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Maintenance Issues That Are Your Tenant's Responsibility

There’s so much to learn about tenant-landlord laws and if you’re new to landlording, it can be difficult to know exactly where to start. Investment properties can present you big earning potential, but the headaches can be just as big too if you’re not working within the law. The roof you put over your tenant’s head comes with certain guarantees and assumptions. And that’s really only half of the equation.

How do you draw the line when determining who’s legally responsible for upkeep of your rental? That depends on what state it’s located in and what the landlord-tenant laws are in that area. When a maintenance request is made by a tenant, it may be your obligation to fix the problem immediately in one county and within a month’s time in another. So check in with your real estate attorney and be sure your lease’s terms conform to state and local laws.

If your tenant damages your property beyond the limits of normal wear and tear, they may be liable for repairs. But sometimes that damage comes in the form of neglect. Take a look at these tips to get a better understanding of maintenance issues that are your tenant’s responsibility. And build a lease that clearly defines your expectations and the penalties that can result if they're not met.

Tenant Maintenance Obligations

Your tenant’s primary duty is to treat your rental reasonably. The way they live in your space can make or break their side of the lease agreement’s terms. Sometimes it’s their day-to-day housekeeping that breaks the contract. Other times, the tenant’s negligence is what tips the scales.

It’s important for you to define these duties clearly in your rental agreement so the tenant knows how they’ll be held accountable. Here are a few key tenant maintenance responsibilities to include in the terms of your rental lease:

Require immediate contact when property damage is imminent. If an issue is discovered by the tenant, like a pipe freezing and bursting under the kitchen sink, there’s no time to lose. They’re to contact you as soon as they discover the issue. Any delay may constitute neglect, and by wording it that way in your lease, you may be able to recover the costs of repairs by charging the tenant.

The tenant agrees to use appliances properly. It can be difficult to spot abuse or neglect when it comes to issues with in-rental appliances. Even normal wear and tear will eventually require your appliances to be serviced and replaced.

But when a tenant’s neglecting the equipment you leave on site, your whole rental’s wellbeing can be at risk. For instance, if the tenant’s not regularly removing the lint from your dryer, it could overheat and permanently damage the unit or even cause a fire. On the other hand, if they’re not abiding by your washing machine manufacturer’s recommendations, their neglect could cause serious water damage.

One way to approach this issue is to spell out what constitutes neglect on a per appliance basis in your lease. Discuss fines and the potential for eviction when a certain threshold is reached.

Lawn mowing and snow removal. If your lease that requires the tenant to cut the lawn and shovel snow as necessary, be clear in your expectations. If you want the lawn cut once a week during the summer, say so.

Tenant Maintenance Terms to Include in the Lease Agreement

Once you’ve selected a tenant and you’re ready to sign, ask them to review the whole lease and use the signing as an opportunity to review any questions the tenant may have. Be sure they’re clear on the role they play as a tenant and spend time walking through the agreement, summarizing each section. Here are some common tenant maintenance terms to consider including in the lease agreement:

Build your lease to insulate your investment. Include terms in your lease that focus on keeping the place tidy and promptly removing any hazards from the property — both within the unit and in common areas.

The tenant has to dispose of their waste. They’ll need to throw out their trash as on a regular basis. Discuss their responsibilities to move the garbage cans to the curb if required as well.

The tenant must keep the space free from pests. In order to reduce the likelihood of rodent or insect infestation, the rental should be kept clean and hygienic. If they don’t manage their trash and rodents find their way into your rental property, you may have cause to charge them for exterminator or abatement services by including terms like these.

Discuss the intended use of the septic/sewage system. Although many things can be flushed down the toilet, many shouldn’t be. Make it the tenant’s responsibility to ensure that only certain types of waste enter into the septic or sewage system. When a foreign object locks up the plumbing for your rental, you may be able to charge the tenant for the service call required to remedy the issue.

Health and safety issues must be reported promptly. When a sensor like a smoke alarm begins to malfunctioning or starts to chirp regularly, it’s the tenant’s duty to contact you. It’s recommended that you replace batteries yourself and that a log is kept and updated regularly. That way, if an incident were to occur, you’d at least be sure that the unit was functioning properly.

Prevent mold from accumulating. When mold or other overly humid conditions persist indoors, mildew often follows. By requiring tenants to clean mold off of walls prior to move out, you’ll be able to charge them for the time and materials required to restore the space if they don't.

Make a “Tenant Responsibilities Rider” for Your Lease

Sometimes, important rental agreement terms and clauses can get lost in the dense legal language of the agreement. By attaching a rider to the lease, you can point to documentation that clearly outlines tenant responsibilities in plain language. Spell out the actions you’ll require tenants to take and require them to sign the rider as well.

The Importance of Landlord and Renters Insurance

If your rental’s damaged by the tenant, who’s going to pay for the restoration of your rental when they can’t, or won’t? By requiring your tenants to have renters insurance you’re not just helping them protect their personal property. You’re also placing a safety net around your belongings that are left on site for tenant use. The renters coverage they’ll purchase can help them pay for that damage when they only have to cover the deductible.

Because this is one of the largest investments you’ll make, you’ve insured your rental property carefully. American Family Insurance’s suite of landlord insurance coverages can be fine-tuned to insure your rental to your property’s needs. Contact your agent today and review your policy to be sure you’re fully covered. After you do, you’ll find the peace of mind you’re only able to get when you know your finances are well-protected.

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