Why Tenants Should Not Make Repairs

My tenant broke the large picture window in the living room. I obtained a quote for $1500 from a licensed contractor. The tenant obtained quotes between $500-$600. Which quote do I use?

Every landlord should always oversee and administer repairs and maintenance to apartments. This duty should never be delegated to the tenant. Owners often make the mistake of permitting tenants to do repair work. Please do not commit that blunder even in instances when the tenant has damaged something and is financially responsible to fix it. The reasoning is simple: The property belongs to you. As such, you need to ensure that the repair work is done correctly and in a quality manner. Tenants are human and might be tempted to have your property fixed at the lowest price available when they are on the hook financially which could mean using unlicensed and unqualified folks.

In addition to directing the repair process, you as the landlord should also pay the contractor directly. If the tenant contracts with the professional, the bill might forget to get paid and this could result in a mechanic’s lien being filed against the property. A mechanic’s lien could jeopardize your financing and, if left unsatisfied, cause the building to be sold.

Once you complete the work and pay the contractor, you may then seek reimbursement from the tenant if the damage was caused by the tenant or the tenant’s guest. Sometimes, things simply break from normal wear and tear, but if damage is caused from misuse, abuse, or negligence, the tenant is usually responsible. (Conversely, if the tenant intentionally or recklessly caused damage to the apartment, consult an attorney, as this could rise to the level of justifying an eviction.) As long as you acted reasonably when hiring a professional to fix the problem — in other words, you did not purposefully make the repair work overly or unnecessarily expensive – then the tenant has to reimburse you.

Some landlords will deduct the cost from the security deposit. This may not be the best practice if the tenancy has not yet terminated, as the security deposit is best and lawfully utilized at the end of the tenancy to compensate the landlord for unpaid rent, cleaning costs to restore the premises to the same level of cleanliness that existed at the inception of the tenancy, and/or to repair damage beyond normal wear and tear that exists after the tenants vacate. Deducting from the deposit during the lease term only diminishes that security.

So what do you do if the tenant won’t pay? You likely cannot evict for this refusal. Instead, if the tenant is refusing to reimburse you, the matter may have to be decided in small claims court. Some leases, like the SFAA 2015 Residential Tenancy Agreement, permit the landlord to deduct from the deposit and to require the tenant to replenish the deposit upon demand. Yet the local Housing Court probably would not terminate the tenancy for breach of this minor covenant; therefore, as explained above, the security deposit ought to be left intact until after everyone leaves.

In sum, always orchestrate the repair yourself and pay the bill. If the tenant caused the damage through misuse or neglect, demand reimbursement, and simultaneously demonstrate to the tenant that you did not unfairly inflate the cost.

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