Who Pays for What: Renters v. Landlords?

Before I jump into the topic of who pays for what on a rental property, let me say that contracts trump all. If you sign a contract that gives away your rights or requires you to pay for uncommon expenses, it doesn’t matter what’s “typical.” You have to comply with the contract.

When you own a rental property, you are expected to pay for upkeep resulting from general wear and tear. For example, you are expected to repaint every few years and replace carpet every several years. You are expected to take care of safety hazards and problems that make the house uninhabitable such as faulty electrical wiring, a malfunctioning sewer system, broken appliances, and inadequate heating. You are expected to patch the roof if it leaks and call the gas company if there’s a funny smell coming from the propane tank.

Renters, on the other hand, are expected to fix things they break (or that break as a result of actions by people they invite to the house). They are also expected to maintain cleanliness inside and out, which may include yard work.

While this sounds wonderfully black and white, it isn’t. Property management companies try to clarify the relationship between landlord and renter as best they can, while providing services for both. Property managers charge landlords a service fee that includes a wide range of offerings, often including the following:

  • Marketing (to get the property rented)
  • Thorough application processing
  • Rent collection
  • Preparation and posting of notices
  • Property inspections
  • Management of inquiries, service calls, and complaints
  • 24-hour emergency service
  • Itemized monthly statements
  • Expense management (ensuring taxes, mortgage payments, and insurance are paid on time)
  • Property maintenance

Property managers often charge for coordinating repairs because that coordination takes time. Landlords who choose not to employ property managers and do not care to deal with maintenance issues will sometimes allow the renter to coordinate a repair and deduct the cost of the repair from the monthly rent. While this may seem like an equitable arrangement, you have to ask yourself: is it fair that the renter was not compensated for the time it took to coordinate the repair? And the murkiness begins.

Property managers inspect rental properties periodically for safety and habitability. However, they (or the landlord) can’t just stop by and ask to tour the place because they were in the neighborhood. If, during a scheduled inspection, the property manager believes the renter could easily be featured on the television program, “Hoarders,” the renters can be evicted.

Another not-so-black-and-white area is the definition of “emergency.” On behalf of landlords, property managers must address emergencies immediately, but property managers and renters sometimes define “emergency” quite differently.

True emergencies affect the safety or habitability of a property, like a burst water pipe, a plugged sewer main, or no electricity or heat in winter. Inconvenient non-emergencies include a dripping faucet that’s driving you crazy, one burner on the stovetop that isn’t working, or an air conditioner that will only cool the house down to 90 degrees on a 110-degree day.

Some common questions from renters include:

  1. Q: I locked myself out. Can you come and let me in?
    A: Yes, the property manager will let you in. If you require assistance on the weekend, there’s often a bigger service charge than there would be during the week when the office is open. If someone has to be paid overtime to let you in, you’ll probably be on the hook for that expense, rather than simply paying for the cost of a key replacement.
  2. Q: My smoke alarm is chirping; is it broken?
    A: No, your smoke alarm’s not broken, but it does need attention. The battery is likely low and letting you know it’s time for a replacement.
  3. Q: My electrical outlets aren’t working. Can you come right now?
    A: Yes. It’s likely a tripped breaker, but if you don’t want to mess with the circuit breaker, the property management’s maintenance team can.

If there’s something you would like me to write about or if you have questions about real estate or property management, feel free to contact me at rselzer@selzerrealty.com or visit our website at www.realtyworldselzer.com. If I use your suggestion in a column, I’ll send you’re a $5.00 gift card to Schat’s Bakery. If you’d like to read previous articles, visit my blog at www.richardselzer.com. Dick Selzer is a real estate broker who has been in the business for more than 35 years.