When you moved into your apartment, you did a walk-through with the landlord and tested all the appliances, including the refrigerator, washer and dryer, and dishwasher. They were all a bit old, but worked just fine. Now, three months into your lease, the refrigerator has broken, and all your food is going bad. So you're wondering: Who's responsible for fixing or replacing a broken appliance—the landlord or the tenant?
Here are some reasons why it's likely that your landlord is on the hook to repair the appliance—and some reasons why they might not be.
If your situation sounds like one of the following, you'll want to notify your landlord in writing that the appliance needs maintenance. Check your lease or rental agreement to find out how and where you must deliver your notice. And, ultimately, if your landlord ignores your request, you still have options for getting the repairs made.
Some leases or rental agreements lay out details about what the landlord will—and will not—maintain. Read your lease or rental agreement carefully to see if it specifically addresses maintenance of appliances. Many landlords don't want tenants to try to fix broken big-ticket items like appliances on their own, and will make sure to prohibit tenant self-help in the lease. If your lease or rental agreement states that the landlord will make repairs, there's no debate.
Most of the time, when a landlord provides appliances with a rental, they are required to maintain them throughout the tenancy. And, if an appliance can't be repaired, the landlord must replace it with a similar (working) one. This is because there's an implied promise in the lease or rental agreement that the landlord will continue throughout the tenancy to provide the amenities that were present at the beginning of the tenancy.
After all, you signed a lease based on what you saw when you visited the rental, and it's reasonable to expect that those fixtures, appliances, and services will continue to be available as long as you're paying rent. A landlord who doesn't deliver on the promises made at the time of rental isn't upholding their end of the bargain.
On top of the fact that the landlord wouldn't be providing what was promised at the beginning of the tenancy, the landlord's failure to fix or replace an appliance could be a breach of a state or local law. Most states require landlords to provide safe and habitable rentals, even if the promise to do so isn't written explicitly in the lease. This requirement is known as either a "warranty of habitability" or an "implied warranty of habitability." It's entirely possible that your state or city would consider a failure to provide a working refrigerator or stove, for example, a breach of the warranty of habitability.
In fact, some states' laws specify that failing to maintain appliances that were present at move-in or promised in a written agreement is a breach of the warranty of habitability. For example, in Colorado, if a landlord fails to maintain an appliance, the tenant might have the right to move out (without penalty) if the landlord doesn't repair the issue after notice and the opportunity to fix it. (Colo. Rev. Stat. §§ 38-12-503 and 38-12-507 (2022).)
When all signs point to your landlord being on the hook, take the next step and notify the landlord that there's a problem. Check your lease or rental agreement for any requirements about how to provide notice to your landlord. For example, the lease might require you to contact a property manager regarding repair and maintenance issues.
In addition to following any notice requirements in the lease, you can always call or text your landlord to see if you can get a quick response. Regardless, make sure to follow up in writing, and keep track of all your communications with the landlord.
Landlords generally are not responsible for fixing a broken appliance in a rental when:
The takeaway here is that if you're concerned about whether you're responsible for repairing or replacing an appliance in your rental, take a close look at your lease or rental agreement. If your lease or rental agreement is silent on the matter, it's most likely your landlord's responsibility.