Tenant buys refrigerator without consulting me wants me to pay

37 Replies

A tenant who has just moved into a property I was using once a week for 2-3 days at a time had told me last week that they had a problem with the fridge. The wife told me she had cleaned under and it looked like it was starting to work. The fridge was in great working order when I did the walk thru and the whole time I stayed there.. So today I get a long email from the husband telling me that they went to the scratch and dent somewhere and bought a new fridge. Since in their lease they are responsible for the first $300 repairs he wants me to pay the difference ($287.00). The problem is I never authorized the purchase of a fridge and if I knew there was the need to buy a new fridge I would have done the buying myself. I'm not happy about that. But here is something else much bigger: I don't know what to do about it!!!!!! Has anyone had a problem like this before?

One week before signing the lease I hesitated and wanted to get out of the contract to lease but it was too late. The house does not like them!!!

"Mary also mentioned to me that she saw a small amount of water coming out of the bottom of the toilet in the smaller bathroom. It was enough to soak the red rug around the toilet. We both agreed it was probably the wax ring and I would replace it when I got home. She never used the toilet again until this past Saturday morning just before we left. She had also done 3-4 loads of laundry during the week. Knowing the toilet might have a small leak while we were out, she placed a towel around the toilet in case of a leak. We were going to replace the wax seal later in the day.

Upon our return we discovered the small bathroom had flooded. Water was flowing from the toilet ring and the shower had filled up with sewer water. We immediately used the shop vac, towels and mops to clean up the sewage water on the floor. I shut off the water valve behind the toilet. I used a plunger to see if it was clogged and the water would not go down. We flushed the toilet and the water in the bowl would not go down so I used the shop vac to suck the water out of the tank and the bowl.

Since we agreed to be responsible for the first $300 of repairs we called a plumber. All Pro Plumbing came to the house Saturday afternoon with the intentions of snaking the line and putting in a new wax seal for that toilet. He asked us about having a septic tank and I told him I did not know if there was one. He saw the clean-out cap just outside the back door and when he opened it, it was filled to the top. That is why the water/sewage came into the bathroom, the water had no place else to go. He probed the ground and hit the septic tank. He informed us that he thinks the bathroom and washing machine are connected to a septic tank. If so, it is full and needs to be dug up and vacuumed out to see if it is the tank or the drain field. He also told us it is code violation to have a septic tank in Casselberry living on the lake. Many years ago, the City of Casselberry paid to have all homes on the lake tied to city sewer lines. There is another septic tank in the front yard as well. He is pretty sure the front yard tank is tied to the city lines, but he cannot tell if the back yard clean-out goes to city lines or a septic tank. The plumber explained to us that there may be a height issue between the front and back yard and the waste may not flow to the front without a pumping system. He also recommended, as renters, we don’t snake that line. He said you cannot snake a septic tank because you can cause damage to it and we don’t want to be responsible for damaging the tank. He also noted the clean-out cap is PVC pipe. The original cap would have been cast iron. So that means it is a newer line or work has been done to it by a previous owner. I know you didn’t do anything with the piping so it had to have done years ago.

According to the property appraiser website, that glass back porch was done in 1993. We don’t see any records of permits for the back laundry room and bathroom being added/ converted to the house. The homeowner at that time might have decided to tie into the septic tank with the new bathroom and washing machine? You can only find out by digging it up. If it is not tied to a tank and it is tied to the city lines, then it can be snaked. If it has to be dug up, he made a recommendation of a company they use called Your Environmental Services. They specialize in drainage and septic tank issues. He also suggested for you to call the city and get them to look up your address and what is tied to their lines. It might even be a city issue? We pay for city water and sewage, there is a meter so we are tied to their lines somewhere. The question is do they show the back as part of what is tied to their lines? The plumber pointed out the elevation and slope of the property and how the back yard is lower than the front which is another reason it might have flooded; water doesn’t flow up.

At this point, we have the cap off of the clean-out. He suggested we keep it off or it will back up in the bathroom again. We are not using that toilet, sink or shower until the issue is taken care of. However, we have to do laundry. Mary washed a small load of clothes on Sunday and the water/sewage coming from inside the clean-out was nasty. We are now not able to do laundry until this issue is taken care of. We can’t dump sewage into the back yard. We are going to have to ask Tammy if we can use her washer until this issue is resolved. We paid All Pro Plumbing $157 for a service call on Saturday.

Orita, I am sure this is very unsettling for you. Mary said you were sure that everything worked well in this house when you were here. However, please keep in mind this house was built in 1953 and nobody has really “lived” in this house for years. We really enjoy living here and love this neighborhood. We treat your house as if it was our own. This weekend I installed a dryer vent through the garage so the hot air can flow outside, I replaced all of the florescent bulbs in the kitchen that didn’t work. Today I will be replacing the toilet flushing handle as it allows the handle to rotate too far which allows the chain to get under the seal which causes the water to leak continuously.

We will continue to maintain and repair, at our cost, the items that need to be attended to. However, we must get the issue of the septic drainage sorted out and repaired as soon as possible."

They bought a fridge without your permission, that's on them. Tell them they can take it with them when they leave. Also they are responsible for their own fridge repairs. Always have your OWN plumber lined up for emergencies so they are working for YOU and not for your TENANT!

I wouldn't pay for the refrigerator. What did they do with the old one? Did they have a licensed refrigerator repairman come out and provide you proof that it was no longer usable? Voluntarily replacing a refrigerator is not a repair, it does not fall under the $300 repair rule (IMO). 

As far as the septic, what was the last time you had it pumped?

Agreed, in fact, if they threw out the old fridge, make them pay you for it! They had no right to throw out your old fridge.

Reading through it it sounds like a very concerned tenant who is giving your asset far more care then would be expected. A call to the plumber would confirm what they are experiencing. 

They have given you everything at your fingertips to confirm what they are experiencing. If it is true then they have every right to be far more irate then they are. My opinion. If this was happening to me I would withhold my rent.

On a side note- I don't understand why landlords incentivize the destruction of their property. Making a tenant responsible for repair costs will cause them to ignore problems that need attention. All problems start off small- why wouldn't you want these addressed immediately? It will also beg them to hire shoddy handymen. Considering this increases my appreciation for the tenants you have.

The refrigerator is the least of your problems. 

Raw sewage in the backyard will cause a property to be uninhabitable.  Attend to this before your property is condemned. 

We used to own a property that was on septic until the city services moved out to our suburban neighborhood.   Although the property had been hooked up to the city sewers years before, there was still an underground septic tank.  The septic tank needed a sump pump to pump sewage into the city sewers.  Your property may have a similar set up.

I took over the management of my one SFH with a tenant with a similar type lease requirement. They had to pay the first XXX amount of service calls. I made a temporary addendum and removed that. I prefer they let me know about anything and everything and NOT take care of it themselves. First of all, it's an investment for me, I WANT things taken care of the correct way. I don't want them ignoring things because they have to pay. Renters usually are not good money managers or they would be able to afford to buy a house. Secondly, they aren't necessarily that wise. A broken screen door glass panel they thought needed a whole NEW screen door for the tune of several hundred dollars, they had even already checked with home depot who told them the glass panel couldn't be replaced. I had the window replaced for less than $20.

I was also glad they pointed out the gutters overflowing because the previous "manager" didn't have that in the budget to take care of, and it wasn't specified in the lease. Gutters make a huge difference in water and foundation issues.

I prefer to hold them responsible for issues that they clearly cause, not normal items that are important in the longevity of the property. Of course, it is possible your tenants are standing on the toilet or something bizarre...

That is why we do not provide a fridge!  Some tenants just don't like the style so they lie and try and get in your wallet.  Do not pay and do not let them dictate your decisions.

Thanks everyone for the reply. As far as the fridge goes I will pay for the difference. That's not the problem. I just didn't like the way they went about it. For sure the major problem is the septic tank which I was not even aware it was there. We're supposed to be connected to sewer. I pay the city for water and sewer every month. It came as a big surprise. When I bought the property last December, had an inspection, and was never told about a septic tank. 

Chances are your washer is tied to a cistern and should not be. This is something people do to decrease sewage bills. Pump the tank and route the indoor plumbing to the main. As long as your interior lines are tied to the main in front and if you are below grade you have a pump you should not back up again. you can check permits to see if there was one to hook up to sewer but it would be rare the town that missed that. You usually pay to put the line in and the you pay the town a hook up fee. All this assuming you should have sewer. if you should have septic you need a different plumber and you should call in a septic guy to ebaluate.

Contact your city/county water/sewer department to get the real "poop" (no pun intended) on this septic tank business.  Explain you're paying for water and sewer services and need to know if there is an extra septic tank in the back yard and what to do to make certain everything should tie into city services.

For what it's worth, I've gone through the same thing (although on a smaller scale) myself.  Bought a house, had inspection and later learned it had a septic tank; was never told this.  It did back up when tenants were doing the laundry (luckily into a bathtub) but the house had been empty for a couple of years.   The answer was simply to clean out the tank and remove some roots that had grown in.

I did call the city when the house was empty to get them to run a line to get "regular" sewer services (there's a big push in my county to move from septic tanks to helping folks tie into city sewer lines).  However, my house is on a short, dead end street with only two other houses and a mobile home; there's no city sewer line available and no plans to put one in in the near future so nothing to "tie into".

At this point my goal is to limit the number of people living in the house (to reduce the sewer "load"), provide them with products containing bacteria to flush down the toilet once a month (no guarantee they'll do that), include a clause in their lease to limit the use of bleach and ammonia that would kill the bacteria in the tank and a regular (once a year) clean out of the tank.


"Thanks everyone for the reply. As far as the fridge goes I will pay for the difference." 

You will come to regret that decision with these tenants. By paying you have relinquished the management responsibilities of your property over to your tenants. Big mistake.

@Colleen F. The bummer is our intention when we bought this house was to use it for weekend retreat and then do a major renovation and addition to bring it up to date. The house is located on a very nice and quiet lake. I wanted to move there. This house has a beautiful soul. I really didn't want to spend a bunch of money now fixing something that will most likely be obsolete when we start renovations. 

Now I want to move west, maybe Vegas, to get closer to my kids and grandkids who live in LA but don't want to move to California. I ended up renting it to a neighbor who had to move out of their rental and wouldn't stop bothering me about renting it. One week prior to signing the lease I regretted deeply to have signed a contract to lease.I wanted to back out of it but it was too late. For some reason I had a bad feeling about this people. Well, I guess my house does not like them either. 

Ask: "Did I reply in writing to grant you the permission to shop and foot the bill?

A tenant called fumigation service without landlord permission or knowledge. The landlord swallowed the bill and they tried it again. You are not welcome here please start looking.  

I read half of his email. I've had a couple of these types. You can't win for losing with this guy. He will call the authorities in a second if he is not "stroked" effectively. If done right he can be one of the best tenants a person can have, improve your property, and save you money. But if you get into a pissing contest, you can never win even if your right. Pay for the fridge, praise him for being so conscientious of your property and offer to work with him with all the issues he brought up. If you try to force him out or fight against him, he will make your life hell since he seems to have the time, intelligence and willingness to do it. Be smart and put your ego in your back pocket. You can make this guy work for you.

@Orita Issartel ,

If it's a brand new fridge,  and they are essentially paying majority of it, I think it's in your best interest to keep it.    I'd have them sign something in writing that the fridge stays with the home, and they have no rights to it.   You can also offer for them to keep and maintain it, but they have to pay for all of it.   Just make sure it's clear and in writing.   

Regarding the plumbing, it sounds like they are inexperienced and screwed it up, and did an unauthorized call so I'd have them pay the $157.     I'd tell them you will take care of it, and you definitely need a second opinion.   Definitely get it taken care of ASAP, whether you rent to them or another person, the plumbing must be fixed.    I'd stress to them again, that if they make any unauthorized calls, they are paying for it.. don't allow someone else to walk on you or make the calls, it's your house and your liability!

Read the rest of the email. How did you not know about the sewer?!?!?

@Orita Issartel , why are you paying the difference in spite of all the advice? What if they move out tomorrow and take the fridge with them, which is their right because they purchased it and have the receipt. They are going to run over you from now on. WATCH!

Normally I would say HELL NO to paying the tenant for repairs/appliances they buy without my authorization..... all it does it set up them doing it over and over and expecting me to pay....very bad idea.

In this case the whole septic issue is a disaster and they seem to be pretty flexible and understanding about it...... so I may chose not to rock the boat. What they are enduring with the septic issue is pretty bad, so I may just cut them some slack and bend my rule. BUT I would make it 1000% clear that this will not be tolerated again....this is a one time "get out jail free" card.....don't do it ever again.  And if they want you to pay for the refrigerator, then it now belongs to you and it stays with the unit.....and get that in writing.

If they weren't dealing with the huge and degusting issue with the septic, I would 100% agree with sticking to the rule of NEVER pay for unauthorized repairs/items the owner buys and then want to be paid back for..... EVER....

If you have a sewer tie in already and you probably do connecting  the back into the main is doable and wont become obsolete.  The main sewer line coming out of the front of the house would not be hooked into a front septic if there is even a front septic. A permit from the town they would never allow that.  A Cap in the front may go to an ejection pump which pumps sewage uphill.  A couple of things, a septic pump out is $250 for a house tank here so  no big if they are pumping out a cistern which in fact may only have a tank and not a leach field. Get advice on how to disconnect if it is hooked into a cistern. The toilet running can overwhelm the system so it may be part of the cause.   I would get a different plumber and meet with them directly.  We also live on a lake and have septic with no possibility of sewer. I had to write the town selectmen to tell them since they were having some creative ideas on sewer plant funding not even realizing some of us were on septic so people miss this point. It is something to look into on purchase but lake houses can be a treasure so dont let it discourage you.   It may not be as bad as you think.  I would ask the next plumber to walk you through how your system is designed now and how it should be setup.  Banish the tenant from the repair discussion, it will make your life easier.

@Colleen F. This morning I called a company to go there tomorrow and pump out the tank. I've also asked them to not discuss anything with tenant and tell tenant if he has any questions to call me. We have plans to do extensive remodeling and additions to this property in the near future and don't want to deal with any hooking up now. Thx

I have seen water lines to automatic ice makers leak causing major damage. I avoid them unless I get into upper quality homes .

Updated about 1 year ago

I have installed septic tanks with my dad year ago.First pump it out then see what happens .always get several bids or thoughts on this issue .

You said you purchased this property within the last year. If there was no disclosure about the (poorly maintained and over full) septic, there may be able to go to the previous homeowners for some remediation??

Hi @Orita Issartel ,

If you are ok with taking ownership of the refrigerator, then In order to (help) avoid an ownership dispute when these tenants move, I would insist that they provide you the original receipt, make sure the refrigerator warranty is registered in your name, and have the tenant sign a sales receipt to you for the refrigerator before you credit their rent or pay them.

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