Repairs, where do you draw the line?

41 Replies

I am sure everybody has encountered the nit picky tenant. They may be a good paying tenant, but they annoy you to death with every little thing wrong in the home.

Obviously I pride myself on getting real repairs, repaired quickly. Leaks, heat, water heaters, ac units, garage door openers etc.

But you get some people, that are like well the paint is getting moldy in the bathroom(even though it was painted just a year and a half ago), or there is no screens on one of the windows or doors, or even to the point that lightbulbs are burnt out, and expects me to hop over and replace. Or the chain on one of the toilets is broken.(you can get a chain at lowes for 2 bucks, and it takes a minute to put on) If you conform to all tenants requests, this won't be a profitable business, or you wont have the money when something real pops up, like a new furnace.

How do you handle it? I know some put a dollar amount in the lease, to state tenant vs landlord responsibility.  But I don't like that, because that could leave small leaks etc, turning into big ones, because the tenant doesn't want to pay to repair it. Where do you draw the line, and how do you relay that to the tenant?

Thank you!

Fix the small things that they ask for.  That is better that the alternative.  If you don't want to, then tell them to do it if you are not worried about damage. 

As far as painting goes, I usually link upgrades to rent increases.  If there is mold in the bathroom because of their issue (not running the fan or high usage), then let them know that they need to clean the walls more often.  I am happy to paint but let the resident know that all the time is spend is going to equal an increase. 

Light bulbs, smoke detector batteries, etc. are on the tenant. They worked when you moved in, they should work when you move out. That said, toilet chain, I'd repair or replace myself or have my handyman do it. IMHO, it's not the tenants responsibility unless you put that in the lease as you stated. You didn't, so it's on you. Moldy ceiling, you need to fix. Better exhaust fan that works when the light is on or on a timer. I also noticed that since I put low flow shower heads in, they make make much more "mist" for lack of the proper term, which could contribute to mold growing faster/easier. I'd repair the issue and educate your tenants about the exhaust fan use. Unfortunately, as a landlord, part of our jobs are educating our tenants about the care and feeding of their units. I just had to teach my 20-something knucklehead tenant that Q-tips don't go in the toilet. Unreal.

I do have a line in the lease indicating maintenance and upkeep is tenants responsibility.But no fixed dollar amount.

I could understand the chain in the toilet, if it was some apartment building, but on SFH, i would think they would fall under maintenance and be the tenants responsibility.

Well, much should be addressed in the lease, housekeeping issues, keeping the property free of waste, decay and degradation, that means, wipe the walls down!

Those dang chains break! PITA! Yes, better you do that than them screwing up the filler tube, plunger or float and causing bigger issues, like flooding the place.

Do you inspect the property of the lease term? You should, at least once, that would be every 6 months.

Repairs or improvements may not be made by a residential tenant that would be required to be depreciated, doing so leads to false tax deduction and depreciation schedules under the tax code, those tenants can not claim such expenses, if you do it's really fraud if you didn't pay for it.

My rule is that if anything has to be opened up, unscrewed, disassembled or disconnected to repair it, it's my thing, not a tenant. I don't let tenants change HVAC filters because if they are installed backwards, they restrict airflow and can damage a unit.

Light bulbs are not included, they can screw in a light bulb, unless you have high ceilings requiring a ladder, those I put in. Outside security lights are on me. Call if they go out, it's in the security paragraph of your lease.  

Actually, batteries in a detector are the responsibility of the owner, not a tenant, you can tag them for the cost, but not the responsibility to ensure a detector is operable, your liability.

Put a screen on, show them how to operate windows and screens without messing them up, damaged screens are on them.

Educate a tenant in the beginning, do this, don't do that, call me if, don't call me, call this guy if this happens! What is an emergency and what is not...you mess it up, it's on you, clean the place, take care of it and all will be fine! :)  

Medium logoscopiccroppedblue2Bill Gulley, General Real Estate Academy | https://generalrealestateacademy.com

Originally posted by @Troy S. :

I just had to teach my 20-something knucklehead tenant that Q-tips don't go in the toilet. Unreal.

When I was a 20something knucklehead tenant, I used to flush dental floss down the toilet. Until the toilet overflowed...my landlord had to take it off the floor and snake out the sewer line. He was pretty calm about it though. But now I put it in my leases that aside from toilet paper, nothing is to be flushed that hasn't been eaten first! And I'm happy to discuss a list of items with them if they don't understand :)

For years I have managed my own property.  I made it clear not only verbally but in the lease that my home repairs would be limited and had the rent priced slightly below market value.  I would inspect the home twice a year. 

 I had one tenant that I did not feel kept the property my up to standards. I nagged them each time I saw them and then raised the rent significantly after their lease ran out.  They left.  

A second tenant wanted me to repair everything.  If a handyman could fix the problem I told them they had to take care of it.  If it required specialized skills I took care of it.  After the lease ran out they decided to leave. 

This approach has worked well for me over the years.  Most of my tenants live for years in my rentals.

I don't understand how you can expect a tenant to make any repairs. It's your house and therefore maintenance is your responsibility. Mold, no screens, broken toilet are "real" repair needs. If you were staying at a hotel and the toilet wasn't working, would you call the front desk or would you go down to Lowes and buy a "$2.00 chain"? So many landlords just want to collect rent and spend as little as possible on the property. I think that is shabby and unprofessional. If spending $2.00 on a chain and spending 1 minute installing it makes you 'unprofitable', then something else is wrong with your business model. 

Art.

Renting a SFH, isnt the same as staying in a hotel.

Renting a SFH, is also not the same as renting a luxury apartment.

Putting a screen on a window or door, that wasn't there to begin with when they move in. Is not a repair? It isn't mandatory to have a screen on every window and door? What state is that law written?

I am a new landlord, but considering what I have came across, I am a fair one. I make plenty of repairs on my houses when they come up and are needed. But you suggesting that me not putting a screen door where there wasn't one when they moved in, or suggesting that changing a lightbulb, or fixing a chain on a handle(which they broke) is beyond the call of the duty of a tenant in a SFH, some how makes me a landlord that doesn't want to fix anything. Is a bit overkill.

My point of the post, was there are obvious things a landlord must do legally(heat,electricity,water etc) there are some thing that we do that arent required by law, to make the tenant happy, or that is what is written in the lease, but at some point with certain tenants, it comes to a point where enough is enough. no one lives in a perfect house, every house has something wrong. My question was simply how landlords draw that line with the tenant. So when real repairs come up furnace,roofs,ac units, we have enough money to cover those things, instead of blowing it on a bunch of cosmetic things that the tenant "required"

Outside of light bulb changing that are easily in reach and he tenant is capable, I would have addressed the remaining issues. If a tenant can't push he flush know on the toilet, I will go make it right. If a tenant it's frail and it isn't safe for them to change a ceiling light bulb, I will do it. If the bathroom ceiling it's a getting damaged from moisture, I will make sure they have a bath fan that  rated for the space and instruct them to use it. 

Some tenants are handy and can do a lot, I ask them to inform me of issues before they address them so I can nurse it is done correctly. My job to provide them.with a safe functional home. Addressing those issues that you mentioned outside of changing a lightbulb, if it as easy to access is your responsibility and you ultimately benefit if it is done correctly and they are happy.

Ok Kyle. The next time I have a capable 30 yr old adult tenant call and ask for me to change lightbulbs or put in screendoor where there wasnt one, or paint the entire house, because it's white in color, because they dont like it, or paint the bathroom after it was just painted 1.5 yrs ago, because they don't use an exhaust fan.

I'll point them towards you:)

To better answer your question. The law is there as a minimum guideline. Just because the law says I have 5 days to respond or a  repair request doesn't mean I am being a good landlord if I get here on day 4 to address a backed up sewer or inoperable toilet. I draw the line at preference. If a tenant wants an upgraded light fixture, I might do it but at their expense or share the cost. If they want a storm door installed where there was none before, that is most Iikely going to be a is investment for me as it protects the main door and unless your entry door is an approved insulated door it is actually a weatherization requirement (at least in my state of Wisconsin). I prefer to provide a superior service and reap those rewards. I usually end up buying properties from landlord's who chose not to provide this level of service and get greatful tenants and better returns by doing so By Doing What Should have been Done from the beginning.

Gas is up abe, Indiana isn't too far from Wisconsin,  I just might end up with you place in a couple years as your frustration grows. With your expectations of hat being a landlord is, you would most defiantly be shocked of walk into my properties and see the vast majority have color (beautiful clean lines) on the walls. I am actually painting a unit I just bought 2 months go where tenant has been for 22 years with no new paint job. She is getting color. And I just changed all her lightbulbs as they were all out and her age prevented her from changing them. Today checked on a property we agreed to have the tenant paint and pay for to meet her desires. She won' leave when her lease is up and a bump i rent won't scare her off either.

You might think it foolish of me to serve in his way but when you look at my numbers I am sure you would get an equal shock... good luck and remember, this is a service industry, if you don't agree with it, buy a REIT...

Originally posted by @Kyle Hipp :

Gas is up abe, Indiana isn't too far from Wisconsin,  I just might end up with you place in a couple years as your frustration grows. With your expectations of hat being a landlord is, you would most defiantly be shocked of walk into my properties and see the vast majority have color (beautiful clean lines) on the walls. I am actually painting a unit I just bought 2 months go where tenant has been for 22 years with no new paint job. She is getting color. And I just changed all her lightbulbs as they were all out and her age prevented her from changing them. Today checked on a property we agreed to have the tenant paint and pay for to meet her desires. She won' leave when her lease is up and a bump i rent won't scare her off either.

You might think it foolish of me to serve in his way but when you look at my numbers I am sure you would get an equal shock... good luck and remember, this is a service industry, if you don't agree with it, buy a REIT...

Exactly, customer service is my main concern with my units! It promotes retention and builds goodwill for the times when sh*t hits the fan and you can't get there right away or your first attempt at fixing something doesn't go quite right. I love my tenants and, while you do have to temper requests with common sense and business, most of these "ridiculous repairs" mentioned above probably should have been done in the first place before renting the unit. If a ceiling fan in place of a light in a living room is going to keep someone in a unit an extra year, I'm putting in a ceiling fan! 

Originally posted by @Gabe G. :

Art.

Renting a SFH, isnt the same as staying in a hotel.

Renting a SFH, is also not the same as renting a luxury apartment.

Putting a screen on a window or door, that wasn't there to begin with when they move in. Is not a repair? It isn't mandatory to have a screen on every window and door? What state is that law written?

I am a new landlord, but considering what I have came across, I am a fair one. I make plenty of repairs on my houses when they come up and are needed. But you suggesting that me not putting a screen door where there wasn't one when they moved in, or suggesting that changing a lightbulb, or fixing a chain on a handle(which they broke) is beyond the call of the duty of a tenant in a SFH, some how makes me a landlord that doesn't want to fix anything. Is a bit overkill.

My point of the post, was there are obvious things a landlord must do legally(heat,electricity,water etc) there are some thing that we do that arent required by law, to make the tenant happy, or that is what is written in the lease, but at some point with certain tenants, it comes to a point where enough is enough. no one lives in a perfect house, every house has something wrong. My question was simply how landlords draw that line with the tenant. So when real repairs come up furnace,roofs,ac units, we have enough money to cover those things, instead of blowing it on a bunch of cosmetic things that the tenant "required"

I think that's terrible that they didn't have a screen on the door or window when they moved in.  Why would you  not have a screen on the windows?????????

Why would you not think its important to have a functional toilet?

This is why people think landlords are all bad.

Put a damn screen on the window so when the window is raised nothing can fly or crawl on. 

@Gabe G.  I am going to give you the answer you are looking for, I am not sure how anyone posting here is making money because every time they are over there upgrading a fixture the tenant is asking them to upgrade something else and the the vicious circle keeps going. Explain to your tenants before they move in that you make repairs not upgrades. Yes you do have to do maintenance on the house, you have to repair anything that is broken or faulty and you have to keep the house in a good, safe and livable condition. If something breaks because of the tenants neglect (toilet clogging, not using the bathroom exhaust fan, etc...) give them one pass, explain to them the situation and where possible make it as simple as possible. Moving an exhaust fan switch into the light switch would probably take you 5 minutes, do it and you don't have to sit at home angry about your tenant. Being a landlord isn't easy, people claim it is but it takes time and people skill. You are going to have to replace toilet chains, the flapper, door handles because "it just fell off" and a host of other things, just be happy when its something easy like a toilet chain. Also if you are not prepared for these types of calls I highly recommend getting a property manager it might save you from having a heart attack. Most importantly have fun, if its not fun perhaps your passion lies somewhere else :D

Richard, thats sorta the answer I was looking for.

I must say I am surprised by the responses here. people seem to be drawing alot of conclusions.

3 days ago, as I was getting off work, one of my tenants called and said they didnt have heat. I had someone there and the heat fixed within one hour. 2 weeks ago, A tenant called(single lady) at 1am in the morning, a pipe had busted going into the water heater, I led her through calmly over the phone, shutting off the water. I had emergency service and had it fixed and water restored by 4a.m. The next day another tenant called and said the oven wouldnt get over 200 degrees, and she wanted to bake holiday cookies with her kids the next day, I had a new oven delivered, and installed it myself within 12 hrs of her telling me the oven, wasn't heating properly. 

You guys are assuming I don't know this is a service business. And I am the one giving landlords a bad name? I have picked up a unit or two, from an actual bad landlord, one who, instead of putting a new wax ring on a toilet, rigged it, one who had let a tenant have raw sewage backing up for a few months, before, they had the sewer pipe cleared out. These are bad landlords.

Scott K. 

So you honestly think, because one door or window in a house, doesn't have a screen on it when they move in, that makes me a bad landlord? I own a home and I have two windows with no screen, and have for 8 years, i am surprised the house hasn't collapsed on itself yet:). The tenant walked through the house and was fine with it on move in. Of course it's important to have a functional toilet, haha. Where did I say it wasn't?  Would it matter that the toilet was just rebuilt 5 weeks ago, and the tenant was the one that broke the chain? Or would I still be a bad landlord?  Are you even being serious? or did you just speak before thinking?

As I said I was simply asking where landlords draw the line. If you replace something that was a repair and the tenant breaks it again, are you just skipping and jumping to go fix it again?       Judging by some of these responses, I guess you guys change lightbulbs on units  personally and go and clean the toilet bowl for them too. Why put any responsibility on the tenant?  In all honesty if you guys did all the little requests a true "nitt picky" tenant asked for and never said no, you guys would of been broke a long time ago.

@Gabe G.  

Remember this is a website and everyone's ares are different.   I would recommend fix/maintain what the properties need.  Defer other BS until lease renewel time.  Then offer to make those changes if they renew the lease.  

Gabe, As Bryan stated, everyone has there own perspective. For your toilet chain, are you saying they took off the tank cover and we're playing with the chain and broke it? When I buy something and it breaks because someone used it rougher than I would I acknowledge the fact that mistakes happen, people lose their temper and stuff whether today or in 20 years breaks or wears out. I have explained simple toilet repairs to tenants and instructed them to check with me before doing a repair but I can let them if we are both comfortable with it. If stuff breaks regularly I get better products or harden the property. 

My wife and I are in our late 20s, early 30s. There are things that are simple that my wife has me do. Frankly I don't want my wife at he top of the stairs on a ladder or chair changing a lightbulb and I have no problem doing it. Going a step further. I bought my house about 18 months ago. I have done a ton of work, adding a bathroom, installing drain tile and a sump pump. Finishing the basement, electrical updates, siding, blown in insulation in the walls, new driveway, tore down the old garage and built a new bigger one and final project  be moving the kitchen, blowing out a wall and opening it up for a great flow. My wife and now  year old son have years of experience having this type of work done. I leave holes in my walls, or even covered holes in the floor when r i removed the chimney. I can do that at my house. I live without a back step at my home and perfectly content however if i do that at my rental property, I am asking for trouble and it would be foolish. You might be fine if an outlet in a bedroom doesn't work for years but that doesn't make a tenant nit picky if they ask you to fix it. 

I would much rather improve the property with a tenant in place so when they do move out years down the road, I have easy work and can even skip all vacancy by having a happy tenant to will leave it clean and have an updated well maintained unit to rent it away for top dollar. That is pretty big on my finances compared to $15 for a light fixture, $100 for storm door which extends my replacement time on the entry door, $100 for couple gallons of paint I can apply at my leisure instead of under the gun trying o turn a property. 

Good luck Gabe, I hope you find a tenant that does all you want and more...

Kyle, just by your last statement, You obviously arent getting the point of the post or the question and are focused on what you do, and how great of a landlord you are. I am not looking for a tenant to do anything, except what they are contractually obligated to do. You either are just so focused on the actual things I brought up, rather than the premise that was being raised.

Maybe I can make it clearer, and if you want to help thats fine, if not fine.

Have you ever had to tell a tenant no on something they requested? If so, where do YOU draw the line on things you will do and wont do, and how do you relay that to the tenant?

Thank you

I answered that before? If a tenant wants a new stove because their's is almond and they want a white one. I have no problem saying no. I will paint or allow tenants to paint in certain circumstances if it is in my benefit. If it will improve the property, add value, and make is easier to rent quickly and at a higher price, I usually don't have an issue. I talk to my tenants like adults and run them through my thought process. I can tell the that the cost doesn't justify the request or explain that quite frankly I don't have the time with other priorities.  I don't think there is any trick to it, just explain. 

My point is that by and large most requests are not unreasonable and will ultimately benefit you. I'm not martyr I just look to make win/win situations. 

My nicest place has a stay at home mom it it. For the first month she texted me every 48 hours about an issue. "The toilet filling is too loud", "the linoleum has black marks that won't come up" etc.
she complained about my repairs and kept saying " I feel like you would fix more if you lived here"???
I had to call her husband and tell him only to contact me. It was driving me crazy.

I fix everything that is the landlords responsibility, and nothing that isn't. keep in mind....if the tenant breaks something, THEY ARE REPSPONSIBLE TO PAY FOR ITS REPAIR...as well as clogging the drain, per the clogged drain addendum.

@Gabe G.  

The tone and tenor of your original post are what some of us are responding to. You used language that conveys that you see your tenants as adversaries: "nit-pickers", and "annoying".

I don't know of any business where one can resent one's customers and expect to be successful.  Tenants deserve respect and great service.  After all, they're paying you rent.

Tenants need to be "trained," like children or new recruits.

They need to be guided on what is acceptable and what isn't, regardless of your philosophy on repairs. If you don't do this early on, you'll regret it the rest of the lease.

Set yourselves and your tenants up for success.