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Property upkeep doesn’t just fall on the landlord

PMI Golden State - Tuesday, July 23, 2019
Property Management Blog

Working in the property management business, I have received a lot of calls from tenants over the years complaining about issues with their rental property. I’ve fielded calls about everything from a burnt-out light bulb to major issues like a broken refrigerator and a busted water pipe.

As the property manager, I’m happy to answer the calls and make sure the tenant’s needs are taken care of, but I also know that not all of the issues are the landlord’s responsibility.

What is the tenant responsible for?
When you rent a property to someone, it’s with the understanding that they will return it in the condition that they received it, aside from some normal wear and tear. For example, some slight chips in the paint are okay, but dozens of holes in the wall where the tenant hung up their family photos are not.

It helps to have a good working relationship and a solid lease agreement with any tenant so that he or she knows what is allowed (i.e. hanging photos) and what is not allowed (i.e. painting a room neon pink).

Keeping the property clean and safe
A tenant is also responsible for making sure the property stays clean and safe. That means he or she must take out the trash regularly and not hoard so much stuff that it attracts insects or other pests. When it comes to safety, the tenant must not do anything that would bring harm to your property or the people inside of it, such as lighting fireworks inside or boarding up emergency exits.

The clean and safe rule also extends to the people the tenant allows into your home. Once invited in, those people are also required to keep your property clean and safe. If they don’t, then the tenant is responsible for whatever damage is caused.

Following the "intended use" of things
The keywords in all this are intended use. When it comes to plumbing and electrical fixtures as well as appliances inside of the home, it is the responsibility of the tenant to use these items in the way they were intended. In other words, if a toilet backs up, but it was used properly, it’s the landlord’s responsibility to fix it. However, if a toilet backs up because someone accidentally flushed a stuffed toy down it, then it’s the tenant’s responsibility.

When it comes to appliances, the same rule applies. If a 10-year-old refrigerator breaks down, the landlord is responsible for replacing it. However, if the door breaks off of a 1-year-old refrigerator, odds are someone wasn’t using it right and it’s up to the tenant to fix it.

Tenants must also make sure they keep those appliances and fixtures clean. In other words, wash the fridge regularly, clean the stove and empty the dryer lint traps. As the landlord, it’s your responsibility to have the dryer ducts cleaned annually, but it falls on the tenant to make sure those lint traps are cleaned out after every load of laundry.

Smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors
As a landlord, it is very important that you provide each of your properties with working smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors. It is also your job to maintain these items and check them regularly.

However, it is the responsibility of the tenant to inform you if anything goes wrong with these items between those checks. It is also the responsibility of the tenant to not tamper with the smoke and carbon monoxide alarms.

Follow the law
It should go without saying, but I’ll do it anyway. All tenants are responsible for keeping the peace and following the law. That means don’t disturb the neighbors with late-night parties and loud noises in the early morning. It also means that illegal activity cannot be conducted on your property.

If you, as the landlord, have knowledge of illegal activity on your property and something happens, you could be held responsible as well.

This is an item that can be added to your agreement if you wish. In most cases, the default responsibility for landscaping falls on the landlord, however, as a landlord you are allowed to pass that responsibility on to your tenant provided that it was agreed upon when the lease agreement was signed.

Renter’s insurance
If something like a fire happens at your property, your insurance will cover the cost of what was lost in terms of the property itself. What the insurance will not cover is what was inside the home.

According to the California Insurance Commissioner’s Office, it’s a good idea for renters to have their own insurance. Renter’s insurance is not required by law, however, a landlord can require renter’s to have insurance as a condition of the rental agreement.

These are all items that should be outlined in your rental agreement. If they are not, then go back through that agreement and add them. It’s important that you outline what is and is not expected of a tenant in writing so that you’re protected if anything goes wrong in the future.

If you have any questions or thoughts feel free to reach out at any time.