Can My Landlord Charge Me For Repairs?

The first time something breaks in your apartment can bring a ton of stress into your world.  Who is responsible for fixing it? You are renting the place, so it’s not really yours, but is it something that the landlord is going to charge you for?  

Additionally, did you or a pet cause the damage that needs to be repaired? If so, the answer may come down to the language in the lease agreement.   

Let’s look at some examples of what a landlord is obligated to fix, and what the tenant is responsible for.

What is the Apartment Complex’s Responsibility When It Comes To Repairs?

To begin with, there is something called the “Implied Warranty of Habitability”.  This implied warranty basically means that if you are renting from someone and paying them money for it, they have a responsibility to ensure that the place is habitable. 

That means basic structural security, no crumbling walls or ceilings, no broken pipes, no health hazards, and no pest or mold issues. 

The landlord is required to take care of all of these things before the renter moves in, and the majority of the time once the tenant has moved in to maintain habitability.  

Minor repairs, on the other hand, do not necessarily have to be fixed by the landlord.  The Implied Warranty of Habitability isn’t meant for the tenant to harass the landlord every time a lightbulb burns out or the float in the toilet is making it run.  It is meant to ensure that the apartment is habitable, that’s all.  

Whether or not you or your landlord is responsible for a particular set of repairs is going to be largely determined by what type of repair it is, and what it says about the type of repairs in the lease. 

It depends on what breaks and who breaks it.

Putting in a maintenance request for a clogged sink is very different for putting in a maintenance request for a clogged sink for the 4th time after putting things down it you shouldn’t have.

In short, it isn’t your landlord’s job to clean up after you.  It’s their job to make sure your place is habitable, and to take care of those repair issues that affect the habitability of the unit or are just the result of Normal Wear And Tear.  

What is “Normal”?  Worn out paint and carpet over the period of the lease is normal, as is if something breaks in your toilet or sink due to no cause of your own.  Now, if you put a bunch of holes in the walls, or broke the toilet or sink by doing something damaging to it……you are going to be on the hook for it.   

Let’s say your dryer breaks that the apartment furnished for each unit.  Did it break because the heating element just worn out and simply needs to be replaced?   Or maybe the motor that spins the drum just went bad.

But if the element or thermostat went out because it overheated because you didn’t clean the lint trap out in two years, once again, you are going to be responsible for replacing the drier.   

Major Repairs are the Apartment’s Responsibility

Most apartment complexes furnish some appliances that go with the unit.   Dishwashers, stoves, refrigerators, the furnace, and air conditioning units are usually listed among them.  

If these break due to no fault of your own, you just wake up one day and your refrigerator is out, or the burner on your stove won’t heat up, then it is the owner’s responsibility to take care of these things. 

The same goes for any major structural repairs.   If there are cracks in the walls or ceilings that are major enough to be a legitimate concern, then they should come in to fix it due to the Implied Warranty of Habitability. 

These are things that could very negatively impact the livability of the apartment. Windows going bad enough to let in the elements would be another “major” repair. 

Minor Repairs

But what constitutes a “minor” repair.  This is always something that is going to be up for debate on the side of the tenant and come down to the discretion of the apartment complex.  

Things like leaky faucets, or running toilets, or a burnt-out lightbulb, or a stain or small tear in the carpet is almost always going to be considered “minor”.   Now, this is not to say that the complex won’t fix some of those issues for you because they want to keep you generally happy and satisfied, but complaining about the carpet because it is not as new as you would like is never ever going to be considered a major repair.  

Just as the Implied Warranty of Habitability is an implicit contract with the tenant, there is also a reciprocal understanding between the tenant and landlord that they will take care of and be responsible for any minor repairs that may arise during their stay.  

If a lightbulb burns out or the sink clogs because of something you may have put down it, or you have a tear in the screen on your window, it is expected that you take care of these repairs, they are your responsibility. 

The same goes for any other minor blemishes that may have arisen while you have been a tenant.  

To fix small things in your apartment a great book like Home Maintenance for Dummies (Amazon Link) might be all the info you need to fix it yourself.

Check Your Lease for Everything That Is Covered

When push comes to shove, you should check the lease agreement that you received when you first got into the apartment.  In the lease agreement, there will be a provision that details what the apartment complex is willing to come and repair, and what you are expected to repair.  

If the lease agreement doesn’t lay out everything that the tenant is expected to repair, simply ask the manager as you do that walkthrough as to what the apartment complex is willing to repair if it goes wrong. 

If you are upfront and honest and are asking in good nature, not only will the manager tell you future details on the policy, he will know that you are aware of the potential for repair and will remember the conversation with you should something arise. 

If for some reason, there is a discrepancy between what you think should be covered and what the complex believes should be covered, first refer to the lease.  The lease WILL have some guidance as to what should and should not be covered by the complex. 

If the repair is the sink for the 45th time in the 8th month since you have been renting, then you are probably going to be sent a bill for getting it unclogged.  If the maintenance request is something that is new, like a furnace going out, or a dishwasher refusing to drain, or something similar, submit the request, and more than likely, the complex is going to come in and fix it on their dime.   

They are also going to be more willing to fix those problems on their dime for residents that are GOOD residents.  Not that they aren’t FORCED to fix problems that arise from everyone at the complex, but it goes a long way with the maintenance man when you are a good tenant and don’t have many issues in general. 

It also goes a long way if you give the maintenance guy some cookies or some other gift that lets them know that you are appreciative of their help with your situation.  

Repeated Repair Responsibility

Sometimes, there are tenants whose job it seems is just to harass the manager time after time after time about trivial issues.   Most of the time, it is not their fault. 

Many times, there are monetary issues with the owner as to why ALL problems can’t be rectified IMMEDIATELY.  It simply comes down to a cash flow issue. If the landlord charged more for rent for you and the rest of your fellow tenants, then it would be much more doable to fix all the problems that may arise during a leasing term.  

But everything costs time and money.  Every fix is going to cost the apartment complex more than likely hundreds of dollars if not more to get your issue fixed unless it is a lightbulb or smoke detector, in which case, you need to take care of yourself.   

There are tenants that call the on-site maintenance guy over time after time for the exact same issues or a combination of issues.   Most of these, the tenant themselves is unfortunately causing and using management and maintenance as their own personal clean up crew. 

This is not what they are there for. 

The maintenance people are there to make sure that all MAJOR issues are addressed and taken care of in the shortest time possible each and every day.  The minor issues that tenants want to turn INTO major issues really aren’t major issues at all. 

If you want something fixed that may you SHOULD fix, then be upfront with that fact when you put your maintenance request in with the apartment complex. 

There is a good chance that the guy going the maintenance work will know you to some extent and will extend some goodwill to get your sink or disposal or toilet up and running again because that’s the guy he really is and on top of that the apartment complex has hired him to do just that. 

They want many of those minor problems, even if it is not REALLY their direct responsibility, to be handled and taken care of so that it doesn’t present a serious hurdle for new people looking at the complex to rent.  

There are a lot of things that you need to consider when sending in a repair. Should I be responsible for this repair?  Should the apartment complex be responsible for fixing whatever is currently broke in my apartment? Which is it?  

The first check is on your end to determine whether or not the repair is ACTUALLY major or if it is really just a minor repair that you the tenant can undertake themselves.   

The second is checking to see what terms the actual lease agreement has in it.  This will give you the best resource ass to what constitutes a major repair as opposed to a minor repair, and subsequently, who should be paying for it.   

Regardless, it comes down most times to judgment first on the case of the tenant to determine whether or not the repair is a major or minor repair, and what they think that the apartments should be repairing and what you the tenant is obligated to take care of.   

The rule of thumb is, the smaller it is, the more the tenant is responsible for making the repair.   The shock that can happen at the end of the lease agreement is that these repair costs if they are not handled upfront, are absolutely going to be marked against you once you decide to terminate your lease.  

If you want to take it farther for some more extensive, more costly repairs, feel free to go to your local court system and file a small claims court procedure against the apartment complex itself.  

More than likely though, this will never happen unless the bridge between communication between the two parties has been completely and utterly severed. More than likely, the issue can be worked out before it gets to this point. 

Either way, there are many things that you need to know about your repairs in your apartments that may arise, even before you move in.

Recommended for You:

Will I Get My Security Deposit Back? Ways to Guarantee It

How do I Negotiate My Rent Amount At An Apartment Building?

How To Be A Great Tenant And Boost Your Personal Value

John Boettcher

Co-Founder of Apartment School and a previous renter turned owner of many multi-family properties across the United States, with many years of experience in all aspects of the apartment, real estate, and investing world.

Recent Posts