Tenants vs. Landlords: Who Pays for What?

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Tenants vs. Landlords: Who Pays for What?

Oh My Apartment · Apr 8, 2013

From a four-story walk up in New York City to a sprawling complex in suburbia, I’ve lived in my fair share of apartments over the years. Now, after years of renting, I’m about to become a landlord; I’m in the process of renovating a basement apartment in my newly purchased house. As I make the jump from tenant to landlord, I’ve been brushing up on my new rights and responsibilities.

As a tenant, I’ve dealt with everything from broken air conditioners (very hot and sticky!) to roach infestations (equally unpleasant!). While I did pay sky-high prices for a less-than-fabulous New York City apartment, I refused to get stuck with the bill for apartment repairs and maintenance that were my landlord’s responsibility, including several visits from the exterminators. But, I was smart enough to get renters insurance to help cover just about everything else.

Are you haggling with your landlord (or tenant) over repairs, maintenance or other issues? Start by reading the lease agreements; these agreements should outline basic rights and responsibilities for both landlords and tenants.

While tenant/landlord responsibilities and rights vary slightly from state to state, here’s a general guide to who usually pays for what, based on the New York City Warrant of Habitability:

“The toilet overflowed and the shower drain is clogged – again.”
In general, if the plumbing problem is due to normal use, this is the landlord’s responsibility to fix. Though, a bottle of drain cleaner may be able to unclog the shower faster than waiting for a plumber to arrive. If the plumbing issue is the tenant’s fault – the tenant flushed a large object down the toilet that’s now blocking the pipes – then the tenant may be held responsible for plumbing repairs. And no, a landlord does not typically have to reimburse a tenant for purchasing the drain cleaner.

“It’s 100-degrees outside and my apartment is hotter than the inside of Bikram yoga studio. Help!”
Sorry tenants, your landlord usually doesn’t have to provide you with air conditioning, either in the form of a window unit or central A/C. If the idea of living in a sauna is not appealing, consider purchasing a window unit or fan – or consider a move elsewhere. However, if the apartment comes with central A/C or a window unit, as specified in the lease, then your landlord is usually responsible for fixing the broken unit. Landlords are also normally responsible for providing heat. In Washington, D.C., for example, if the heat cannot be controlled from within the apartment (e.g., a radiator system), the landlord must keep heat at a minimum of 68-degrees during the day and 65-degrees at night.

“The previous tenant painted the bedroom walls bright orange; I get a headache just looking at them.”
In most cases, landlords are not required to paint an apartment for cosmetic reasons. But it’s worth making a request for a paint job (back to a neutral color) or other wall repairs, such as covering holes, before you sign a lease. If you don’t like the wall color after moving in, you may be responsible for any optional painting. Always obtain permission from the landlord prior to painting and check the terms of your lease; otherwise, you may face a hefty fine at move-out. On the other hand, landlords typically are responsible for repairing peeling paint, peeling wallpaper and cracks.

“I’m suddenly sharing spacing with mice/roaches/bedbugs/other uninvited guests…”
A landlord is usually responsible for eradicating all vermin in an apartment. This includes mice, roaches and bedbugs. A tenant is not likely to be held responsible for costs associated with a vermin infestation, even if the problem originates in your apartment and spreads to your neighbor’s apartments. However, if your mattress must be disposed of due to bedbugs, then it likely becomes your responsibility to replace it, unless you can prove in small claims court that property damage is due to a landlord’s negligence.

Have you ever been part of a landlord-tenant dispute over landlord responsibilities?

This guest post comes from the editors of The Allstate Blog, which helps people prepare for the unpredictability of life.

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