Making repairs in a house or apartment can be expensive.

After calling the repair person to look at the issue, we’re sometimes left holding our breath until they’ve finished assessing the damage, hoping they don’t find another issue that makes the cost of the repair rise unexpectedly.

When you own the home, you have no choice but to pay the repair person for their time, even if the amount at the bottom of the service receipt is bigger than expected.

In a rental situation, however, it’s not always clear who pays for the repair of damages. At times, it could be the landlord’s responsibility, and other times, it could be the tenant’s.

In this post, find out who pays for repairs in a rental property, if a security deposit can be used to pay for damages, and how to make repair requests if you need to.

Do Renters Have to Pay for Repairs?

Determining who pays for repairs in a rental property (or if the repair even needs to be made) is not always easy. It can sometimes come down to what is damaged and how the damage occurred.

In most states, the landlord has an obligation to the tenant to ensure the unit is habitable by meeting minimum building and safety standards.

To meet these minimum standards, landlords have to take extra care to ensure there are no problems with:

  • Plumbing (e.g. a broken toilet or water leak)
  • Heating systems (e.g. a busted radiator)
  • Pests (e.g. bed bugs or cockroaches)
  • Electrical systems (e.g. a faulty or crossed electrical wire)
  • And more

So, if the item that needs repair affects the habitability of the unit, the landlord is required to fix it out of their pocket.

Moreover, if the item that requires repair (such as an appliance like a washing machine) is included in your Residential Lease Agreement as part of the unit, typically the landlord must fix it. The reason behind this is that you pay rent to live in the unit described in your agreement, which includes the use of certain appliances.

On the other hand, if the damage is cosmetic or otherwise doesn’t affect your ability to live on the premises, your landlord may not be required to fix it and might also not be required to pay for it. This could include minor drips from the sink, a notable stain on the carpet, or a small hole in the wall.

As the tenant, whether you pay for the repair really depends on if the damage was caused by you, other occupants, or any of your guests. If so, you may be responsible for the cost of repair.

Keep in mind, you have to advise your landlord of any damages that occur so they can make repairs before the situation worsens.

For example, if your washer leaves large puddles on the floor, you need to tell your landlord before the damage becomes severe.

Can My Security Deposit Be Used to Pay for Repairs?

If you’re the tenant, and the damage was made by you or your guests and is not considered ordinary wear and tear, then yes, your security deposit may be used to cover repair costs.

To clarify, a security deposit, sometimes called a damage deposit, is a sum of money (usually collected by your landlord at the start of your tenancy) that is used to cover the cost of any damages made by you or any of your visitors during your tenancy.

These damages are usually cosmetic and are assessed when you complete a Rental Inspection Report with your landlord when you move out.

In an inspection report, you and your landlord compare the state of the property when you moved in to when you move out, and you’re responsible for the cost to repair the damages found during inspection—except when it qualifies as ordinary wear and tear.

Ordinary wear and tear, sometimes called normal wear and tear, is damage made by normal activity that impacts the value of a unit.

For example, the paint on your apartment wall may fade during your tenancy, but because this is generally caused by sunlight exposure, it is likely considered ordinary wear and tear. This means, if the wall needs to be repainted for the next tenant, your landlord is responsible for the costs associated with the repair.

How to Make a Repair Request

If you have repairs that need to be made, the first step is to inform your landlord (or the property manager) in writing using a Repair Notice, which is a document you can use to notify them that something on the premises requires maintenance.

By law, after providing this notice, your landlord must respond to your request within a reasonable timeframe. For most states, this is 14 to 30 days after the notice was provided.

An exception is if the situation is an emergency, like major flooding, as it should be handled as soon as possible, hopefully before severe damage occurs.

In non-emergency situations, if your landlord doesn’t fix the issue after a reasonable amount of time, you may need to contact your local housing agency or file a claim for breach of contract.

It’s not recommended that you stop paying rent or deduct the repair costs from your payments as then you’ve also breached your Lease Agreement and could be evicted, regardless of your reason for withholding rent.

Handling Repair Issues in a Rental Property

It can be hard to know what a landlord can or cannot charge you for when it comes to damage. But, by reviewing your rights as a tenant when it comes to repair costs, deposits, repair requests, and other issues, you can minimize your chances of getting stuck in a bad rental situation.

Posted by Ashley Camarneiro

Ashley is an experienced researcher and writer with an interest in real estate, contract, and family law. Before starting at LawDepot in the summer of 2017, Ashley worked as a legal assistant in the corporate and family law sector.