Your landlord isn’t the only one with responsibilities to keep the rental unit reasonably maintained. State and local laws require you, the tenant, to keep house a certain way, as the list below demonstrates.
Now, you may be wondering what your housekeeping responsibilities have to do with major repairs that are on the shoulders of the landlord. The answer is that if a major habitability problem is the result of your not keeping up your end of the maintenance bargain, you cannot expect the landlord to pay for the repair, and you cannot use any of the tenant remedies, such as rent withholding, to accomplish the job. For example, if your only toilet is clogged because your babysitter tried to flush a diaper, it’s a habitability problem, true, but the cost of repairing it will fall squarely on you.
You are obligated to:
- Keep your rental unit as clean and safe as the condition of the premises permits.
- Dispose of garbage, rubbish, and other waste in a clean and safe manner.
- Keep plumbing fixtures as clean as their condition permits.
- Use electrical, plumbing, sanitary, heating, ventilating, air-conditioning, and other facilities and other systems, including elevators, properly.
- Fix things you break or damage.
- In many states, notify the landlord promptly of defective or dangerous conditions on the property.
Your landlord can’t, however, charge you for problems caused by normal wear and tear—for example, a carpet that has worn out from years of use. (See How Your Landlord May Use Your Deposit for more on this issue.)
Knowing about—and fulfilling—your own responsibilities as a tenant makes you more than just a virtuous renter. The dividends of living up to your duties include the confidence that:
- You can expect a positive reference from this landlord when you move on to the next rental.
- You are well positioned should you need to ask an occasional favor, such as paying the rent late or letting your sister stay with you for a month while she looks for her own place.
- You can withhold rent or use a repair and deduct statute (if your state allows these remedies), which usually may not be used if the tenant is in violation of a lease clause or other important tenant responsibility.