Can a Landlord Make a Tenant Pay for Repairs?

In specific cases, a landlord can make a tenant pay for repairs. If a tenant is responsible for damages to an apartment, for instance, the landlord can pass the cost of repairs onto them. Tenants are also responsible for replacing items such as lightbulbs that wear out through standard use. In other cases, a landlord generally cannot make tenants pay for repairs.

But the specifics can get more complicated. Read on for more information on when a landlord can or can’t make tenants pay for repairs.

When Landlords Can Make Tenants Pay for Repairs

In most cases, a landlord can make a tenant pay for repairs if the tenant is responsible for the damage, and that damage goes beyond normal wear-and-tear. At times, this can mean that tenants have to pay for repairs if they directly harmed the property or if they were negligent regarding the proper use of a system, appliance, or something similar.

For example, landlords usually aren’t responsible for issues caused by a lack of cleanliness, like a stain on the carpet caused by a spill or mildew on bathroom walls if the tenant isn’t cleaning them regularly. However, if a bathroom ceiling starts to sag because an upstairs unit has a leak, that would be the landlord’s responsibility.

In some cases, tenants also have to handle repair costs for items that typically need replacing through standard use. For example, if a lightbulb in a unit burns out, tenants usually have to tackle that themselves. The same can go for smoke detector batteries. Patching small nail holes, tightening a loose screw on a door handle, or similar activities can also fall in the tenant’s hands.

Additionally, there may be clauses in the lease that make a tenant responsible for additional repairs. As long as the clauses align with local law and the lease is signed by the tenant, the tenant does have to handle those costs. If a clause is illegal, then the landlord is responsible, regardless of what the lease says.

When Landlords Have to Pay for Repairs

Generally, landlords are required by law to ensure that any property they rent out is in a habitable condition. The homes they rent to tenants have to meet minimum health and safety standards, all of which are usually outlined in local codes and city or state laws.

In most cases, livability standards cover the following categories:

  • Plumbing
  • Heating
  • Electrical
  • Pests

If a plumbing, electrical, or heating system fails, the landlord usually has to repair the damage without charging the tenant. Similarly, if there is a pest problem in the building that poses a health hazard, landlords typically have to handle any associated pest control expenses.

In many cases, landlords are also financially responsible for repairing or replacing certain appliances that are listed in the lease. This may include stoves, refrigerators, dishwashers, washing machines, dryers, and similar items.

However, landlords don’t have to handle repairs if an issue is purely cosmetic or if the problem doesn’t make them non-compliant with local law. For example, if a bathroom faucet is dripping slightly but is otherwise functional, a landlord might not have to pay to get that fixed.

Additionally, even if the repair is needed to a critical system, if the tenant caused the damage that led to an issue or failure, the landlord often doesn’t have to pay for the repairs. Instead, the tenant would be responsible as their action is what led to the system failure.

Can Tenants Withhold Rent Until a Landlord Makes Required Repairs?

If a repair is a landlord’s responsibility, but the landlord isn’t moving forward with it, many tenants may assume that they can withhold rent. Often, this is based on the idea that the unit is not in the promised condition, so they believe they aren’t on the hook for the monthly payments.

However, whether a tenant can withhold rent until a landlord makes required repairs does depend on where the property is located. In many states and cities, withholding rent due to the lack of a repair isn’t a legally protected move. Instead, once a tenant misses a payment, they are potentially vulnerable to eviction or other legal actions.

But laws regarding repair requirements and timelines vary by state (and sometimes municipality). In some areas, withholding rent due to a landlord not making required repairs is legal.

There is legislation that provides tenants with the right to withhold rent in California, Washington State, New York, and many other areas. In Idaho, Indiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, and several others, there are no laws giving tenants that ability.

If a landlord is failing to make legally required repairs, consider contacting the local housing authority. That alerts the proper officials to the issue, allowing them to take appropriate action. Additionally, they can determine what other options may be available to the tenant, such as the ability to possibly break your lease early, withhold rent, or anything else.

Ultimately, laws regarding withholding rent are highly varied. That’s why it’s best to work with a local housing agency to learn about local laws and act accordingly.

If a Tenant Makes Repairs on Their Own, Can They Deduct the Cost from Rent?

Whether a tenant can deduct repair costs from their rent depends on the state and the nature of the repair. Some states or cities do give tenants this right as long as it’s a qualifying repair and the right steps are taken by the tenant.

Exactly what a tenant has to do can vary. In some cases, the tenant has to notify the landlord – usually in writing – of the issue and provide the landlord a reasonable amount of time as defined by law to handle the problem. If the landlord fails to act within the proper timeline, then the tenant may have to notify the landlord again of their intent to move forward with the repair.

Ensuring that any repair is made by an appropriate specialist, such as a licensed and bonded contractor, may also be a necessity. Additionally, the nature of the repair also needs to meet any legal requirements. Some states are highly specific, only giving tenants the ability to deduct repair costs from rent for a limited set of issues.

Usually, if this option is available, only repairs that should be the landlord’s responsibility legally can qualify, as well. For example, if a heating system failed and the tenant had the repair made using the proper approach as defined by law and paid the associated expense themselves, they may be able to deduct that cost from their rent.

Pursuing the deduction commonly requires the tenant to provide the landlord with a clear record of the expense, essentially justifying the deduction. In many cases, this can include a statement of work and a receipt showing that the charge was covered by the tenant. In some cases, tenants may have to provide more.

However, if the repair was related to damage caused by the tenant or something the landlord isn’t responsible for, deducting the cost from rent wouldn’t be an option. Additionally, if the repair is listed as the tenant’s responsibility in the lease and the clause discussing that point is legal, deducting the cost probably isn’t allowed.

Again, checking with a local housing authority can be a wise choice for tenants. They can make sure that any action they are about to take is in accordance with local law and the terms of their lease before they actually move forward.

Can Landlords Use Security Deposits for Repairs?

A security deposit is a set amount of money that’s provided by the tenant to the landlord when the tenant first signs the lease. The purpose of the money is to cover costs related to damage caused by the tenant beyond typical wear-and-tear. At times, it can also be used to pay back rent when a tenant ends their occupancy.

When a tenant first moves into a unit, the landlord usually completes an inspection report that outlines the condition of the property. This is used as a baseline, creating an official record for the state of the unit prior to the tenant arriving.

As a tenant moves out, the landlord reinspects the property, noting any condition differences. If the landlord finds damage beyond wear-and-tear that was caused by the tenant, then they can use money from the security deposit to cover the needed repairs.

If a landlord goes this route, they typically have to do so within a specific amount of time as outlined in state law. Also, in most cases, the landlord has to provide the tenant with an itemized breakdown, showing exactly how much was used for each repair done.

For instance, if a landlord had to make three repairs, they would need to provide a statement listing each repair and the cost for them individually. This shows the tenant exactly how the deposit was used.

As long as the security deposit is used for a qualifying reason, the tenant has little recourse. However, if the landlord attempts to use a deposit to cover wear-and-tear or other issues that aren’t allowed, the tenant can take action and try and get their money back.

Precisely what steps a tenant would have to take can depend on local law and how the landlord reacts to the assertion that the deposit shouldn’t be used for that purpose. In some cases, a simple certified letter outlining the tenant’s stance might be enough to get the landlord to act in accordance with the law. However, if the landlord resists refunding the money, small claims court may be the only option you have left.

For more information, see our full guide on how to get your security deposit back.