To avoid problems with tenants, you should make repairs to rental units as soon as you can. Major problems, such as a plumbing or heating problem, should be handled within 24 hours. But before entering rented premises to make needed repairs, you must provide advance notice to the tenant (usually 24 hours). Without advance notice, in most states a landlord or property manager may enter rented premises only in an emergency, such as a fire or serious water leak.
Landlords' Maintenance Responsibilities
Under most state and local laws, you must offer and maintain housing that satisfies basic habitability requirements, such as adequate weatherproofing, available heat, water and electricity, and clean, sanitary, and structurally safe premises.
Local building or housing codes typically set specific standards, such as the minimum requirements for light, ventilation, and electrical wiring. Many cities require the installation of smoke detectors in residential units and specify security measures involving locks and keys.
Your local building or housing authority, and health or fire department, can provide information on local housing codes (and penalties for violations).
Consequences of Not Making Required Repairs
When a tenant requests necessary repairs and the landlord or property manager doesn't meet legal responsibilities in providing them, a tenant usually has several options, depending on the state. These options include:
- withholding the entire rent until the problem is fixed (some states require the tenant to place the rent in an escrow account)
- hiring someone to make necessary repairs and deducting the cost from the next month's rent
- paying less rent
- calling the local building inspector, who can usually order landlords to make repairs, or
- moving out, even in the middle of a lease.
A tenant can also sue the landlord for a partial refund of past rent, and in some circumstances can sue for the discomfort, annoyance, and emotional distress caused by the substandard conditions.
Your best bet is to handle repairs as soon as possible (or delegate the repairs to the tenant in exchange for decreased rent). Take care of major problems, such as a plumbing or heating problem, within 24 hours. For minor problems, respond in 48 hours. Always keep tenants informed as to when and how the repairs will be made, and the reasons for any delays.
Entry to Rental Property
Typically, after giving notice to tenants, you can enter rented premises in order to make needed repairs (or in some states, just to determine whether repairs are necessary), or to show the property to prospective new tenants or purchasers.
States typically require you to provide 24 hours' advance notice before entering a rental unit. (See Chart: Notice Requirements to Enter Rental Property, State by State.)
Without advance notice, in most states a landlord or manager may enter rented premises while a tenant is living there only in an emergency, such as a fire or serious water leak, or when the tenant gives permission.
Several states also allow landlords or property managers to enter rental property during a tenant's extended absence (often defined as seven days or more) in order to maintain the property as necessary and to inspect for damage and needed repairs. In most cases, a landlord may not enter just to check up on the tenant and the rental property.
For the most comprehensive and up-to-date legal and practical guide for residential landlords, get Every Landlord's Legal Guide, by Marcia Stewart, Ralph Warner and Janet Portman (Nolo).