All of us are well-versed in what property management is designed to do for our tenants and our investment properties. When we consider property maintenance, we usually think of those responsibilities: fixing or replacing broken appliances, changing locks and performing major repairs.
At the most basic, core level, owners and managers are required to provide a safe, habitable space for tenants. What this means can vary based on local law, but these standards always involve things like safety, health, and cleanliness. Some tasks, however, don’t necessarily always fall to property management. Your tenants have responsibilities, too. This is where the lines get blurred for many real estate investors who put the wrong responsibilities on the wrong party and then wonder why they can collect for some maintenance from the tenants and not other maintenance.
While they may not be vital to the habitability of the property, there are things tenants have to do. Because those lines can get blurry and cause contention, let me clarify.
Remember that these guidelines are typical and may vary under different legal regulations.
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4 Core Tenant Maintenance Responsibilities
Cleanliness & Sanitation
At the top of the list of a tenant’s maintenance responsibilities is simply keeping things clean. Tenants are expected to take out the trash, cut the yard, keep cars off blocks and out of the yard, and keep the property neat — just to name a few basics. That means regular housework: cleaning toilets and countertops, dusting, mopping, vacuuming, mowing, edging and so on. While some mess can be understandable, tenants can’t neglect these basic tasks. Sometimes, they may even be required to take care of cleaning the gutters, though some management companies may offer to do it for an additional fee to the tenant. The same goes for small, regular tasks, like changing air filters and light bulbs.
When properties aren’t kept clean, they can be a breeding ground for mold and infestations of bugs and vermin. Keep an eye out for warning signs of this kind of neglect, as it can cost owners a lot to fix in the long run. Easy warning signs are visible from the street. Other signs need to be regularly inspected or watched after by a repairman visiting the house for an issue and keeping a keen eye on cleanliness. They then report back to you on the condition and whether there is a need for a bigger inspection.
Reporting Issues in a Timely Manner
Tenants may not be responsible for fixing major property issues, but they’re responsible for reporting them as soon as possible. If they don’t mention a problem (leaking pipes, for instance) to the manager, they may be held liable for additional damages that wouldn’t have happened had the issue been reported and rectified earlier.
It’s vital for the health and condition of your investment property that tenants are actively encouraged to communicate with the property management when an issue arises. While it may be inconvenient at times, leaving a problem unaddressed is far more damaging.
Covering Personal Errors & Accidents
We know that tenants aren’t responsible for covering regular wear and tear. Things get damaged and worn just by virtue of being used, whether that’s the carpet or appliances. Still, that doesn’t mean that you’ll always have to foot the bill. Tenants who cause damages with carelessness are responsible for fixing the damages. That could be anything from cleaning the carpet after a wine spill to replacing a broken window.
Using the Property Properly
We all want and expect tenants to use the property as it was intended and without illegal activity, but we know that unfortunately, this isn’t always the case. If a tenant uses a room, fixture, or appliance in any way that is not within its intended use and it is damaged or broken as a result, they are absolutely liable for those damages.
Tips for Owners & Property Managers
- Value regular inspections. The most sure way to catch a problem is to look for it. Managers shouldn’t neglect routine inspections in case the tenant missed or didn’t report a problem. Inspections also are a chance to see that the tenant is living up to their end of the bargain with their basic maintenance responsibilities. If there are damages, be sure to document them with photographic evidence, just in case.
- Be diligent with property repairs. Tenants aren’t very incentivized to care for a property if you’re not doing it, either. When a problem is reported, the ball is in your court to see that it gets fixed in a proper and timely manner. A lack of property repairs can impact habitability standards and land you in legal hot water — not to mention the potential to further damage your property.
- Be clear in your contract. Do your renters know what you expect in terms of tenant maintenance responsibilities? In your lease agreement, ensure that these requirements are clearly defined, particularly when it comes to specifying regular wear and tear and situations in which tenants will be held responsible for damages.
Has a tenant’s failure to properly maintain your property made a negative impact on your investments?
Share your cautionary tales in the comments.