Emergency maintenance in an apartment includes anything that severely impacts the tenants’ ability to live in the unit, such as a fire, gas leak, or a flood.
What Qualifies as an Emergency in a Rental Unit?
While some tenants will insist that the issue in their apartment is an emergency, the reality is that true emergencies are much more rare. Anything that can cause serious risk to someone’s health or to the property itself is considered an emergency.
Even a little bit of water can result in massive damage to a property. Water can get under the wood floor and cause warping, damage the walls and baseboards, or eventually lead to mold, if left untreated.
Of course, the other issue is that the water had to come from somewhere. If the reason for the flood was something as simple as leaving the tub on, then there’s no fix there. However, a clogged toilet or drain could potentially be a serious issue.
One of the most obvious and direct threats is an open flame in the apartment. Your tenants should understand that this requires an immediate call to 911 if the flames can’t be put out in a couple of seconds.
If the fire isn’t handled quickly enough, other units in the building can be damaged as well. Be sure that you provide fire extinguishers to each of your tenants, and instruct them on their role in handling the situation (while recognizing their safety is the most important priority).
If your tenants smell gas in the apartment, they should immediately leave the property and call 911. It’s a good idea in an apartment complex to also warn other tenants, such as with the fire alarm.
The gas itself can cause serious injury or death, and the risk of explosion is very real.
Carbon monoxide can get into a rental unit in a number of ways, such as through blocked vents or malfunctioning gas water heaters.
The only way to know for certain that carbon monoxide is an issue is with a carbon monoxide detector. If the apartment doesn’t have one, or it’s malfunctioning, the tenant will feel dizzy, get light-headed, and experience headaches. If they clear out of the apartment and feel better right away, that’s a tell-tale sign.
No Air Conditioning in Summer
While this isn’t a huge issue in places with mild summers, it can be legitimately life-threatening in places like Phoenix. If the A/C goes out, instruct your tenants to reach out to you immediately. Having a solution on hand, such as a portable A/C unit or large fans can help get your tenant through until the A/C gets fixed.
No Heating in Winter
Similarly, this isn’t an issue if you live in warmer areas, but a Minnesota winter practically requires a way to warm the house. If the heat malfunctions, provide a solution to your tenants as quickly as possible. Keeping space heaters on hand is one way to help protect your tenants while the heater gets fixed.
If a rainstorm causes water to start dripping through the house, that should be considered an emergency. Water getting into the house can cause untold damage to the floor, electronics, and furniture—not to mention the damage to the roof increasing over time.
If someone breaks into the house, that’s cause for an emergency. The trespasser would likely have broken something to enter the house, such as a lock or a window. Also, the tenants won’t feel safe in the unit, and a good landlord could potentially find somewhere else for them to stay.
There’s also the unfortunate reality that a break-in could be the result of lax security by the landlord. If this is the case, there could be litigation coming.
Loss of Power
Not only does a loss of power lead to the A/C not functioning, but other vital systems could stop working as well. Perhaps someone requires a machine for their health, or a refrigerator to keep their insulin cold. Of course, a family being stuck in the dark with no way to charge phones can also range from a minor inconvenience to a real issue.
Loss of Water
If water stops coming into the house (or at least fresh water), that’s a major issue that requires immediate attention. It’s possible there’s a broken water main (which the utility company would need to fix) or there’s a clog in the main water line.
Either way, not having drinkable water presents a serious health issue.
What Isn’t an Emergency in an Apartment rental
As a landlord, these are the issues that may have tenants reaching out constantly, even if they aren’t true emergencies.
Here are a few examples:
- Burned out light bulbs
- Malfunctioning dishwasher
- Loud fridge
- Clogged sink
- Locked out of apartment (this could be an emergency depending on the situation)
- Loud neighbors
- Running toilet
- Broken window
Of course some of those range from non-emergency to almost an emergency, and a landlord’s response should reflect that. However, none of these are true drop-what-you’re-doing items that require immediate attention.
How to Prevent and Handle Emergency Maintenance Issues
The best thing for a landlord to do to minimize these issues is to have prepared for all of them ahead of time.
Share Protocol With Tenants
Make sure that your tenants understand what’s expected of them in case of an emergency. This way, they can protect themselves, the property, and other tenants as well.
In the case of immediate danger, such as fire or a gas leak, establishing a protocol of calling 911, evacuating, and pulling the fire alarm (for an apartment building), would likely be the best course of action.
Cultivate Vendor Relationships
Every landlord should have a list of people they can call that can handle emergencies quickly. These should also be people who are responsive and trustworthy.
For example, having a fast-acting flood mitigation company in your back pocket can help tremendously in the long run.
Ensure Everything Works Correctly
Landlords should always make sure to test smoke and carbon monoxide detectors regularly in order to keep an emergency situation from becoming worse. Also, any security features in an apartment building should be working correctly, such as digital locks or security systems.
While the idea of having your phone on 24/7 isn’t the most fun, it may be necessary to prevent an emergency from turning catastrophic. For example, if a tenant finds flooding at 9 pm but you’re unreachable until the next morning, that’s a lot of extra time for water damage to occur.
Hire a Property Manager
Perhaps the easiest solution to help deal with emergencies is to hire someone whose job is to handle those sorts of things. Of course, being the owner, you’ll certainly have to be involved if there’s a fire or flood, but you won’t be the first call.