When you rent a property, you expect the unit to be habitable, with the fixtures and mechanical equipment in working order. But what if something isn’t working, or if something breaks after you move in? Well, certain items are required by law, and some by common sense, to be kept in working order by your landlord. If these things break, the owner should fix them, especially if it is something like the heater, or if it involves electrical or plumbing issues. Let’s discuss a few scenarios and how you can resolve repair issues as amicably as possible.
First, keep in mind that things break, and the older the property and the more dated the appliances and mechanical equipment, the higher the chances are of things failing during your tenancy. So, if you want to lower the risk of having encountering these types of issues, rent a unit that is newer and/or with recently upgraded equipment. Also, if the place is really not in great shape, it’s probably reasonable to expect that the landlord is not spending much money on the unit and therefore probably isn’t going to spend much on it during your stay, either. They may not be that quick to fix issues that aren’t the minimum required by law — for example, keeping the heater in working condition is usually required by law, but keeping the garage door working usually is not. Keep that in mind when you are shopping for a rental.
But things break even in newer places. Heaters break, plumbing leaks, dishwashers fail, etc. This means when they do, you should report them to your landlord quickly and ask for them to be fixed. If you have a heater malfunction and it’s freezing outside, it’s reasonable that it should be fixed very quickly. Likewise, if there seems to be an electrical issue or plumbing leak, you can expect those issues to be fixed very quickly. On the other hand, if the issue is not as urgent to your health and safety, such as if the dishwasher breaks or the clothes dryer isn’t drying, it’s reasonable to give your landlord a little more time to get the item repaired or replaced.
To catch issues early, you should test all the appliances the day of your move-in walk-through with the owner there. Run the dishwasher, heater, clothes washer, dryer, etc. to make sure they work. Run some water into the bathtub and sinks to ensure they drain. Turn all the lights on and off and test some switches. Have the landlord show you that the plumbing shut off values on each water fixture work. And make sure you know where the electrical shut-off panel, the master plumbing shut-off, and gas valves are located.
However, despite all your precautions, you may end up in a place with dud appliances. Most owners are going to work with you to resolve it in an expedient manner. Experienced landlords know that fixing items quickly usually avoids more expensive repairs and keeps a tenant happy. However, and especially for individual landlords, scheduling repairs, especially if they need to be at the property to provide access, can take a little bit of time. So as always, be as professional and reasonable as possible in dealing with your landlord to get the best results for everyone.
If your landlord doesn’t fix items in a reasonable period of time, though, you should request items to be fixed in writing and request a certain date for the items to be repaired. Keep this written request as diplomatic as possible to avoid causing more headaches, but if the landlord totally balks at fixing the items, then you’ve got to make some decisions.
Remember that different states and cities have different rules about what is required to be working and who is responsible for paying for it. In addition, you may also have agreed to certain items in your lease, like paying the first $75 in repairs, and that can sometimes cause disputes. Do some Internet searches to find out the rules in your area and review your lease for any provisions that would govern repairs.
If it is an issue like a heater or other vital issue, you may just take it upon yourself to pay for it to get it done. Try to get a fair deal and keep the landlord posted with emails, giving them the opportunity, yet again, to resolve it first. In California, for example, you may be able to deduct the repair cost from your rent. Other states may have different laws, so do some research.
If you fix an issue like a heater and you hold back rent, make sure to itemize it in writing and keep a copy and log of all the timeframes, requests, and money spent resolving the issue. This is because if you eventually end up in small claims court, you will have a good case for reimbursement. In California and many tenant-friendly states, you will probably win if you were reasonable and kept records.
Your main goal, to avoid hassle and disruption to your life, should just be to get the item fixed and reimbursed by your landlord. If it was a major pain and your landlord was not helpful, you might consider finding another place to live when you lease is up because the landlord probably isn’t going to change. As a silver lining, going forward, you will know better what to review, discuss, and include in your lease to avoid these same issues in your next residence.