The single best part of being a renter is that even though you’re expected to keep the apartment in decent condition while you’re living there, you’re not necessarily responsible for its upkeep (i.e. dealing with electrical, heating, or structural issues).
When you have a problem with something in your apartment, you generally put in a maintenance request by giving your landlord a call or shooting them an e-mail. After that, they’ll go about fixing it within a certain timeframe, depending on the severity of the issue. Plumbing is one maintenance request that’s typically covered by your monthly rent, but is there ever a possibility of your landlord charging you for these services?
Is your landlord legally obligated to take care of any and all plumbing issues in your apartment, and will it ever fall upon you to pay for any of the labor? Let’s figure out who’s responsible for what when it comes to plumbing issues in a rental.
Your Landlord Has to Make Sure the Apartment is Habitable
When you are a tenant, it will always be the responsibility of your landlord to ensure that your apartment is in a habitable condition. A “habitable” unit is one with adequate heat, water, and electricity and no major structural issues. Although laws on this may vary from state to state (with some states having more laws in favor of tenants and others having more laws in favor of landlords), this is a general truth when it comes to basic housing rights.
There are certain plumbing issues that are considered emergency-level maintenance, but even these are most likely your landlord’s responsibility to fix (depending on the local and state laws in place, of course). An example of an emergency-level plumbing issue would be an inoperable bathroom when there is only one in the unit or a kitchen that is without running water.
As a tenant, it’s important for you to be able to distinguish between emergency-level maintenance issues and minor ones like a leaky faucet or a low-pressure shower. Although minor plumbing issues would all be fixed immediately in an ideal world, your landlord may not be obligated to fix them per your lease or local housing laws.
Check Your Lease for Maintenance Request Information
If your landlord isn’t responding to your maintenance request or is asking you to foot the bill for the work, refer to your lease agreement to see what it spells out in terms of their responsibility and yours. If the lease doesn’t specifically say that the landlord is required to pay for all maintenance issues, then it may unfortunately be up to you to pay for the work.
Some landlords may also have a clause in their lease agreements that requires tenants to pay for any maintenance issues that they cause. Your landlord may also have a “maintenance deductible,” by which tenants are made to pay a percentage of the costs or a flat rate each time they put in a request for maintenance. This practice is frowned upon by tenants, but it can help landlords cut costs for non-emergency repairs.
If your landlord is requiring you to pay for any maintenance, check your local housing laws. Some states have “repair and deduct” laws, which require landlords to deduct some of their tenant’s monthly rent if they have paid for their own maintenance.
Lastly, you should always remember that it is your landlord’s legal responsibility to pay for any major plumbing issues or structural damage to make your apartment 100-percent habitable.
Always Look Over Your Lease Before You Move In
Most landlords are eager to care for their units, especially when they have a tenant living in it, because it increases the value of their property (and makes life in general a little bit easier for them). Unfortunately, there are a few “bad apple” landlords who refuse to pay for much more than the bare minimum and will always charge their tenants for minor repairs.
If you are unlucky enough to get one of these landlords, one of the best things you can take from the experience is to learn from it and use the knowledge in your next apartment hunt.
It is always crucial to look over your entire lease before signing it, checking specifically for maintenance clauses and the things it will hold your landlord responsible for when you’re living in the unit. If you’re dissatisfied with a particular clause or you feel like something needs to be spelled out more overtly, don’t be afraid to negotiate.