Who Pays for Repairs: Landlord or Tenant?
A frequent issue of contention between landlords and tenants is who will pay to repair things in a rental property. Landlords have a number of statutory obligations in relation to repairs and maintaining a property in good order, but beyond that, what counts most is the specific provisions of each lease.
If the lease agreement is silent, then common-law dictates who the responsible party is. Typically, a landlord is responsible for performing repairs, but there are some situations where the responsibility falls on the tenant. Whether you’re a landlord or tenant, you should endeavor to understand your rights and responsibilities before signing a lease or rental agreement.
The ‘Landlord-Tenant Law’
Composed of state statutes and common law, Landlord-Tenant Law governs the rental of commercial and residential property. The Chicago Residential Landlord-Tenant Ordinance (RLTO) stipulates the rights and responsibilities of each party. In summary, a landlord must ensure their property complies with health and safety standards, including the provision of running water and a proper heating system.
To protect the interests of both parties, a tenant and landlord will sign a lease or rental agreement before the tenant moves in. It’s generally expected that tenants will keep the property clean and tidy. Depending on the property, they may agree to additional maintenance like maintaining a garden, for instance.
If a tenant has agreed to these terms and fails to perform maintenance on the property, and something goes wrong as a direct result of their negligence, they are expected to shoulder the cost. Hypothetically, let’s say there’s a large tree outside your home that you’ve agreed to look after. If the tree’s roots become problematic, causing the boundary wall to crack, you’ll be responsible for fixing it. Of course, one hopes you would communicate the issue to your landlord when faced with repairs that need urgent attention or have the potential to escalate.
Check The Lease Agreement
Does a tenant have to pay for repairs? Yes, for certain ones, but only if stipulated in the lease or rental agreement. The contract should clearly specify who is responsible for what. If it doesn’t, you can request it to be put in writing. A landlord should openly communicate their policies, so you’re both on the same page.
As a rule of thumb, a landlord should request and have it written in the lease that no major repairs are to be made without their consent. When it comes to paying the charge of repairs, you generally have three options, depending on your contract and the scale of the repair:
- Using your own contractors and forwarding the bill to your tenants
- Using your own contractor and footing the bill
- Allowing the tenant to handle the repair themselves and have them forward you the bill
Of course, open and honest communication is paramount. Tenants appreciate landlords who resolve maintenance issues. There’s nothing worse than having to nag a landlord to get something fixed.
The Landlord’s Responsibilities
A landlord’s responsibilities are outlined in Chicago Residential Landlord Tenant Ordinance (CRLTO) Section 5-12-070. According to law, landlords are responsible for maintaining the structural integrity of their rented property. So, as long as it’s not due to tenant negligence or abuse, the landlord will have to pay for repairs or resolve issues related to: pest infestations, broken locks, plumbing, electrical, mold, and heating.
When a tenant alerts you to an issue, you should respond. You can ask for specifics regarding the repair or arrange to visit the property to assess the extent of the damage. When a tenant requests a repair, you are required to do the following:
- Take reasonable steps to repair things in a timely manner (Some city ordinances require minor defects to be repaired within 14 days.)
- If you are sending someone in to do the repairs, you need to notify the tenant at least 48 hours before.
- All repairs should be done professionally. Keep a record of repairs, invoices, and communications with your tenant.
Unhappy tenants are within their right to contact local government agencies if you don’t make repairs within the legal timeframe. Violation of the CRLTO may cause a tenant to terminate a lease and vacate the property. However, they must first give written notice and allow time for you to remedy the issue. If you’re unfamiliar with the CRLTO, you should consult an attorney before drafting a lease, as violation penalties are costly.
The Tenant’s Responsibility
Does the landlord have to pay for repairs? Not if they are minor inconveniences or damages incurred by the tenant. If the repair work is more substantial, you should always notify your landlord as soon as possible.
Tenants are generally expected to take care of:
- Damages caused by pets
- Replacing burnt-out lightbulbs and smoke detector batteries
- Damages caused by themselves or guests
- Stains or smells caused by smoking
- Any repairs that were neglected and could have been fixed if they had notified the landlord within an adequate time
A tenant should leave a rental property in the original condition it was in when they first moved in. If you paint a wall, you should restore it to its previous color. If you accidentally break a window, it becomes your responsibility to fix it, etc.
To safeguard against misunderstandings and cover your bases, it’s advisable to take photos and a video of the property when you first move in, especially if there is outstanding repair work, as well as when you move out. By taking careful note of existing imperfections, you can avoid being held liable for them when you leave the premises.
Can Landlords Make Tenants Pay for Repairs?
Can my landlord make me pay for repairs? Yes, because a landlord isn’t required to repair everything a tenant asks for. For instance, any appliance that is not in the lease agreement would be the tenant’s responsibility to fix. It’s acceptable for landlords to include language in the rental agreement that makes tenants responsible for small repairs.
Typically, if the repair is minor and the reasonable cost of fixing it is less than $500 or one-half of your monthly rent, you can get it fixed yourself and deduct the cost from your rent. However, a landlord cannot charge you for normal wear and tear repairs, such as:
- Sticking doors
- Loose tiles that require grout
- Clogged pipes due to aging
- Wooden floor scuffs
- Thinning carpets
Can a landlord make you pay for repairs via your security deposit? In Chicago, a landlord is legally allowed to withhold a security deposit to cover the cost of repairs caused by a tenant if they do not or are unable to pay. If a landlord keeps deposit money, they are required to send the tenant receipts or a certification of the repair costs. If they don’t have evidence of the cost of the repairs, they are in violation of the RLTO.
What If a Tenant Makes Unauthorized Repairs?
Can a landlord make me pay for repairs by indirectly refusing to fix things when requested? Depending on local laws, it is within your tenant rights to repair things yourself and deduct them from your rent. Using rent money to make necessary repairs is called “repairing and deducting.”
Tenants can also end the lease and move out if the situation is dire and the property is inhabitable. Technically, a tenant should always notify their landlord and give them adequate time to act (14-days) when dealing with more serious repairs. All repairs they initiate should be conducted by professionals. Again, it’s always a good idea to have a section dedicated to repair protocol in your lease agreement.
To summarize: Do renters pay for repairs? Yes, but only if they cause damages or if the repair is minor. A proper lease agreement that doesn’t leave room for interpretation is necessary to protect both landlords and tenants and minimize potential misunderstandings. At 33 Realty, we provide a full range of property management services that help to avoid conflicts between tenants and landlords. Contact us today to find out more about our reliable management services.