Landlording & Rental Properties

The 4 Core Tenant Responsibilities Every Landlord Should Know

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All of us are well-versed in what property management is designed to do for our tenants and our investment properties. When we consider property maintenance, we usually think of those responsibilities: fixing or replacing broken appliances, changing locks and performing major repairs.

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At the most basic, core level, owners and managers are required to provide a safe, habitable space for tenants. What this means can vary based on local law, but these standards always involve things like safety, health, and cleanliness. Some tasks, however, don’t necessarily always fall to property management. Your tenants have responsibilities, too. This is where the lines get blurred for many real estate investors who put the wrong responsibilities on the wrong party and then wonder why they can collect for some maintenance from the tenants and not other maintenance.

While they may not be vital to the habitability of the property, there are things tenants have to do. Because those lines can get blurry and cause contention, let me clarify.

Remember that these guidelines are typical and may vary under different legal regulations.

4 Core Tenant Maintenance Responsibilities

Cleanliness & Sanitation

At the top of the list of a tenant’s maintenance responsibilities is simply keeping things clean. Tenants are expected to take out the trash, cut the yard, keep cars off blocks and out of the yard, and keep the property neat — just to name a few basics. That means regular housework: cleaning toilets and countertops, dusting, mopping, vacuuming, mowing, edging and so on. While some mess can be understandable, tenants can’t neglect these basic tasks. Sometimes, they may even be required to take care of cleaning the gutters, though some management companies may offer to do it for an additional fee to the tenant. The same goes for small, regular tasks, like changing air filters and light bulbs.

Related: Are You OVER-Screening Tenants? How Background Checks & Credit Scores Can Fail

When properties aren’t kept clean, they can be a breeding ground for mold and infestations of bugs and vermin. Keep an eye out for warning signs of this kind of neglect, as it can cost owners a lot to fix in the long run. Easy warning signs are visible from the street. Other signs need to be regularly inspected or watched after by a repairman visiting the house for an issue and keeping a keen eye on cleanliness. They then report back to you on the condition and whether there is a need for a bigger inspection.

Reporting Issues in a Timely Manner

Tenants may not be responsible for fixing major property issues, but they’re responsible for reporting them as soon as possible. If they don’t mention a problem (leaking pipes, for instance) to the manager, they may be held liable for additional damages that wouldn’t have happened had the issue been reported and rectified earlier.

It’s vital for the health and condition of your investment property that tenants are actively encouraged to communicate with the property management when an issue arises. While it may be inconvenient at times, leaving a problem unaddressed is far more damaging.

Covering Personal Errors & Accidents

We know that tenants aren’t responsible for covering regular wear and tear. Things get damaged and worn just by virtue of being used, whether that’s the carpet or appliances. Still, that doesn’t mean that you’ll always have to foot the bill. Tenants who cause damages with carelessness are responsible for fixing the damages. That could be anything from cleaning the carpet after a wine spill to replacing a broken window.

Using the Property Properly

We all want and expect tenants to use the property as it was intended and without illegal activity, but we know that unfortunately, this isn’t always the case. If a tenant uses a room, fixture, or appliance in any way that is not within its intended use and it is damaged or broken as a result, they are absolutely liable for those damages. 

Related: Landlords: Forget Being “Nice.” THIS is the Key to a Good Tenant Relationship.

Tips for Owners & Property Managers

  • Value regular inspections. The most sure way to catch a problem is to look for it. Managers shouldn’t neglect routine inspections in case the tenant missed or didn’t report a problem. Inspections also are a chance to see that the tenant is living up to their end of the bargain with their basic maintenance responsibilities. If there are damages, be sure to document them with photographic evidence, just in case.
  • Be diligent with property repairs. Tenants aren’t very incentivized to care for a property if you’re not doing it, either. When a problem is reported, the ball is in your court to see that it gets fixed in a proper and timely manner. A lack of property repairs can impact habitability standards and land you in legal hot water — not to mention the potential to further damage your property.
  • Be clear in your contract. Do your renters know what you expect in terms of tenant maintenance responsibilities? In your lease agreement, ensure that these requirements are clearly defined, particularly when it comes to specifying regular wear and tear and situations in which tenants will be held responsible for damages.

Has a tenant’s failure to properly maintain your property made a negative impact on your investments?

Share your cautionary tales in the comments.

Chris Clothier began building his rental portfolio in 2003 as a successful entrepreneur looking to diversify his investments. He quickly gravitated toward passive investing, establishing a portfoli...
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    Scott Trench President of BiggerPockets from Denver, CO
    Replied over 4 years ago
    Thanks Chris – Great points. I know that I personally can do a better job of making it clear what basic maintenance activities are the tenants’ responsibilities.
    Chris Clothier Rental Property Investor from memphis, TN
    Replied over 4 years ago
    Hey Scott, Thanks for the comments! I think all of us as landlords or even in my case as a property manager need to have a protocol in place that we follow. One that definitely tells a tenant what we expect, but more importantly, one that helps us to hold them accountable to what we expect. Chris
    Graeme Black Investor from Vacaville, California
    Replied over 4 years ago
    I expected pay the rent on time to be one of the four!
    Chris Clothier Rental Property Investor from memphis, TN
    Replied over 4 years ago
    Hi Graeme, I think paying rent is a given. This was a list of those responsibilities that we as landlords sometimes forget about or overlook and tenants can easily neglect. Even when they are paying rent on time, if they overlook these basics on maintenance, we have issues as owners. Thanks for reading and taking the time to leave your comment. Chris
    Joe Foster
    Replied over 4 years ago
    Chris, Thanks for putting this together good information here. How would you suggest you convince your property manager that regular inspections are valuable? My property management company currently does not do this and it is something I have asked for to be included for years.
    Chris Clothier Rental Property Investor from memphis, TN
    Replied over 4 years ago
    Hi Joe, My families propety management company does not include regular inspections as part of the normal process simply because of cost. We are managing 3,300 properties in three cities and regular inspections would force us to greatly increase pricing. So, we have to rely on street checks and keen vendors to keep us posted on issues. Something you could request and we offer this service so I know companies will do it, is for a nominal fee have a report prepared for you with interior and exterior pictures of the property and a status on cleanliness, systems, and over-all condition of the property. I think $75 is a reasonable charge and an owner should ask for one every 12-24 months while the property remains occupied. Best of luck, Chris
    Shellie S. from Cary, North Carolina
    Replied over 4 years ago
    Hi Chris, thanks for this! I didn’t realize that lawn maintenance and gutters, etc were tenant responsibility! I wonder if that is all over or regional? Definitely good to know :). Also, when I did a walk-through of the duplex I’m under contract for now with the inspector, he opened the housing for the air intake and the filter literally had about an inch and a half of dust/dirt on it!! Gross! And really? What an easy and cheap thing to change, but it looked like it hadn’t been done in years.
    Chris Clothier Rental Property Investor from memphis, TN
    Replied over 4 years ago
    Shellie, If you are going to rent out the duplex, it is a good idea to make quarterly reminders in your calendar to contact your tenants and ask them to change the air filters. If it is managed by a company, ask them if they do it. You have to remember that in some cases, a tenant has never been responsible for these things. If they are coming from an apartment or something similar, they will have never kept up a yard, gutters and often will not have had to change filters. These are just simple reminders for landlords of the little things we sometimes over-look. Thanks for reading and writing your comments – Chris
    Russell Brazil Real Estate Agent from Rockville, MD
    Replied over 4 years ago
    I need to be more consistent with my property inspections, as we all know tenants never report things in a timely manner
    Timothy F.
    Replied over 4 years ago
    “Value regular inspections.” How often are these supposed to be done?
    Georgia Baker from Santa Fe, New Mexico
    Replied about 4 years ago
    Greta article Chris! How often should a inspection take place? Thank you