Something breaks in a rented apartment — who pays to fix it?

Something broke in the apartment where you live as a tenant? No biggie; these things happen. But who pays to fix it, you or the owner?

Maybe your first thought is that it all depends on how serious the problem is: if it’s something small (e.g. a light bulb burnt out), then it’s your responsibility. But if the repair is costly, that’s the owner’s job… right?

It’s not that simple.

It all depends on what is written in your rental agreement and the local laws that pertain to the rights of tenants in your area.

The general rules are common sense

Generally speaking, if you break something in the unit you are renting, you are responsible for fixing or replacing it… even if the damage is very expensive.

As a tenant, you should use the house/apartment you are renting in such a way as not to damage it. You should take care of any equipment included in the rental unit (e.g. the refrigerator, washing machine, etc.), and you should keep it clean.

Wait… you are required to keep the unit you rent clean? Really?

Generally, yes. Some things, especially when not cleaned for a long time, can get so dirty that they are difficult to clean, that they get damaged, or that they cause damage to other things. For example, if you do not clean the lint screen in a clothes dryer, not only will the dryer work very inefficiently, but it can cause a fire. This will not only damage (or completely destroy) the property you are renting, but it is also a serious risk to your own safety. That is a quite serious example, but even things like sinks, toilets, and bathtubs, when not regularly cleaned, can get so dirty that cleaning them will require professional attention or outright replacement… when you neglect the equipment provided to you, you will almost always be responsible for the cost of fixing or replacing it.

You are also responsible for any breakdowns that were not caused by the normal use of your rental unit or equipment included in it.

For example, if you moved something very heavy and damaged the floor, you should pay to repair or replace the damaged floor panels. If you have left heavy marks on the walls of your rental unit that cannot be cleaned off, you should repaint the walls. If you drilled holes in the walls of the unit without consulting your landlord, these holes must be filled at the end of the lease. You really should not drill holes into anything in your rental unit without consulting your landlord, this can also be a serious safety risk.

What if something breaks and it wasn’t your fault?

On the other hand, if something breaks down while being used and cared for normally, the owner will most likely cover the costs of fixing it. But before you go calling your landlord and bossing him around, first take a look at your rental agreement… If any portion of the agreement clearly lays out who pays for what kind of damage, then it’s a simple matter of following the procedure laid out in the agreement.

If there is nothing in the contract on this subject, usually any local laws on the subject prevail, so you might want to check out what they say or consult a lawyer.

Or, if you have a good relationship with your landlord, just give them a call, tell them exactly what is going on, and go from there.

Costs that tenants are usually responsible for

According to the laws in many countries and municipalities, you should personally repair things such as:

  • drainage systems (e.g. a clogged sink),
  • light switches and electrical outlets, as well as fuses (but the electrical wiring in the walls is the landlord’s responsibility!)
  • home heating fixtures and appliances… more specifically, the minor repairs of e.g. stoves and/or radiators (including the repair, maintenance and replacement of worn parts), but not the replacement of an entire heater or heating system (that would be the owner’s responsibility)
  • furniture, flooring, flooring, carpets, etc.
  • kitchen appliances (including refrigerators, washing machines, microwaves, etc.)

Costs that landlords/owners are usually responsible for

The landlord should repair:

  • fixes enabling the tenants to use water (this refers to e.g. the pipes in the walls of the unit, not the faucet your bodybuilding boyfriend accidentally ripped apart after a good workout)
  • electrical installations (the wiring in the walls)
  • fixtures enabling tenants to use heat (e.g. the pipes that lead to radiators, whereby e.g. a radiator adjustment knob is an expense on the part of the tenant) and heating furnaces/systems,
  • doors and windows

In summary, the owner is responsible for the elements that are hidden in the walls and the housing barrier from the outside world. As a tenant, you must maintain everything inside the apartment, including the surfaces: walls, countertops, and floors.

You may be surprised by the need to repair expensive equipment, such as a refrigerator or a washing machine. But, unless you have agreed otherwise with the owner, this responsibility lies with you. If the owner performs such a repair or replacement of the equipment at her own expense, it is due to her own good will or ignorance.

Also remember that no matter who is responsible for any damage or the failure of e.g. an appliance in your rental unit, you should report it to the owner of the property. You never know, they might offer to fix it themselves.

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