How Landlords Should Inform Residents of Their Legal Obligation to Maintain Their Units - dummies

How Landlords Should Inform Residents of Their Legal Obligation to Maintain Their Units

By Robert S. Griswold, Laurence Harmon

As landlord, your repair and maintenance obligations ensure that your rental units and common areas are habitable and fully compliant with local codes. But legislators don’t hold you solely responsible for the cost of maintaining your rental property and keeping it in good repair. Residents have duties to maintain their units and pay for any damage (beyond normal wear and tear) that they or their guests cause.

Knowing your residents’ responsibilities

Residents are required by law to maintain the habitability of their apartments. They’re required to take reasonable care of the rental unit and common areas and keep them in good condition. Residents must repair or pay for the repair of any damages that they or their guests, children, or pets cause.

Just as state statutes list landlords’ responsibilities in maintaining a habitable rental property, they list resident responsibilities, which typically include the following:

  • Comply with state and local building, health, and housing codes imposed upon residents.

  • Keep the premises reasonably clean, safe, and sanitary as the condition of the unit permits.

  • Use and operate gas, electrical, plumbing, sanitary, heating, ventilating, air conditioning, elevators, and other fixtures and facilities properly; for example:

    • Don’t overload electrical outlets.

    • Don’t flush large, foreign objects down the toilet.

    • Don’t allow any gas or electrical appliance or plumbing fixture to become filthy.

  • Dispose of trash and garbage in a clean and sanitary manner.

  • Don’t destroy, damage, or deface the premises, or allow anyone else to do so.

  • Don’t remove any part of the structure, dwelling unit, facilities, equipment or appurtenances (such as fences, signs, irrigation ditches, and rights of way) or allow anyone else to do so.

  • Use the premises as a place to live and use the rooms for their intended purposes, such as using the bedroom as a bedroom and not as a kitchen.

  • Notify the landlord when deadbolt locks and window locks and other security features aren’t working.

  • Notify the landlord when a condition arises that makes the premises uninhabitable or is likely to result in the premises becoming uninhabitable.

  • Immediately alert the landlord if the smoke detector or carbon monoxide detector isn’t operating properly.

Print out the list of resident responsibilities for your state and include them in the information packet you present to all new residents. Better yet, go over the list with them and ask whether they have any questions.

Be careful about permitting residents to perform even minor repairs. Few residents are licensed carpenters, plumbers, or electricians. They may buy second- or third-rate fixtures to replace higher quality fixtures that came with the apartment. You should require all residents to inform you of any repair or maintenance issues and obtain your written approval before moving forward. This approach gives you oversight and input into how the repairs are performed.

Seeking damages when residents fall short

When residents fail to honor their legal duties in maintaining the premises, you have several options, depending on the rules and regulations in effect in your area:

  • Send the resident a notice describing the problem and giving the resident a specific date by which the repairs or maintenance must be performed. (The number of days varies according to state and local statutes.)

  • Perform the repairs or hire a contractor to perform the repairs and then present the resident with an itemized bill requesting payment by a specific date.

  • Initiate eviction proceedings if the resident fails to perform repairs or compensate you for repairs you performed or paid for.

Make sure your rental contract has a provision that holds residents responsible for any damages caused by negligence or misuse of the rental property by the resident or the resident’s guests, children, or pets. Such a clause enables you to pursue remedies in small claims or general court proceedings.