How Tenants Can Help With Property Maintenance
Keeping Rental Property in Good Condition
As any homeowner knows, from the moment you buy a home, it becomes a never-ending process of maintenance and repair. Rental properties are no different and, often, due to their large size and numerous occupants, they require more constant tender, love and care than single family homes. While landlords have a legal responsibility to keep their rental property in habitable condition, there are many ways tenants can help keep the property in good condition.
Learn the legal ways tenants must help with property maintenance, as well as the additional responsibilities tenants can agree to perform.
What Are a Landlord’s Property Maintenance Responsibilities?
Landlords are required to keep their rental property in a certain condition based on landlord tenant law. These maintenance responsibilities are focused on protecting the health and safety of the residing tenants. A landlord’s obligations focus more on providing, while a tenant’s obligations focus more on maintaining what they have been given. The requirements may differ slightly based on each state’s specific laws, but in general, landlords are required to:
Supply Proper Trash Receptacles:
It is the landlord’s responsibility to make sure tenants have somewhere to put their garbage. The size and number of these trash bins must be suitable for the number of tenants in the property and the number of times trash is collected per week.
For example, in a single family rental where trash is collected twice a week, one average sized 32-gallon garbage can may be suitable. In a three-family rental where trash is collected twice a week, you may need at least one 96-gallon sized trash can, possibly two, depending on the total number of tenants.
Many towns will also require landlords to build some sort of enclosure around these trash receptacles. Reach out to your local town to learn about these requirements.
Provide Running Water:
Every tenant must have the ability to access running water within their rental unit. This includes access to a functioning toilet, shower and sink. A working water heater must also be in place so that the tenant has the ability to get hot water.
Follow All Building Codes:
Landlords must provide a safe and healthy environment for their tenants to live. This is why there are specific building codes in place which dictate how landlords must create and maintain this safe and healthy environment. There are requirements for how many tenants can live in the property, placement of smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, plumbing work, electrical work, structural integrity of the property, mold issues, lead paint issues, asbestos issues and pest infestations.
Maintain Common Areas of the Property:
Landlords must keep common areas clean with working and appropriate lighting. They must also be safe. Any stairs must have a stable banister. Any flooring that could cause a tripping hazard must be fixed.
Landlords must make reasonable repairs to keep the property in habitable condition.
For example, if a tenant’s stove is not working, the landlord can pay to have the existing stove repaired. The landlord is not required to give the tenant a brand new stove. If a repair is necessary because of a tenant’s neglect or abuse, the landlord can charge the tenant for the cost of the repair.
Make Sure All Vital Services Are Working:
A landlord has the responsibility of making sure all plumbing, heating, electrical, gas and supplied appliances are in working order. If a tenant is responsible for paying their own utility bills, then it is the tenant’s responsibility to pay their bills so that their services, such as electricity and heat, are not turned off.
Legal Ways Tenants Are Required to Help With Property Maintenance
Tenants know that landlords have to keep rental property up to a certain standard.
However, many tenants may not even be aware that they themselves have legal maintenance responsibilities under landlord tenant law. Again, these can differ by state, but general requirements can include:
Keep Their Unit Free From Sanitary Hazards:
Tenants are required to properly dispose of their garbage and not let it pile up in their apartment as excessive trash could create a health issue. The tenant needs to keep the unit in a reasonably clean and sanitary condition to prevent pest infestations and breathing issues.
Keep Their Unit Free From Safety Hazards:
The tenant must make sure nothing is blocking any of the emergency exits from the unit. The tenant must not remove batteries from or otherwise tamper with smoke or carbon monoxide detectors.
Follow Building and Housing Codes:
Tenants must also follow the appropriate building and housing laws. For example, if the code says that a maximum of two people can live in a two bedroom apartment, the tenant must not try to sneak two additional people into the apartment after they have signed the lease. Not only is this a fire and safety issue, but it also creates more wear and tear on the property and likely higher utility bills, which can be an additional problem if the landlord is the one paying for utilities.
Prevent Mold Growth:
Tenants are responsible for preventing excess moisture from accumulating in their unit which could lead to mold growth. This could include always turning on the fan in the bathroom or opening the window when showering to prevent possible mold growth. If the tenant notices any areas of prolonged moisture or mold starting to appear, they need to report it to the landlord immediately.
Not Disturb Potential Lead Paint Hazards:
For property built before 1978, landlords can require tenants to contact them for permission before the tenant does anything that could disturb potential lead paint. This could include repainting the property or even drilling into a wall to hang a television.
Being Respectful of the Property:
Tenants are responsible for treating the property with care, maintaining a reasonable level of cleanliness and not being abusive or neglectful. This includes:
- Plumbing Fixtures: Tenants must keep all plumbing fixtures reasonably clean to prevent rust, soap scum buildup, mold or excessive dirt. All of these fixtures must also only be used for their intended purpose. For example, trash cannot be flushed down the toilet and cooking grease should not be put down the shower drain.
- Landlord Supplied Appliances: Similarly, tenants must keep all landlord supplied appliances in a reasonably clean condition. They cannot allow excessive grease to build up on and around stoves or rotting, spilled food to damage the refrigerator. These appliances must only be used for their intended purpose. For example, the tenant should not use the dishwasher to wash their tennis shoes.
- Not Damage the Property: This includes inside the tenant’s unit, as well as in all common areas of the property. Normal wear and tear on the unit is expected, but damage, such as a cracked countertop is not.
Additional Ways Tenants Can Help With Property Maintenance
In addition to the legal responsibilities tenants have to maintain rental property, there are additional ways your tenants can help with property maintenance. These tasks can be agreed upon separately between you and your tenant. In exchange for the additional maintenance responsibility, a landlord will often offer a tenant a reduction in rent.
Maintenance in Exchange for Reduced Rent:
Depending on the amount of additional responsibility the tenant is taking on, you can negotiate to reduce the tenant’s rent by a certain amount. Since rent is usually due at the beginning of the month, instead of allowing the tenant to pay less before any work has been done for the month, you can instead offer a credit toward the next month’s rent after the tenant has shown they have performed the agreed upon duties.
The amount by which you will reduce the rent is a number that both you and the tenant must agree to. For example, if the tenant is taking out the garbage for the property, you may feel that a rent reduction of somewhere between $20 dollars and $50 dollars a month is fair.
Additional Maintenance Opportunities:
1. Seasonal Maintenance: You can negotiate with your tenants to perform seasonal maintenance tasks. These usually have to do with the exterior of the property. It can be very helpful to have someone living at the property perform this task because you can be fined as a property owner if your grass is not kept at a certain level or if the snow is not shoveled within a certain amount of time of the snowfall ending.
You do have to be aware that as the property owner, you are still liable for any slips and falls at the property. If the tenant does not do a good job shoveling snow and someone slips on the ice, it is you, the landlord who will have to deal with a potential lawsuit.
Seasonal Maintenance Tasks Include:
- Cutting Grass
- Shoveling Snow
- Putting Down Salt for Ice
- Raking Leaves/Picking Up Branches
- Cleaning the Gutters
2. Take Out Garbage: You can negotiate for a tenant to take out the garbage and bring the pails back in when the garbage has been collected. This is especially helpful if you do not live close to your rental property. In many towns, you can be fined if you put the garbage out too early, and you do not want to have to stick around until seven at night just to pull a garbage pail out to the curb.
You are placing your trust that the tenant will take the garbage out on every scheduled pick up day so that it does not pile up, that they will not put it out too early in the day and that they know the schedule for special pick up days for bulky items so that you do not get fined for these items being put out the wrong day.
3. Keep Common Areas Clean: The tenant could become responsible for keeping all common areas of the property clean. This could include sweeping, vacuuming, mopping and keeping the area free from garbage or debris.
4. Report Problems Immediately: One of the best ways that tenants can help with property maintenance is to report anything that seems like a problem to you immediately. Since they are the ones who are living at the property on a day to day basis, they may be able to spot potential issues more quickly. It is better for you to check out the situation and have it be a false alarm than to discover a problem a year later when it has become a major issue.
5. Perform Repairs: You and your tenant can come to an agreement that the tenant is responsible for making minor, or even major, repairs if you feel comfortable with their skill level. This could be risky, so you may only feel comfortable if the tenant has an actual license to perform such work, such as a tenant who is a licensed plumber fixing a leaky sink or a licensed electrician fixing a faulty light.
Illegal Maintenance Requirements
It is the landlord’s responsibility to make repairs at the rental property or to have these repairs performed. You cannot put a clause in your lease which forces a tenant to be responsible for all maintenance and repairs in the property. It is a different story if you and the tenant mutually agree that the tenant is responsible for performing certain maintenance and repairs.
If a repair is necessary due to the damage or neglect of the tenant, then yes, it is the tenant’s responsibility to have the issue fixed. The landlord can have the problem fixed and then charge the tenant or the tenant can hire someone to fix the problem themselves.