Updated September 2, 2021 . AmFam Team
You may recall a term in your lease agreement, “A reasonable amount of time for landlords to make repairs.” But what does it mean? The answer varies on the gravity of the situation. We’ve put together a list of important tips that will help you understand and triage tenant repair requests so you’ll know how long you’ve got to fix the problem.
Refer to state laws and local codes that may mandate what a reasonable amount of time is in your area. Because responding in a timely manner to issues is so important, the landlord’s response time is typically escalated with issues that pertain to the safety and security of the rental. Concerns about appliances and the overall condition of the unit may also merit such an answer. When issues occur with these systems, a quick response may be in order:
General safety is threatened. The landlord’s obligated to observe health codes and building codes — and abide by state and local rules that govern them. They’re also responsible for ensuring the building and rental unit is secure and lockable. Furnace exhaust lines need to be properly vented. Carbon monoxide detectors and smoke alarms should likewise be installed and in proper working order. State and local building codes need to be observed here, specifically.
Critical items are not operational. The HVAC, plumbing and other vital systems are typically the landlord’s responsibility to maintain. When an issue occurs with one of these critical items and they fail to work correctly, the landlord may be required to take prompt action.
There’s a decreased “warranty of habitability.” When problems arise with the life-supporting systems of the building or housing, it may be time to act fast as well. The property must have heat during certain months, running hot and cold water, be structurally sound with a roof that keeps the elements out and keeps tenants safe. These items should be in good working order, operating safely and in accordance with uniform commercial codes and state and local housing codes. When they're not, landlords have to respond with quick, decisive actions to remedy the issue.
There’s damage to the exterior of the rental property. Suppose some kids are playing nearby and a ball goes through your window. Your landlord will usually take responsibility for funding the repairs, as issues like these fall under the landlords insurance policy covering the place. Since the elements can potentially infiltrate through the broken window, fast repairs can save your unit from water damage or other problems.
Use these steps to understand how critical your tenant problems are. If it’s not that urgent, you’ve typically got more time to deal with problems, usually around 30 days. Either way, keep the communication lines open and work to resolve the dilemma at your earliest convenience — your tenants will appreciate it. Here are some tips to help you keep the peace with tenants when issues arise, and time to repair may be a few weeks out:
Triage the situation quickly. Part of your job as a landlord is to get to the root cause of an issue quickly because sometimes one small problem can spawn other big ones. Get onsite when possible, or ask the tenant to send photos/video to visually assess the condition. When possible, get permission to enter the property, but know that if an emergency is eminent you may be able to enter the property to attend to problems. Refer to your lease agreement for specifics.
Make a plan. After determining the extent of the damage or complexity of the problem, get the tenant some news of how long you think it may take to fix. Let them know that you’re only estimating and you’ll have more details as the issue resolves.
Stay in touch. Provide your tenant frequent updates. It will keep them in the loop, and they’re going to see that you’re actively pursuing an answer to the issue. If the issue is squarely your responsibility, be sure to communicate to the tenant that you’ll be covering the expenses. And remember to follow up via email or text message so there’s a written record clearly indicating that you’ve attended to the tenant’s needs in a timely manner. It’s always good to reinforce that this is why you both share a rental agreement — that their security deposit is safe.
Tenants may have the right to take action if a serious problem like a code violation is not remedied and the landlord fails to take action in an appropriate amount of time. Certain states and municipalities allow tenants to make repairs themselves and then charge the landlord for expenses they paid out-of-pocket to fix the issue. Other provisions in the law offer tenants the right to deduct the amount of the repair from the rent, given that they’d contacted the landlord and no action was taken.
Getting repairs made in a quick and efficient way can be a lot to manage. And sometimes, the unexpected happens — surprising even the most seasoned of property managers. To better protect your investment and your business from circumstances like these, contact your American Family Insurance agent (Opens in a new tab) and request an insurance review to be sure you’ve got the protection you need. You’ll find real comfort knowing that your properties are well-protected.
This article is for informational purposes only and based on information that is widely available. This information does not, and is not intended to, constitute legal advice. You should contact an attorney for legal advice specific to your situation.