Tips for Landlords: Property Maintenance 101

As a landlord or property manager, you have various specific and general responsibilities when it comes to all aspects of your rental properties. Everything, of course, hinges on what has been agreed to in any rental agreement or lease; those written contracts supersede what has been traditionally taken care of by landlords and renters.

When it comes to property maintenance, there are dozens upon dozens of things to consider. From light bulbs to exterior painting and everything in between, the level of responsibilities shared by tenants and you is negotiable.

Small Maintenance

Of course, traditionally, renters of apartment units were responsible for lightbulbs, toilet paper, and many other “consumables,” like furnace filters and water filters. However, as time has passed, landlords have taken up many of those “wear and tear” responsibilities, simply because it has turned out to be in their best interests to do so.

For example, letting a central air conditioning unit run in the heat of summer with a dirty filter, full of dust, dirt, and other heavy particles, puts an inordinate strain on A/C equipment that is already under duress. It behooves you to replace the $5 filter to preserve an air conditioning unit so that it lasts a few more years. As you know, replacing a central air conditioner or heater is extremely expensive.

Meanwhile, if the apartment becomes inhospitable (too hot in the summer or too cold in the winter), your tenant can conceivably hold out on his rent. Now, he may be found to have overstepped his bounds, but why hassle with something that could have been prevented in 5 minutes for less than $10? Of course, it’s really not worth it the headache and heartburn.

Big-Ticket Maintenance

Items that come installed in the unit, like stoves and ovens, automatic dishwashers, and—in many cases—refrigerators, are undoubtedly your responsibility. Any plumbing, electrical work, and interior painting are also the landlord’s responsibility. Of course, if the tenant has been abusive toward the property, he can and should be held responsible from a monetary standpoint.

Such expenses incurred due to tenant neglect or willful misconduct ought to be reserved against any security deposits taken.

The gray area is always within the domicile. Curtains, blinds, and shutters may or may not be the tenant’s responsibility. The same goes for carpets and interior painting. Permanent light fixtures are the landlord’s responsibility, whereas lamps and other “portable” fixtures are the tenant’s.

It is much clearer that you are responsible for any and all property maintenance outside and on the exterior of the building, in terms of building exterior, the roof, windows (unless broken by the tenants), landscaping, parking lots, and fences.

However, you have every right to establish a fund that takes money into an escrow account in order to save for necessary repairs and maintenance. Landscaping expenses also fall into this category. Each month, part of a tenant’s rent should be placed into one of these property maintenance accounts and funds should be allocated each month for normal maintenance and some money should be allocated to future property maintenance expenditures.

A Little Goes a Long Way

Property maintenance, however, is really ultimately your responsibility. It is your property (or at least it’s the property for which you are an agent) and it behooves you to care for it in as proactive a way as possible. If you let things get out of hand, your costs rise disproportionately.

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About the author

I started RentPrep in 2007 and our mission is to pull the stress out of being a landlord.

We do this by helping you find the best tenant and providing educational resources along the way.

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  • Great article, Tom. I just posted some tips for landlords, “The 3 Simple Rules of Property Repairs“, which offers some additional helpful information.

    • Thanks for the feedback Steve. I checked out your article and it definitely has some nice tips on property repairs.

      Thanks for sharing!