Tenants generally are responsible for repairs to damage they cause, negligently or deliberately. They also often are responsible for repairing minor damage that doesn’t violate a housing code or threaten health and safety.
Tenant Liability for Repairs
Tenants are not liable for most repairs. The three main categories of tenant liability for repairs are tenant damage, minor damage, and damage to tenant goods.
In some jurisdictions, the landlord always has primary responsibility for repairs. This means when a tenant is liable, the landlord may do repairs but then bill the tenant for related costs.
Tenants are liable for damage they cause. Intentions don’t matter as tenants can be liable for both deliberate and negligent damage.
Anyone living at the rental property counts as a “tenant” for this rule. So do people on the property with implied or explicit permission. For example, if guests of a tenant’s child cause damage, the tenant is liable, not the landlord.
Tenants may also be liable for damage if they worsen an existing issue to the point where it requires repair, even if they weren’t the original cause.
Tenants might be liable for backing up a drain and flooding the property, even if the drain was already slow when they moved in.
Tenants are liable to repair minor damage that doesn’t affect legal habitability requirements.
A landlord’s duty to repair doesn’t guarantee a property that’s perfectly clean, convenient, or issue-free. It only covers basic health, safety, and usability of rental property for its intended purposes. Tenants must pay for desired repairs above that standard.
What counts as “minor” damage varies widely. Even in the same state, two different cities might have different requirements for landlord repairs.
Damage to Tenant Goods
Tenants are liable for damage to their own goods. Landlords don’t have to pay for repairs to things they didn’t originally provide. For example, there’s no landlord duty to repair a refrigerator or washing machine which belong to the tenant.
There can sometimes be an exception when the damage to tenant goods was caused by the landlord’s negligence. For example, if the landlord is on notice of faulty wiring that then shorts out a tenant’s computer, the landlord might be liable for the repair or replacement cost.
Consequences if Tenants Don’t Do Required Repairs
Tenant failure to repair as required is a violation of landlord-tenant law. Specifics vary according to state regulations. If a tenant doesn’t do 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.