Minor Maintenance questions

11 Replies

Is it legal/acceptable/best practice to ask the tenant to replace the AC filter every 2 months let's say.  The cost for a filter is a few bucks and it's 10 mins of work.  Problem is, I don't know the logistics of it.  Should I ask the tenant to do this himself?  Even if he says yes, I won't know whether he did or he didn't.  I got no problem going there myself every 2 months and doing it myself, but I don't think that's legal since once the tenant signs the lease, I just can't come and go as I please.  And obviously if the filter is not regularly replaced, my AC unit will be shot, which is going to kill my whole investment.  On another topic, for something like the famous clogged toilet situation, should I be up front and ask the tenant to try to use a plunger himself first before calling me, or is this something I'll have to go in for in case it happens?  The flip-side is I don't want the toilet overflowing, costing me tens of thousands of dollars of damage only to have the tenant tell me in court that I specified that I didn't want him calling me in case of a clogged toilet immediately but trying to plunge it himself, and that the plunger broke so he decided to do nothing.

You can ask them to change the filter.  Chances are they won't do it and then they will wonder why their bills are so high.  The unit won't be destroyed without a filter but it might need the dirt blown out of it.  You can ask them to try a plunger and if that doesn't work to contact your plumber.

Going into a unit to replace filters is not considered "coming and going as you please" It is considered maintenance/upkeep on the property. 

Either buy enough filters for your tenant to replace throughout their lease term if you don't want to do it yourself, or give them 24 hours of notice before you enter and let them know why you are entering.

It is in my lease that tenant must replace filters and batteries in smoke alarms.  That said, we usually leave 3-6 filters to ensure correct size and check them ourselves whenever we are there for any other reason.  We change all smoke alarm batteries at turnover, but do not want to be responsible whenever one starts to beep as these days there are like 6 in each house.  I think some cities require that landlord is responsible for low smoke alarm batteries, though.  

We leave a plunger in each unit, so we assume they have plunged before calling us about a clogged toilet, but we do tell them to call for any plumbing issues as things can go very bad very fast.   And you really don't want the tenant who tries to fix things himself and causes more headaches than if he'd just have left it alone, so make sure they know it's better to call you first.   You can always walk them through some easy answers right on the phone.  

Thanks everyone.  Jassem, when I got my unit installed, the installer told me that if I call him and tell him the unit is not working right, and he finds that the filter is ancient and used up, then I won't be covered by the warranty, so I need to be extra careful with that.  Luka, good idea, I didn't think of buying filters ahead of time, great point.  And I like the 24hour notice idea.  Thanks Lynn, great points.  By the way, for changing batteries in the smoke detectors, is there some log I have to keep showing the date timestamps on when they were last changed?

@Account Closed

Yeah it won't be covered under warranty but a competent AC person can blow out the dirt with compressed air and get it up and running again pretty quickly.  I think it costed me about $200 last time I had it done.

It sounds like you have a irresponsible tenant that calls you when the least little thing happens.  You should do an addendum to the lease which states that the tenant is responsible for damages incurred by neglect or destruction to the properties and it's contents.  Also, stated that repairs that are continuous in nature will cause automatic eviction.  Switch the responsibility back on the tenant.  You are a landlord not a babysitter.

Thanks Jassem, I didn't know that re: AC's..good to know.  Thanks Rod, was thinking that too.  Unfortunately some tenants are bored and have no one to talk to, and find every reason to call..so any threshold in the lease is better than none.

It depends on the area.  I know Annapolis, MD, requires a log (and I keep the receipt showing the new battery purchase).  They also require all smoke alarms to be hard-wired and linked so they all go off when one does (even the ones up/down stairs, which is a pain.).   I don't have to do that in North Carolina.     

I have it in my lease that the tenants are to change the filters monthly.  If they don't they have to pay for the AC guy when he says it was caused by the dirty filter.  (normally what happens is the unit freezes up because it can't suck in enough air because of the clogged filter.  Most of the time, turn off the unit and let it thaw a couple of hours.  Replace the filter and it works again).  I also put in the lease that the tenants are to change batteries in the smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors.  They are to notify me immediately if one doesn't work after changing the battery.  If you are going to do multiple units, you don't have the time for these basic maintenance issues - unless your state law requires you to do these.

Thanks Lynn and Jim.  Challenge I'm facing now is I wanted to put all those stipulations  into the lease, but I didn't want to work the whole lawyer situation where I have to get my lease approved by a lawyer.  Because  I'm afraid to go with anything except a boilerplate lease, and with all the stipulations I want in that regard, I know I should get it review to make sure I'm not asking for anything illegal.  And I know it's unrelated, so sorry to highjack the thread..but it's very straightforward - if leases are city/jurisdiction-specific, why are all the online services asking for State and that's all..how can these services provide legal leases which I can use where all they care about is my state and not my exact address?  What if there is some curveball Philadelphia ordinance I need to have or cannot have?

On the AC filters...

I replace the filter every 6 months for the tenant for several reasons.  The filter I have is a 4" thick and it runs $30.  This is also good for 6 months or so.  I also have the furnace or ac unit serviced every 6 months (April and Oct) under my yearly contract with the hvac company.  I change the filter at servicing time.  I feel a tenant will not pay $30 for this type of filter or they wont remember or care to change it because its not their property.  This gives me a chance to unofficially inspect the house.  For me the $220 I spend on filters and service contract helps avoid problems with the system. Doing this will prolong the life of the hvac equipment.  I have put a clause in the lease that I will take care of these things and the if the tenant wants to change it more frequent its on their dime.