The amount of time a landlord has to fix something depends on state, federal and local laws. The timeframe to fix critical items ranges from three to 30 days. However, to avoid further damage and keep happy tenants, landlords should be diligent and fix issues as soon as they occur.
Managing landlord repairs responsibilities can be demanding and time-consuming. To help landlords manage property maintenance, Avail, an online property management software, provides maintenance tracking to make it easy for landlords and tenants to address repair issues fast. Landlords can sign up for Avail on their website, and their first unit is always free.
Landlord Repairs & Responsibilities
Landlords have many responsibilities for maintaining and repairing their rental properties. Properties wear down over time, and there is also routine and preventative maintenance for things like cutting the lawn, having heating equipment cleaned, tuned, and inspected, and removing snow and ice. In addition to performing routine and preventative maintenance, unexpected problems occur and may need to be dealt with quickly.
Knowing which repairs are critical and need immediate attention and which ones can be addressed during routine inspections and scheduled maintenance will help landlords budget and plan for repairs while avoiding further property damage as well as potential litigation.
Some critical and non-critical repairs include:
Critical and Non-Critical Repairs
Critical Repairs (3 - 30 days)
Non-Critical Repairs (30 days or longer)
Hot water; Drinkable water
Heat during cold weather
Working bathroom plumbing
Inoperable ceiling fan
Smoke and carbon monoxide detectors
Inoperable TV cables
Door locks and window guards
Torn or missing window screen
Rodent and insect infestations
Stained or torn carpet or tile
Adequate ventilation systems
Drafty windows or doors
Squeaky floors or doors
Small appliances like microwave
Stairways and common areas
*If provided by landlord
Hot and Drinkable Water
Landlords are required to provide tenants water for drinking and bathing. Landlords don’t have to pay for hot water in most cases—it just needs to be accessible. In some states, if units have individual water meters, tenants can pay for their own hot and cold water. A dripping faucet is not considered a critical repair; however, landlords would want to fix this before it creates greater problems such as mold.
If a water heater breaks, the amount of time a landlord has to fix this issue varies by state and ranges from three to 30 days. However, to keep tenants happy, landlords should be diligent to fix water-related problems as soon as possible, understanding the time delay in scheduling a plumber.
Heat in Winter
Landlords need to make sure tenants have access to operable heating equipment during cold weather, making this a critical repair. If units are individually-metered, tenants typically pay their own heating costs. Boilers and furnaces should be cleaned, tuned, and inspected annually. Baseboard electric heat should not have drapes and furnishings touching them to avoid risk of fire.
If a heating system fails in cold weather, landlords can provide short-term electric space heaters and extra blankets until the repair is made. Although landlords typically have three to 30 days for most repairs, they shouldn’t wait 30 days. A non-critical heating repair would include a noisy radiator. It might grate on the tenant’s nerves, but it does not make the unit unlivable.
Working Bathroom Plumbing
Tenants need to be able to flush away waste, and shower or bathe, so non-functioning bathroom plumbing is a critical repair that falls within the Warranty of Habitability. Septic backup, toilets that don’t flush, and showers that don’t work all need to be fixed within a reasonable time—typically three to 30 days.
If the toilet is not flushing because the tenant clogged it, they may be responsible for the repair. Again, this depends on state and local laws, but most states support landlords regarding tenant-caused damage. If the tenant is responsible, and it is not a simple fix, a licensed plumber should be contacted and the landlord or plumber can bill the tenant.
Landlords need to make sure electrical systems are safe and operable. Tenants need to have access to lights and working outlets. Landlords typically need to provide ground fault circuit interrupter outlets (GFCI) within a certain distance of water sources, as dictated by building codes. This can vary, but GFCIs are often required for all outlets within 6 feet of a water source as required by the International Building Code.
A broken switch plate or outlet cover isn’t typically considered a critical repair, unless it exposes wires that could cause electric shock. Non-working ceiling fans and television cables are not emergency repairs, unless the cables cause a trip hazard or the ceiling fan is part of a major systemic electrical failure.
Smoke and carbon monoxide detectors need to be in working order and should be tested annually. If detectors are battery-operated, batteries should be replaced during the annual inspection. Depending on code and the building size, hardwired detectors may be required. Apartment complexes and large buildings often require sprinkler systems and fire extinguishers.
Tenants also need to be able to safely leave a building in the event of fire, so landlords need to make sure exits are not blocked, and upper levels have safe means of escape. Some states require buildings with two or more floors to provide emergency lighting in hallways and stairwells. Landlords need to check compliance regulations in their local zoning laws.
Door Locks & Window Guards
Providing doors and windows that lock is a key responsibility that landlords owe their tenants. Tenants need the ability to lock their doors and windows in order to protect themselves and their belongings. Upper floors also may require window guards to prevent a child from falling, but this will vary by state codes. A torn screen is not considered a critical repair unless it impacts tenant safety or health.
Rodents & Insect Infestations
Rodents and insect infestations are critical repairs since some of these pests may carry diseases, making a unit unsanitary. Though landlords should act quickly to control pest infestations, tenants should understand that pesticides and traps may take up to 30 days to completely eliminate pests.
Landlords can buy baits and traps or hire a pest control company. If a landlord DIYs pest removal, he or she wants to make sure to use EPA-approved pest control measures. The EPA regulates the safety of pesticides unless the ingredients pose minimal risk to humans. Product labels should otherwise contain the EPA-approved seal.
Rules regarding repairs of appliances vary by state. In many states, if a landlord provides appliances, the landlord is responsible to ensure the appliances are working. Landlords are not responsible for repairing appliances that tenants own themselves. Appliances typically only include refrigerators and cooking stoves and not small appliances like microwaves.
If the appliance can be repaired, landlords are not required to replace them. If the appliance is unrepairable, a replacement may be needed. If possible, landlords can offer tenants a temporary solution such as a cooler with ice, so they don’t lose their frozen and refrigerated foods, or a grocery store gift card.
Miscellaneous Critical & Non-Critical Repairs
A few other items that may be required repairs include adequate ventilation such as windows that open, bathroom vent fans to remove moisture, and range hoods to remove grease, smoke, heat, and steam. Again, state and local building codes will clarify requirements for these items. At the very least, a unit needs to have some sort of ventilation. Windows that can be opened generally meet this requirement, so they can’t be painted shut.
Basement apartments also need to have ventilation and a way for tenants to exit during a fire. Drafty windows aren’t a critical repair, though heat loss is a concern. Stained carpets, squeaky floors, and doors might be inconvenient, but do not make a unit unlivable. Stairways and common areas need to be clear, have good visibility, and safe. Loose railings, broken steps, and trip hazards are critical repairs.
Landlord repairs responsibilities fall within state and local laws governed by an implied warranty of habitability. Landlords can check with the local building department for updated codes or request a building inspection. Building inspectors may charge a fee for the inspection. All building codes are governed by the International Building Code which is based on protection of public health, safety, and welfare.
Some landlords avoid building inspections out of fear of some major expensive issues surfacing, but it is better and far less expensive to plan for and address repairs than pay fines and still have to make the repairs. It’s helpful to understand which repairs are critical and need immediate attention, and which are non-emergencies and can be added to a routine maintenance schedule.
Implied Warranty of Habitability
Landlords are required to abide by an implied warranty of habitability. The warranty of habitability is implied in all residential leases in the United States that landlords will provide habitable properties and the properties will remain habitable throughout the term of the lease agreement. Conditions that violate the warranty of habitability vary with state and local laws.
Each state determines a reasonable amount of time for how long a landlord has to fix something. If the repair is not completed within this time period, the landlord may be sued and owe the tenant damages, the tenant could break the lease and move, the court could hire a contractor to complete the repairs at the landlord’s expense, or the landlord could be fined.
It’s important to note that critical versus non-critical repairs are largely determined by state and local building codes, in addition to what is considered “livable” under an implied warranty of habitability. For example, a missing window screen may not be considered a critical repair, but if it creates unlivable conditions, such as making it easy for someone to break in or insect infestations, then it could become a critical repair.
Timeline for Repairs
Unfortunately, for a lot of repairs, there is no single answer for how long a landlord has to fix something. The implied Warranty of Habitability gives landlords a “reasonable amount of time” to address repairs. That reasonable timeframe varies by the severity of the repair issue and the state and local building codes where the property is located.
For example, in Arkansas, tenants rent units as-is, and landlords have no further obligations for maintaining their rentals except they must ensure properties comply with local building codes. In California, up to 30 days is considered a reasonable amount of time, while Florida gives seven days, and Massachusetts up to 14 days.
In any case, landlords really should strive to make repairs as quickly as possible. This will prevent further property damage, decreases in property value, and encourage long-term tenancy. While no one likes the added expenses of having to make repairs, in the long run, a well-maintained property both saves and increases money.
To minimize repairs, landlords or their appointed contractors should perform routine and preventative maintenance. Scheduling ongoing maintenance keeps landlords on top of things before they become major issues. Landlords should also conduct routine inspections of units, common areas, and the property’s exterior. When entering a unit to make repairs, landlords should give tenants advance notice—typically 24-hours unless it is an emergency.
Tenants need to allow landlords to enter at any time to address emergencies, and this should be written in the lease. Some of the popular property management software such as Buildium and AppFolio provides landlords with tools to conduct inspections such as the ability to upload photos and videos, input extensive notes, and communicate with service professionals when appropriate.
In addition to routine inspections when tenants move out, landlords should inspect the unit before returning the security deposit. If there is tenant-related damage beyond normal wear-and-tear, landlords can typically deduct the repair costs from the deposit and return any unused balance with paid invoices and receipts. Before new tenants move in, landlords should clean, repair, and take new photos and videos to document the current unit condition.
Normal wear-and-tear is naturally-occurring damage to a rental property due to aging. Many landlords fix up and clean units before tenants move in but, over time, carpets and floors wear out, paint chips and fades, and the unit generally wears out. The longer landlords wait to fix normal wear-and-tear, the worse the damage becomes.
Landlords cannot charge tenants or withhold security deposits for normal wear-and-tear. The challenge is determining the useful life of different materials within the unit. For example, a carpet may have five-year useful life. If the carpets were new when the landlord rented the unit and the tenants moved out six months later leaving damaged carpet, landlords would have to show the carpet was damaged and not a result of wear-and-tear.
Emergency or Sudden Repairs
Even in the best maintained properties things can go wrong such as fires, floods, failed heating systems, and water tanks, causing sudden damage in need of emergency repairs. If the property becomes unlivable or exposes tenants to hazards, some states expect landlords to provide temporary housing elsewhere until the hazard is remediated and the property is again livable.
Temporary housing for tenants may include:
- Motel, hotel, or other lodging
- Vacant units not impacted by the damage
- Airbnb or other rentals (can be seasonal depending on weather and how long they need to be there during repairs)
- Boarding houses, depending on the size of tenant’s household
If the landlord pays for temporary housing, the tenant should continue to pay their rent. If the damage is irreparable or will take a long time to repair, the lease can be broken, the security deposit returned, and no more rent collected. If a month’s rent was paid and the damage is irreparable, the landlord should return the months’ rent or prorate it by the remaining days, returning the balance to the tenant.
National Disasters & Tenant Relocation
Floods, hurricanes, tornadoes and other natural disasters can cause major property damage and displace tenants. Landlords should know what options are available for them to help relocate their tenants and what types of financial coverage and support are accessible. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) provides temporary relocation assistance.
FEMA Direct Temporary Housing Assistance may provide housing for displaced tenants for up to 18 months from the date of the national emergency declaration when adequate, alternate housing is unavailable and the tenants cannot stay in the rental unit. FEMA does not give funds to landlords to make repairs, but landlords may be eligible for low interest SBA disaster loans.
Lease Agreement & Repairs
While a signed rental agreement is a legally binding contract, it cannot violate or waive the implied warranty of habitability. A well-written lease or rental agreement dictates how long a landlord has to fix something. It includes the time frame for both critical and non-critical repairs, how much advance notice tenants can expect depending on the severity of the repairs, and adheres to state and local building codes.
The lease agreement also needs to clearly state that if a tenant damages the property, the tenant is responsible for the costs to repair any damages that result from their changes. If landlords want to add provisions for tenants to change or alter the unit, this also needs to be in the lease, and state who will be responsible for any resulting damage. Some landlords don’t allow any alterations while others offer a few.
Some alterations landlords may allow for tenants include:
- Re-painting walls to a desired color
- Hanging art or wall decals
- Installing shelving
- Hanging heavy-duty drapery rods and window blinds
- Replacing a light fixture
- Changing style of vinyl floor tiles
- Installing window flower boxes
- Altering landscaping with garden plots, flower beds, etc.
If the landlord prohibits alterations, this also needs to be clear in the lease. It’s important to include alterations in the lease to make clear what is and is not allowable, and state that the tenant is responsible for both materials and labor costs as well as any resulting damage to the property from the alterations.
Statement of Condition
Landlords should have tenants inspect their rental unit within the first two weeks of moving in and sign an apartment condition agreement or statement. This document allows you and the tenant to acknowledge in writing any preexisting conditions in the apartment that you may have missed beyond what is considered normal wear-and-tear. Some states, like Massachusetts, require the statement of condition as part of the rental agreement.
Landlords cannot retaliate against tenants who report them for providing unlivable conditions, even if the claims are unfounded. Retaliation includes unlawful eviction, raising the rent, ending the rental agreement, filing an eviction, or creating deliberate inconveniences like canceling internet access, draining a swimming pool, or lowering the heat.
What Landlords Are Not Responsible for
While landlords carry the brunt of repair responsibilities, they are not responsible for damages caused by tenants or their guests. This is why it is critical to keep thorough property maintenance records that include time-stamped photos and videos of before and after conditions, have tenants complete a statement of condition shortly after moving in, and clearly specify in the lease which repairs landlords need to make.
These tenant-caused repairs may include:
- Drains clogged by tenants
- Replacing batteries, bulbs, and HVAC filters within the unit
- Exterior and grounds maintenance of single-family rental homes
- Pest infestations caused by tenants
- Holes in walls
- Repainting un-approved paint jobs or covering up crayon and marker
- Appliances broken by or owned by tenants
- Pet damage
- Carpet stains and damage beyond normal wear-and-tear
While it might seem like overkill, it’s also recommended to have an annual inspection from the local building inspector. Some municipalities charge a nominal fee for this inspection, but, combined with the aforementioned documentation, it can save landlords money if a tenant denies causing damage or accuses a landlord of violating the warranty of habitability.
Protecting Landlords from Fraudulent Claims
Sometimes tenants unscrupulously try to find fault with the property to wiggle out of paying rent, willfully damage something to try to get an upgrade, or retaliate against the landlord. There are a number of things landlords can do to protect themselves from fraudulent claims. The secret is in keeping copious records.
Landlords should create a paper trail and has solid maintenance records if they’re accused of providing unlivable conditions. The records will show the landlord as diligent with providing safe, well-maintained units. Using online property management software like Avail gives landlords a place to store and organize their property maintenance and repair activities and records.
Handling Lead Paint
For residential rental properties built before 1978, landlords are required to give tenants the mandatory lead paint notification. This disclosure includes an EPA-approved pamphlet on identifying and controlling lead paint, disclosure of any known lead paint on the premises, and a “Lead Warning Statement” confirming the landlord is in compliance. If landlords are aware of lead paint on their properties, they are required by law to remediate it.
Landlords can become Lead Safe certified through the EPA-approved training program and DIY lead paint abatement or they can hire a certified lead paint removal contractor. The simplest way to summarize the lead paint law is that for properties built before 1978 landlords need to give incoming tenants the mandatory lead paint notifications and if lead paint is known to be present, disclose, remove, or encapsulate the paint.
Tenant Responsibilities for Repairs
Generally, the law supports landlords when a tenant damages the property stating that the tenant is responsible for repairs, unless those repairs fall under normal wear-and-tear. It can be tricky if a tenant doesn’t admit to the damage or asserts that it’s a preexisting condition. Landlords can avoid this challenge by documenting the condition of the property with photos, videos, and maintenance records before tenants move in.
Landlords also should supply tenants an apartment condition statement along with their lease, and have tenants document on this form anything they see in the unit that needs repairs or replacement. By creating a thorough maintenance and repair portfolio of the property’s interior and exterior spaces and including supporting documents such as the unit condition statement, landlords will have solid records to support them if a tenant denies damage they caused.
Using Security Deposits for Repairs
As mentioned, security deposits can be used for tenant-caused damages but not for normal wear-and-tear. When landlords collect a security deposit, in addition to the lease, mandatory lead paint notification, and statement of condition, landlords need to give tenants a security deposit statement that includes relevant information on how the deposit is managed.
Security deposit statements need to include:
- The amount of the deposit collected
- A statement that the deposit is held in a separate escrow account
- State laws regarding handling accrued interest
- The bank’s name, address, and the account number
- The 30-day time frame for returning security deposits at the end of the lease
- Policy on withholding all or a portion of the deposit e.g., unpaid rent, property damage, etc.
Withholding Rent for Repairs
In many states tenants are allowed to withhold rent until repairs are made. Sometimes, dishonest tenants have used this as a strategy to skip paying rent. To avoid this, landlords want to make sure the lease agreement states who is responsible for what repairs, and by when, and also make sure it aligns with state and local laws.
Not all states require it, but tenants who withhold rent for repairs should put their unpaid rent in a separate escrow account after they have given the landlord a written notice about the repairs and the landlord has had reasonable time to make the repairs as outlined above. If the landlord has not made the repairs within the allotted time, only then should tenants hold back rent until repairs are made or initiate having the repairs made themselves.
Landlords are wise to have this policy written into their lease agreements.
Tenants Making the Repairs
Another option many states give to tenants is that tenants can make the repairs themselves or hire a contractor and either use rent to pay the costs or the landlord is billed for the repairs. Again, tenants should give landlords proper notification and adhere to the timeline for repairs before employing this.
Landlord Consequences for Ignoring Repairs
While landlords have a reasonable amount of time to fix something, it’s best to make repairs as quickly as possible. Doing so will save money and potential lawsuits which has resulted in treble damages in some states. Treble damages are when a plaintiff gets a judgment for three times the amount of the actual damages to be awarded.
Additionally, landlords who ignore repairs lose money from lost rent and difficult to rent units. Ignored damage almost always gets worse, resulting in higher repair costs. Finally, many cities and states charge hefty fines to landlords who violate state sanitary codes. If a landlord receives a citation and ignores it, the penalties and fees can become more severe.
Paying for Repairs
Since unexpected repairs will happen, landlords should keep a repair reserve fund. A repair reserve fund is an account used exclusively for unexpected repairs. Most property management companies require landlords to keep a repair reserve fund and it makes sense for landlords who self-manage their rental properties to do the same so they’re not caught off guard with no plan to cover the cost.
Some metrics to calculate repair and maintenance costs are:
- 1% Rule: Maintenance costs about 1% of the property value per year.
- 50% Rule: Maintenance and repairs are equal to 50% of your total operating costs.
- 5x Rule: Annual maintenance costs average 1.5x of monthly rental income.
- Square Foot Formula: Maintenance will cost about $1 per square foot per year.
Ideally, money for a repair reserve fund should come from rental and other property income and should be included in a landlord’s cash flow forecast before buying a rental property. Each seasoned property should be its own self-sustaining business. However, even with the best planning, things happen that landlords cannot control. To prepare for such cases, landlords should consider a Plan B.
If a landlord is short on cash for a repair not covered by insurance, they can see if they qualify for a line of credit (LOC), other repair loan, or check out a number of potential HUD and other government programs to help defray costs. Rental property maintenance is tax deductible, so landlords want to keep invoices and receipts.
5 Top Landlord Repairs Responsibilities Mistakes to Avoid
1. Not Performing Routine Inspections and Maintenance
There are a few steps landlords can take to minimize problems caused by repairs. First, landlords should inspect their units every six months. That helps them spot issues early and sends a message to renters that they’re paying attention. Second, landlords should conduct preventative maintenance. Finally, landlords need to maintain relationships with a wide range of contractors, from low-cost handymen for basic repairs to licensed specialists like plumbers and electricians. When issues arise they can send the contractor who can do the repairs immediately and avoid further damage.
— Brian Davis, real estate investor and co-founder, Spark Rental
2. Not Understanding State’s Tenant Rights
The biggest mistake landlord’s make is not understanding their states tenants’ rights. For example, in Texas, a landlord must make repairs in a reasonable amount of time. If the HVAC system goes in the dead of winter, the landlord should respond in less than 24 hours. If the unit cannot be fixed, the landlord should work with the tenants to make alternate housing arrangements until the repair is made and they can safely return. Small repairs such as a leaky faucet, under a week is generally reasonable.
— Benjamin Ross, Realtor, Landlord, and Investment Specialist, My Active Agent
3. Attempting DIY Without Proper Skills
Some landlords want to avoid the costs of unexpected repairs and try to fix the problem themselves. Some repairs require limited skills and can be DIY. However, trying to save a few bucks on a repair that the landlord doesn’t have the skills for can end up costing more if it causes further damage and having to hire a professional to fix it properly.
4. Not Taking Before and After Photos
Landlords should photograph their units before renting and after a tenant moves out. Tenants may deny damages they caused, so having a record of the property’s condition can help show if tenants are responsible for damages beyond normal wear-and-tear. Including a time-stamp on the photo can show when the photos were taken.
5. Skipping a Month-to-Month Rental Agreement
If the tenant is a month-to-month tenant at will (TAW), sometimes landlords might think they don’t need a rental agreement. No matter the type of tenancy, landlords want to have a legally binding document that aligns with federal, state, and local building codes on how repairs are handled and notice is given.
How long a landlord has to fix something depends on the severity of the issue, typically falls within three to 30 days, and varies by state. Landlords can avoid problems, code violations, and litigation by keeping well-maintained properties and performing consistent routine and preventative maintenance. The implied warranty of habitability response to critical repairs gives landlords a reasonable amount of time to fix things.
Rental property maintenance is on-going with many landlord repairs responsibilities. It’s important for landlords to have a schedule for routine and preventative maintenance. If you’d like to use online property management software, consider Avail. Avail provides maintenance tracking and lets landlords communicate with tenants and contractors within the software. The first unit is always free.