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When Is a Landlord’s Maintenance Emergency Truly An Emergency?

Kevin Perk
3 min read

When you are a landlord like I am, property repairs and upkeep are just routine parts of the job.  Something is always breaking or in need of upkeep.  Tenants tend to think that their particular maintenance request is the most important and is always an emergency!  This article examines those maintenance requests that are emergencies requiring quick action by the landlord.

What Are True Landlord Maintenance Emergencies?

Some things really are maintenance emergencies that require an immediate response.  Generally anything regarding gas or electricity will get my attention pretty quickly.   Problems with these two could actually hurt someone.

Gas Emergencies

If a tenant complains of a gas smell, we respond fairly quickly.  Leaking gas could lead to major problems, plus not all tenants are aware just how dangerous gas can be.  We had a tenant call once to report a gas smell.  She did this in between drags on her cigarette!

Most times the calls for a gas smell are an easy fix.  A pilot light may need to be re-lit or a gas line connection may have become loose.   But I have also seen gas lines that have been worn away by rust.  So no matter what, leaking gas gets prompt service.  At the very least I can shut off the source of the gas at the meter and potentially save lives and property.

Electrical Emergencies

Electrical issues are a slightly different matter as not all calls are an emergency.  Sometimes we get calls saying the power has gone out.  We ask if the whole block is out.  If so, there is nothing we can do (yes, we really do get those calls.).  Or, if it is just their location it is likely a tripped breaker and we can talk the tenant through that.

Other electrical calls are different.  We once got a call late one night from a tenant that said her phone charger had just melted after she plugged it in.  I was not sure what that meant but felt that it could not be good.  So, I went to see what was happening.

I am glad I did because one of the ceramic connections on the electric meter had cracked and power was surging through the system.  I shut off power from the red hot and smoking electric meter just in time.  That truly was an emergency.  I was minutes away from the building going up in flames.

Water Emergencies

Another item that will get my quick attention is gushing water.  Water will generally not hurt anyone but it can cause a lot of property damage.  Again late one cold and icy night we got a call that water was “pouring” through a ceiling.  The tenant had put a 55 gallon trash can beneath the leak and it was now half full.  I thought a pipe had frozen and cracked. Something gushing like that could not be left until morning without severe drywall and wood damage.  I had to at least go over and shut off the water.

So to minimize potential damage, I braved the icy roads and went to the property.  Sure enough, quite a big stream coming down through the ceiling.  I ran upstairs and banged on the door.  No answer so I let myself in.  Seems the tenant had passed out and left the sink running!  Ah alcohol.  You can guess who paid for those repairs.

Other Emergencies

There are other emergencies to be sure, backed-up sewer lines, lack of heat or a leaking roof for example.  But these are things that require an experienced contractor.  Sure the tenant wants these things fixed right away (so do I, honestly). But for these kinds of problems I have to place a call in to the proper contractors and get it on their schedule.  We usually can get these problems taken care of within 24 hours.  As a landlord, it is so important to have a variety of contractors (and back-ups if they can’t be reached) that you can call upon when an emergency happens.

Everything else is generally a non-emergency that gets placed lower on the non-emergency list.  Tenants know that these repairs are lower priorities so they will try and talk them up a little bit.  They may say that their kitchen cabinets are falling apart when a drawer is stuck or a door has come off its hinges.  Your job as a landlord is to learn to see through these “enhancements” and prioritize them accordingly.  We still try to get to most repairs within a day or so, but it also depends on what else is going on.

So yes, there are true emergencies that you need to respond to quickly.  These generally will involve gas, electricity or gushing water.  When you are just starting out in this business, everything feels like an emergency, but as you get more and more experienced in this line of work you will develop a pretty good filter of what is and what is not an emergency and what does and does not require quick action.

Photo: Jason Hargrove

Note By BiggerPockets: These are opinions written by the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions of BiggerPockets.