Replaced Refrigerator by tenant without notice

13 Replies

My tenants sent me the following message. There was no previous messaging of any problems; they informed me of replacing and discarding the previous unit all in one message. Then expect me to pay for the new unit. The receipt they provided does not clearly indicate a refrigerator purchase at all, just an "order id" and "recall amount"; there is no indication of a product type, name, etc. The total with tax is a bit below $750, which is reasonable for a refrigerator but why would they not give me some notice about the issue? The receipt is dated October 24 but they first contacted me about it on November 1. I still don't know if the water was ice maker water, condensation water, or something else.
I'm tempted to just tell them that the new refrigerator they claim to have bought shall remain their property and I will just call it a loss on the previous refrigerator.
---
Good evening,
The refrigerator has started to leak water and we decided it was time for a replacement. Would you like to deduct the amount from the rent? It will be delivered and installed by the *unnamed* service representatives on *date*
Thank you for your time and consideration
---
In a later email, in reply to a request to send me an image of the problem with the old unit and a picture of the new unit. That's when they said this:
---
The old refrigerator was leaking water from the freezer and freezing all the food on the first two shelves. Water would also leak out onto the floor when the door was open. I don't believe it was in anyone's best interest to have water leaking in any part of the house. *unnamed entity* delivered the new refrigerator and we paid $25.00 for them to take away the old one. We understand if it is not in your budget to reimburse.

Hey Tammy, tough question!

You may want to look into your local laws and regulations on tenant-landlord laws. Having that said depending on the rental agreement usually, appliances are covered by the landloard. Most states have a reasonable time law stating that appliances should be repaired/replaced in 14-30 days, if there is a significant leak then closer to 7 days. Luckily in court, this issue is likely to be dismissed or postpone since the tenant never notified you of the issue or gave 'reasonable time to repair'.

Hopefully this cleared things up, good luck!

If they didn't let you know there was a problem and took it into their own hands, you need to talk to them and explain that this is not how things are done.  

At the bottom, they say they understand if you can't reimburse them.  Of course that doesn't solve the problem that you are out a fridge once they move.

That sounds to me like an older model fridge that just needed to be defrosted. They should be able to locate what they did with your appliance. Have you had disagreements with them before about appliances or did this come out of the blue? In my experience, lots of California landlords do not provide a fridge, but it seems not normal to do what they did.

I would be pissed if a tenant took it upon themselves to spend $750 of your own money. Since the damage is already done, I would figure out a reasonable solution. How old was the fridge? If ancient, maybe just roll with what was done and warn them for next time. If it was fairly new(under 5 years old), I would maybe look at splitting the cost or more because it still had plenty of useful life left. It sounds like the condensate line might have been blocked which is an easy fix.

Their last line about reimbursement leads me to believe they will be flexible and actually care about the place versus trying to get a new fridge just because. Also, during this pandemic, a tenant that can shell out $750 for something that is not theirs without expecting reimbursement might be someone to keep long term...well...depends on how much their rent is.

@Tammy Mason

This actually happened to me once. There may be more to this than meets the eye.

As always, everything I say comes from my perspective as a local DIY investor specializing in C/C-class SFR and small multifamily in an urban setting. I self-manage and handle almost all maintenance myself.

So, occasionally, you get tenants down in the property classes who have REALLY low expectations. They see the landlord-tenant relationship about bothering the landlord as little as possible. They expect all replacement appliances to be used and of the absolutely lowest grade. If two appliances break, one right after the other, they often expect to be blamed for it. And they really don't know how to deal with this sort of problem.

So there's a range of possibilities on what might have happened, Tammy, and I would caution you not to jump to the immediate conclusion that the tenant wanted a nicer refrigerator and is trying to get you to pay for it. Talk to the tenant. If this is the first appliance you have ever replaced with this unit, make it clear that you expect to have the right to inspect the next appliance that breaks before replacing it, and change your standard lease so that your expectations are clear in the future.

However, the phrasing that they're using here to communicate with you makes them sound like entitled spoiled brats. "We decided it was time for a replacement..." and "I don't believe it was in anyone's best interest..." beg responses of: who are you to decide and why should I give a damn about your beliefs? Thinking people don't usually write like that. Oblivious people with an exaggerated sense of their self-importance often do.

The way forward here is communication, if you self-manage, and making your replacement policies clear here through your property manager if you do not. If ultimately, you determine that this is some dirty little trick to get a nicer refrigerator on their part, direct them to return the appliance and replace it with the cheapest, ugliest, smallest-possible unit from a scratch-and-dent used appliance dealer that you can find. If they're just entitled kids being kids or it's one of the psychological problems dealing with a landlord I described above , I would probably eat the cost, despite it being a bit more than I usually pay per unit for a refrigerator. Just make sure it doesn't happen again.

A couple things:

1. First and foremost, Tenants are not allowed to swap appliances whenever they want. Your previous refrigerator probably required a very simple, inexpensive fix and they were wrong to throw it out. Tenants should always contact you when there is a problem and let you deal with it. The water leaking on the floor was probably minimal and could have been handled with an absorbent towel while seeking a permanent solution. 

2. They said "We understand it is not in your budget to reimburse." They are hoping you'll pay them for it, but they are not demanding it.

3. Even if you don't pay for the new fridge, it is still yours. The tenants removed yours without permission and they are required to replace it. They can't take the new fridge without replacing your fridge with a similar quality item.

Modern freezers are "frost free" so they don't build up ice. To do this, they remove the moisture from the freezer compartment and drain it down a tube. That tube can be covered by food or ice, preventing the water from draining. Then the water spills out into other areas, eventually leaking on the floor. This can usually be remedied with a hair dryer and five minutes of time. Or it can be permanently fixed by a technician installing a small heating unit that prevents ice from building up in the drain.

Long story short, the tenant should not have disposed of your fridge. On the other hand, you are getting a new appliance. I would consider reimbursing the tenant 2/3 of the cost with a clear, written agreement that the fridge remains in the home when they leave. I would also remind them that they need to report future maintenance issues to you as the Landlord and that it's inappropriate for them to make changes to the home without your knowledge/permission.

"I threw your property away.  I hope you don't mind.  It's likely not appropriate to do that but I either never learned that or I don't really care.  I didn't call you because I never learned how to properly communicate...plus it's easier to avoid conversations like this."

Others have covered the solution.  But I would also recommend calling them to get clarity.  We have a leaky frig, frig replacement, frig removal, emails, and a BP post and still don't have a real conversation to figure out what happened.

@Joel Calkins  @Theresa Harris @Amelia G @Jim K. @Nathan G
Thank you all for sharing your perspective. This is my only rental space ever. The same renters have been there since 2016. They have paid reliably and we communicate infrequently but they do have a tendency to just do things. Supposedly they took it upon themselves to replace the carpet at their own expense a year or two ago. They broke a smoke detector recently when trying to do something with it then had it replaced supposedly. I live in California now but the house is in Kansas. I haven't been inside in a while.

The house was supposedly built in 2002. I bought it in 2013. The fridge was there when I bought it and there was no indication of any issues when I lived there for 3 years. I don't know the age of the fridge. Could be from 2002.

I'd say if the fridge was newer to split the cost 50/50 as a one time exception, and that if they don't ask the landlord first, they will not be reimbursed.

@Tammy Mason So now it very much sounds like you're remote managing a long-term single-family Kansas property from California, and you've done so since 2016. Four years. The price of the replacement fridge and the way these tenants operate makes it sound like a C-class SFR.

I can tell you with a very high degree of confidence that if this is a C-class property, you're going to get burned on this sooner or later. It may be one or more of a lot of things -- a problem tenant, problem neighbors, lost rent, eviction, fire, plumbing emergency, etc. -- but you're going to get burned.

You've had a lucky run so far. The best run I've heard in C-class to date is seven years. I'm in the process of acquiring such a property here in western Pennsylvania right now. The owner in Georgia got burned, and that's why he's selling it to me, as I'm living one street over from the property. The burn on the owner is to the tune of some six or seven thousand dollars in lost rent, and he's handing me a complicated eviction of a disabled person with a roommate (who is not on any lease) that he knows he can't handle from out in Georgia. Along with fifteen thousand off his initial ask.

But maybe I'm wrong. I've certainly been wrong before. You don't know me from Adam. Maybe I have no idea what I'm talking about. Your situation could be the exception to the rule I'm trying to lay out for you here.

But if I'm right, you stand to lose quite a bit, and I would either sell this one remote-managed place now, while you still can, or get a property manager out there to manage it. Whatever you choose, I wish you the best of providential luck, but feel obligated to remind you that God very much tends to help those who help themselves.

Originally posted by @Tammy Mason :

My tenants sent me the following message. There was no previous messaging of any problems; they informed me of replacing and discarding the previous unit all in one message. Then expect me to pay for the new unit. The receipt they provided does not clearly indicate a refrigerator purchase at all, just an "order id" and "recall amount"; there is no indication of a product type, name, etc. The total with tax is a bit below $750, which is reasonable for a refrigerator but why would they not give me some notice about the issue? The receipt is dated October 24 but they first contacted me about it on November 1. I still don't know if the water was ice maker water, condensation water, or something else.
I'm tempted to just tell them that the new refrigerator they claim to have bought shall remain their property and I will just call it a loss on the previous refrigerator.
---
Good evening,
The refrigerator has started to leak water and we decided it was time for a replacement. Would you like to deduct the amount from the rent? It will be delivered and installed by the *unnamed* service representatives on *date*
Thank you for your time and consideration
---
In a later email, in reply to a request to send me an image of the problem with the old unit and a picture of the new unit. That's when they said this:
---
The old refrigerator was leaking water from the freezer and freezing all the food on the first two shelves. Water would also leak out onto the floor when the door was open. I don't believe it was in anyone's best interest to have water leaking in any part of the house. *unnamed entity* delivered the new refrigerator and we paid $25.00 for them to take away the old one. We understand if it is not in your budget to reimburse.

If you want some sort of legal advice then you'd need to contact a lawyer obviously. I don't know how what I'll say below would actually stand up in court if it because an issue, but that's up to you and your lawyer. 

I agree with what you said. Tell them the new fridge is their property now, if they don't want to take it with them when they eventually move out then you will pay them for a used equivalent that you would have bought ($300 in my area). Tell them that you will waive the replacement fee since you believe it to be a miscommunication and that any issues with the property should be directed to you before the tenant acts to do anything. You must approve all repairs and changes as is written in your lease (this is in almost every lease I've seen, but check yours). 

 

They did not inform you there was an issue. You do not need to reimburse them for the fridge because they disposed of your property without your consent, and the refrigerator will stay with the property after they leave. If they would like a repair or a reimbursement, it must be noted beforehand.

@Gregory Hiban Yes, the first notice of any problem came in November at which time the receipt and email came to convey a rough message about what happened. Before that I had no knowledge of there ever being an issue with the fridge.