Can I charge a service fee - Tenant lied to me

21 Replies

Yes, I know.  Being lied to is nothing new but here's the story:

Last Friday, they we complaining that their stove wasn't working (eventually we found out their complaint was that one of the 4 coils/burners got "too" hot, even on low temp). So I go over and fix it. 

Today, they call and say that now 3/4 of their coils/burners on the stove top arnt working  and neither is the oven. i asked my PM if the tenant ment that the stove kept getting hot even on low, or if it physicaly didn't not work and therefore they would be unable to cook with it. I was told that it was not working at all. That only one of the coils/burners get hot. 

So based on where I work and where the property is, it made more send to buy a stove and then deliver and install it. Rather than visit the property first cause if it wasn't a quick fix, i would've wasted 2 hrs. 

So I find a good stove, much newer, perfect condition, 1.5 years old, well maintained. Hell even I would've used it. And go to deliver it, but before I install it, I test the old stove.... Everything works. 

Can I charge the tenant a service fee for wasting 6.5hrs of my time, plus the price of a new stove?  Even if I don't charge them the full amount, but some sort of fee. 

They have only been my tenant for 3 months, but they were the first to sign when I purchased the property. Still massively under market rent. 

When I was previously there, the tenant mentioned that they wanted a new stove. And when I arrive today, and questioned them about how everything seems to be working, they (mother, 2 grown daughters, 1 grandchild) were just like "we want a new stove"

Tempting to give snarky reply 'I want a new tenant'  

Document everything.  Are they month to month or on a lease?  If month to month, you can send a notice of change to terms of tenancy that allows for a fee when you get these kind of waste of time calls.

@Chris C.

Agree with @Matt K.

I'm not sure I have any kind of "service charge" defined in my leases. I would need to check with my PM.

I know it's not specific to your question, but your comment "they were the first to sign" sounds a bit concerning.

Does your PM have a robust tenant selection process including credit report, criminal background check, employment verification & paystubs, references (going back 2 or more landlords, not the last), etc? My experience is that responsible people with normal lives don't have time to play such games.

First, why isn't your PM going over and checking maintenance requests before contacting you? That's what you pay them to do. If they checked it, how did they miss that the stove is working? Second, I always say yes when the tenant requests an improvement. Then I tell them I will get back with you on the additional rent it will cost to make the requested improvements. Generally, I research as necessary and quote a figure that amortizes the cost of the improvement plus a return on my money of about 10% over a year or 18 months. Most tenants decide they don't want the improvement that bad. Those that do pay for it and we are both happy. The property is improved and the tenant gets what they want at their expense. In your case, you said rent is under market so include some catch up increase. You already know the cost of the replacement stove and your time. Don't include a service fee in your lease because you will discourage maintenance calls leading to more damage to your property that could have been prevented with cheaper prompt maintenance and repair.

I agree with @Victor N. I know this isn't the question you are asking, but if you are paying a PM, there is no reason you should be over there looking at a stove, if for no other reason than the PM should be creating a buffer between you and the tenants. Now that they know who you are, what's to stop them from calling you to complain about a leaky faucet or a rent increase or the neighbor's dog who won't stop barking?

I work as PM and manage properties for other people. In doing so, I charge for my time to do the types of things you mention above. That stuff happens all of the time. Let your PM handle those calls and pay them accordingly, save yourself the stress and time. 

It sounds like a communication with the PM who should personally validated what the tenants said was factual.

What is in your contract and why you do not carry a home warranty like most of the landlords?

The PM should've manage this situation, this is the reason you pay them the %. They should've checked if the stove was working and could've avoided you the trip and cost of new stove. Looks like you need a new PM. Best of Luck.

No you can not bill a tenant for your time or your mistake in purchasing the stove. As a landlord your time is paid for from your tenants rent check. Contractor service calls that are not necessary can be billed to tenants in most cases.

Sounds like miscommunication and unfortunately cost falls on the landlord.

Originally posted by @Sam Shueh :

It sounds like a communication with the PM who should personally validated what the tenants said was factual.

What is in your contract and why you do not carry a home warranty like most of the landlords?

 home warranties are almost certainly bad deals for everyone except the company that sells the warranty and the agents who receive commissions / kickbacks for recommending them to buyers 

@Chris C. I was lucky enough to experience something similar several times that I learnt to smarten up. The exact same thing happened with me, where a tenant wanted a new stove and reported the old one broken, even though it worked. Another common occurrence was tenants genuinely thinking something was wrong when it was their own stupidity. For example, reporting a light to be broken when actually only the globe needed to be changed (yes, this actually happened). I then added a clause to my lease which says something like ‘false call out fee’. Basically if they make a maintenance request and it’s genuine, then there’s no charge but if a contractor goes out there and there’s nothing wrong, the tenant pays a $100 call out fee. It certainly makes them think twice before requesting a frivolous repair request.
@Chris C. If you are using a PM there is not any reason for you to go to the property without the PM checking it out first. I would let the PM know that hey need to inform the tenants that the stove will not be replaced. If they ask again then a firm no should be given. Or the PM can go out to make sure that the stove is actually broken.
Originally posted by @Nat C. :
@Chris Connolly

I was lucky enough to experience something similar several times that I learnt to smarten up. The exact same thing happened with me, where a tenant wanted a new stove and reported the old one broken, even though it worked. Another common occurrence was tenants genuinely thinking something was wrong when it was their own stupidity. For example, reporting a light to be broken when actually only the globe needed to be changed (yes, this actually happened). I then added a clause to my lease which says something like ‘false call out fee’. Basically if they make a maintenance request and it’s genuine, then there’s no charge but if a contractor goes out there and there’s nothing wrong, the tenant pays a $100 call out fee. It certainly makes them think twice before requesting a frivolous repair request.

 i'll have to do that.  I was worried that if i put a service fee inside the contract they then would never call.  But i like putting the "waste my time" fee

If they are month to month, increase the rent by the cost of the stovedivided by 30 months or whatever number of months that you use as acceptable return. Send out whatever notice your state requires for rent increase. Store or sell old stove on Craigslist. If the tenant is not on a month to month lease, I would not give them the new stove unless they agree to rent increase. Give it to a tenant who is willing to pay for it.

You shouldn't even be talking to the tenants. Tell them to route everything through your PM.

The fact that your PM is allowing you to communicate with the tenants indicates you may have a bad PM. Consider doing some research and finding a quality manager that understands their job and how to protect owners.

It's your mistake for buying the stove without verifying the old one needed replacement. I see no reason why the tenants should be charged, though I would certainly issue them a stern warning and be very careful about future maintenance complaints.

@Chris C. - I resolved this type of issue in my leases.  I do not include appliances in the lease but I let them borrow them with the expectation that they will be turned over to me in the same condition less normal wear and tear.  They also have the option to bring in their own appliances if they so desire.  This has eliminated all arguments with appliances as well as my repair costs.

Note that this does allow me to charge them (from security deposit) for any repairs to the appliances when they move out if they did not make the needed repairs during their tenancy.

Below is the clause that I have been using and it has held up in court in Indianapolis:

______________ ______________ ______________ 

Appliances - The appliances have been supplied in complete working order. Appliances included are a refrigerator and gas stove. The use of these appliances is not included in the rent. If Tenants wish to use these appliances, they agree to assume all responsibility for care and maintenance. Tenants agree to return the appliances in the condition supplied less any normal and reasonable use. If Tenants wish to use their own appliances, they may request that the owners’ appliance(s) be removed from the premises. Initials verify that the Tenants understand this paragraph.

I don't believe the stove was in complete working order--I believe that the problem was intermittent at the time. I have had home appliances, and there are automobile electrical problems I know of, with the same exact characteristics. I am thinking it was a bad  voltage regulator situation. People have died from fires, etc. resulting from voltage regulators going bad.

I agree with the tenant management advices; I am just stating the above for future reference.

You cant charge now for it but when you renew you should consider this behavior in particular if it repeats. Make sure the rent reflects the market and if they are a real PIA. That said if the problem was intermittent it could be legit. I had a new stove stop working and they had banged the plug so it was lose. That is an unusual occurrence though. I would make it clear that you are giving them the benefit of the doubt in this case and you dont replace things that arent broke.