Getting Repairs Done to the Home You’re Renting
As property managers, we try to address repair issues within a reasonable amount of time. We still get blind-sided sometimes by irate tenants with issues we’ve never heard about before. These tenants claim they told one of our contractors about the repair issue “weeks ago” and want to know why we haven’t fixed the issue. Or we get a call from a tenant about a specific repair and then their list of repairs grows to several items we’ve never heard about and the tenant wants everything fixed immediately.
What’s the best way for a tenant to approach repair problems? Let’s discuss how to go about it to maximize the chances of the repairs being taken care of.
Communication – This is the most important, the key to everything. What’s more we recommend all communications about repairs be put in writing by tenants. Calling is fine (be sure to call the office!) to start the ball rolling, but should be followed up with an email or letter. In the challenge we had above with a tenant telling one of our contractors about a repair they wanted, the issue was that our contractors are not our employees. They had no incentive to tell our office about a repair request they received. Either it didn’t matter to them, so it went in one ear and out the other, or they probably assumed the tenant would also inform our office. We’ve had contractors that we sent into a property for a repair call us a year later to inform us a tenant was calling them from “out of the blue” with another repair issue. We’re lucky in those cases when a contractor will alert us, but the tenant shouldn’t be calling them in the first place. So, be sure to direct all your communication efforts to the office, not to contractors. Our lease states all repair issues, excluding emergency repairs, must be put in writing and sent to our office. Still, many of our tenants don’t do this.
Promptness – Don’t put off alerting your landlord about a repair and then expect them to drop everything to get it fixed immediately when you finally get around to calling about it. Water leaks can cause a lot more damage if they’re not addressed quickly. You may want to check your lease about this issue – our lease allows us to charge a tenant for further damages if they don’t promptly communicate a water leak to our office.
Share Details – One of the more frustrating issues we experience in trying to get repairs done is vague descriptions of the problem. This often leads to the wrong contractor being sent out or the contractor not having the proper tools or supplies. Both issues extend the amount of time it takes to make the repair and frustrates everyone involved. With so many people now having camera phones, take a picture of the problem and email it to the office. Your repair issue will get resolved faster.
Be Reasonable – Just because you’re renting a property, doesn’t mean you’re staying at a hotel with your own private concierge. There are some things you can and should take care of yourself. We once had a tenant that called us to replace a light bulb that burned out. Another called us about a “broken” ceiling fan where the only problem was that they were pulling the chain on the fan, but didn’t turn the light switch on. If you “abuse” your landlord by calling with every little thing, eventually just like with the boy that “cried wolf” too many times, your landlord may ignore a “real” repair request you make.
So, what happens if you do all of the above and a repair still isn’t getting done? The first inclination of many tenants is to threaten or actually withhold rent. Legally, there are certain steps you must take before you can be justified in withholding rent. Let’s look at them:
The repair must be something that affects your ability to make use of the property as intended and is under the landlord’s control. A burnt out light bulb wouldn’t qualify, neither would a utility outage that was the responsibility of the utility company.
You must be able to prove you informed the landlord about the repair issue. This is where getting used to putting things in writing pays off. If you communicate via email, save the emails you exchange with the landlord. If you don’t have email, send a registered letter via U.S. Mail and save the receipt.
You must give your landlord an appropriate amount of time to address the repair. How much time is this? It really depends on the type of repair and sometimes the weather, season or time of year. For a non-emergency repair, you probably should wait at least 30 days.
You must prove your ability to pay the rent when you withhold it. Because too many tenants have tried to “play” the system and use a repair as a reason not to pay rent they didn’t have to begin with, most courts/judges will require you to prove you had the money to pay your rent when it was due. There are really only two ways to do this: 1) have enough money continuously in your bank account to cover all rents you withhold, 2) escrow the rent money with an attorney or other licensed professional. If you don’t do this you risk having a judge dismissing your case and/or giving your landlord a money judgment against you.
Overall, if you communicate with your landlord, follow up with their office and act civilly, you’ll find most repairs are taken care of to your satisfaction. Even more get taken care of if you escalate your communications. Very few repair issues get to the point where you’d have to withhold rent.