1, 1 . AmFam Team

Knowing how to respond to tenant issues is a big part of a landlord’s job. If the problem is serious enough, you’ve got to act fast. Take a look at our tips on how to respond to tenant maintenance issues.

Owning a rental property means taking care of your real estate investment. But sometimes, issues arise that require a fast response. With a well-designed lease agreement, you can offer your tenants direction on how to contact you when issues arise. They’ll also have a better idea of which issues will require your immediate attention.

When it comes to making the call on maintenance issues, landlords should handle projects and repairs they feel well-qualified to perform – and you’re the best judge of your skillset.

When you also have an understanding of how landlord and tenant state laws and local codes play into the equation, you’ll have the information you need to take care of your tenant’s issues. And better yet, you’ll be working within the law as well.

Property Owner Responsibilities and Maintenance Requests

Landlords and property management groups are charged with ensuring that the living space of a rental meets livability requirements. From sealing out the elements to ensuring lights and outlets work in the space, they’re responsible for keeping it viable. When habitability issues are reported by the tenant, landlords may be legally obligated to act quickly and fix the problem. Here are a few things to consider when responding to habitability-related maintenance requests:

Triage the issue immediately. When the tenant contacts you, reply and ask for photos or video of the problem. You usually won’t have to be on site to get a solid understanding of what’s wrong.

Respond decisively. Call or reply to the tenant and tell them your plan to remedy the issue. Thank them for taking the time to reach out too. When tenants see you’re actively trying to solve their problem, they feel less isolated and may be more willing work with you.

Track all encounters. Be sure to document each time your tenant communicates with you. A spreadsheet is a good way to keep organized, but having a landlord maintenance management app like Zillow Rental Manager or Cozy on your phone is even easier.

Examples of High Priority Maintenance Issues

When you receive news of a problem from your tenant, you may be legally required to respond quickly to certain problems. This doesn’t mean you yourself have to fix the problem, it just means that you’ve got to contact someone that can resolve the issue for you, ASAP. Here are a few problems that could qualify as examples of high priority maintenance issues:

  • Loss of heat (in the winter) or hot water
  • Water leaking or flowing from a pipe
  • Clogged toilets
  • Problems with doors or windows not sealing or locking properly
  • Structural problems with the building
  • Severe weather’s impact on your property
  • Natural gas leaks or the scent of natural gas

Actions the Tenant Can Take Due to Landlord Inaction

Your lease should include actions you require your tenant to take when an urgent issue presents itself. But is the tenant covered if you don’t move quickly to safeguard their wellbeing? The short answer: yes. Even if your lease doesn’t specifically spell out those terms, state and local laws do. And there can be serious consequences when you fail to act in a timely manner.

Depending on where your rental’s located, your tenant may have more or less authority to act and make repairs if you don’t. Here are a few ways the tenant can attempt to remedy the issue when landlords take no action on high priority maintenance concerns.

The tenant can pay for repairs. When issues persist that threaten the habitability of the rental, the tenant may be within their rights to hire a contractor. They can then deduct the payments made to the contractor from the rent.

They can withhold the entire amount of rent due. Until the issue is resolved they may be able to halt rent payments altogether.

They can move out, and be held harmless. When habitability issues are significant enough, the tenant can elect to exit the lease. And if they win in court, they may not be required to pay on the remaining months of the lease. When a rental unit is not safe to live in, the whole lease may be voided.

They can invite the building inspector to review the issue. The inspector can then potentially cite your building as being in violation of a habitability code(s). They could order the tenant out, and you can be made to pay for comparable living accommodations until the space is made habitable again.

They can sue you. When a court finds that your inaction constitutes neglect, the tenant can sue you for annoyance, emotional distress and potentially punitive damages.

Stay Ahead of Problems With Preventative Maintenance

Owning a rental property will require you to invest in it, one way or the other. Either through the outright purchase and replacement of major appliances, or through the occasional inspection and maintenance of the space and it’s condition. Keep your property operating safely by maintaining your appliances, electrics, plumbing and other essential systems. Look in on your rental at least quarterly, you may find a small problem before it becomes a big issue.

By creating a plan of action you and your staff can routinely take when tenant issues arise, the tenant will feel recognized. And hopefully, the issue will resolve more quickly with a system in place. Be sure your staff also has an emergency plan of action strategy as well. Again, your tenants will see you’re invested in their wellbeing and that kind of tenant loyalty means a lot when their lease is up for renewal.

As you are building your maintenance schedule and fine-tuning your response plans, check in with your American Family agent (Opens in a new tab). You’ll find that additional business liability protection can help to further safeguard your investments and everything else you’ve worked so hard for.

Tools & Resources

Explore our tools and smart tips.