As a general rule, landlords can only make tenants pay for required repairs in a few specific, narrow cases. Most states let the landlord make an explicit contract with the tenant for some repairs. Outside such agreements, landlords almost always have to pay for repairs.
When Can a Landlord Make a Tenant Pay for Repairs?
Landlords can always make tenants pay for repairs which are the tenant’s responsibility from the outset. In most cases, tenants are responsible for damage they cause, minor issues, and items they’ve provided themselves. The landlord has default responsibility for other types of repairs.
What Repairs Must Landlords Handle?
Landlords handle most repairs in most states by default.
In particular, landlords have primary responsibility for fixing any health and safety issues as well as for code compliance in general. They’re also responsible for fixing damage due to “ordinary wear and tear,” i.e., deterioration of the property due to normal use (rather than irresponsible or deliberate misuse).
What Repairs Must Tenants Handle?
Tenants handle the following types of repairs:
- Damage tenants or invitees cause, both negligently or deliberately.
- Damage to appliances and fixtures originally provided by the tenant.
- Minor damage that doesn’t violate a housing code or create health and safety issues.
Landlord-Tenant Repair Agreements
In about two-thirds of U.S. states, a landlord can agree for the tenant to do particular repairs on rental property.
Valid agreements must meet several conditions. The property must be free of habitability issues. The landlord can’t use the agreement to escape repair duties. The tenant also must receive “adequate consideration.” This means fair reward for agreeing to take on some of the landlord’s legal duties.
“Adequate consideration” doesn’t have a precise definition. It must be something valuable the landlord exchanges for the tenant taking on his legal duty. The most common arrangement is the tenant repairing in exchange for reduced rent.
Can Tenants Make Repairs On Their Own and Bill the Landlord?
In many states, tenants can make repairs on their own, if the landlord fails to do so after proper notice. Tenants in such states can’t bill the landlord directly. Instead, they can deduct the cost of repairs from their upcoming rental payments. This remedy is called “repair and deduct” and is a standard option in most states.
Consequences for Landlord Failure to Pay for Repairs
Landlord failure to pay for repairs as required is a violation of landlord-tenant law. State laws vary, but if a landlord doesn’t pay for repairs after proper notice from the tenant, a tenant can often stop or reduce rent payments.
The following remedies also may be available:
- Forcing compliance via court order
- Suing the landlord for costs of the violation (monetary damages)
- Self-help for repairs and deducting from the rent
- Reporting the landlord to housing authorities
- Ending the lease and moving out
Consequences for Tenant Failure to Pay for Repairs
If a tenant doesn’t do (or pay for) required repairs after proper notice, the landlord can often bill the tenant for repair costs. Landlords can also usually refuse to repair issues for which the tenant is liable.