Can a Landlord Make a Tenant Pay for Repairs?

Cases of Tenant Carelessness or Neglect

Plumber examining sink in kitchen.

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A landlord is usually responsible for performing repairs at their rental property. However, there are certain situations when they may not be financially responsible. Here’s how to determine if a landlord can make a tenant pay for repairs.

Maintenance Obligations Under Landlord-Tenant Law

Landlords are responsible for maintaining their rental property and making sure the property meets habitability standards. This means they must provide things like access to running water and heat in the winter and must make sure the property is structurally stable and free from pest infestations.

Tenants also have maintenance responsibilities under state landlord-tenant laws. Tenants should keep all plumbing fixtures and appliances clean and in good condition and not let trash pile up.

Beyond that, the tenant may have agreed to additional maintenance in the lease agreement. These responsibilities may include cutting the grass or cleaning out the gutters. If the tenant neglects to do these tasks or damages something in the process, he or she could be responsible for any needed repairs.

Tenant Responsibilities 

In general, tenants are responsible for small maintenance issues. These are things any homeowner would expect to be responsible for, such as replacing batteries in smoke or carbon monoxide detectors or changing light bulbs that have burned out.

Tenants are not responsible for normal wear and tear on the property. They are, however, responsible for any repairs that are necessary because of their lack of care or failure to perform a required duty.

For example, if the tenant has allowed grease to build up in the stovetop and it has prevented the stove from working, it would be the tenant’s responsibility to pay to have the stove repaired. Or, the tenant may have allowed the water in the bathtub to overflow, causing damage to the ceiling of the apartment below. 

In addition, a tenant would be financially responsible for any repairs necessary due to abuse or deliberate destruction. Flushing diapers down the toilet would be an example of abuse if it results in a sewer line backing up. The tenant would be responsible for paying to have the line snaked and for any additional damage created. 

An example of deliberate destruction would be kicking in a front entrance door because the tenant forgot their keys. This damage would not have happened if the tenant had not caused it.

Tenants are also responsible for the actions of any guests they allow onto the property. If a guest of the tenant creates damage at the rental property, the tenant will be financially responsible for having the repair completed.

The tenant is the one named on the lease, so they are responsible for damage caused by their guests. The tenant can privately negotiate with their guests to get reimbursement for the repair, but either way, they should pay for it.

Tips for Collecting Payment

Getting a tenant to pay for a repair can cause conflict. Here are some tips to help make sure you collect the money you are owed.

  • Put it in writing: You should send the tenant written notice of the repair that is necessary at the property. You should define the exact nature of the repair, as well as the fact that the repair is only necessary due to the tenant’s neglect or abuse.
  • Send it by certified mail: This will serve as proof that the tenant received the notice.
  • Include receipt: A receipt for materials or a quote for an approximate cost of repair quantifies the request and provides a paper trail.
  • Include a copy of lease: Make reference to any specific clauses that state the tenant’s maintenance responsibilities, as well as the repair and maintenance responsibilities of the landlord.
  • Deduct from the security deposit, if necessary: The tenant’s security deposit can be used to pay for damages.
  • Go to small claims court, if necessary: If the tenant’s security deposit is not enough to cover the cost of the repair or the tenant refuses to pay for the repair, you can take the tenant to small claims court to recover the money.