When it comes to property maintenance, both landlords and tenants sometimes find themselves unsure as to who is responsible.  Many tenants don’t mind doing simple maintenance, such as changing furnace filters or tightening the screws on a towel bar, but they’re not sure as to what is expected of them.  On the other side, landlords may not want their tenants performing maintenance duties for various reasons.

So who is truly responsible for maintaining the rental home?  In most cases, it is the landlord but tenants do have some obligations as well.



Tenant Responsibilities 

State and local laws require tenants to keep the rental unit reasonably maintained and habitable.  This can mean that tenants should be taking care of household pests such as ants or bees, keeping drains clean, and repairing things they damage within reason.

Small home maintenance issues can become large problems if they are left unaddressed over time.  For example, that loose towel bar could eventually rip out of the wall, causing damage to the sheet rock that tenants may be charged for upon move-out.

As a general rule, tenants must keep the home clean and sanitary, as well as report any maintenance issues to the landlord as soon as they are aware of them.   Here are some basic home maintenance items that we expect our tenants to perform :

  • Keep your rental as clean and safe as the condition of the premises permits
  • Dispose of waste and trash in a clean and safe manner.
  • Keep exterior doors closed and locked, especially garage doors, which provide the easiest access for rodents and other pests to enter the home.
  • Keep plumbing fixtures clean. Pro Tip: Pour boiling water down your drains once a month to help them stay clean and never pour grease down any drain. 
  • Use electrical, plumbing, sanitary, heating, cooling, and other facilities properly.
  • Be sure that what’s going down your drains and toilets are septic safe.
  • Fix things that you break or damage, or notify the landlord of breakage to schedule a professional repair.
  • Test your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors monthly.  If your unit has a fire extinguisher, be sure that it is charged and in an accessible location.
  • If you are responsible for lawn care and snow removal in your rental, be sure that you are staying on top of your duties.  Snow must be removed from walks within 12 hours of snowfall in many areas.  Lawn care also includes weeding, raking, and maintaining trees and other shrubbery on the property.
  • Clean up after pet waste immediately, especially if it is someone else’s yard.
  • If the landlord permits due to allergies or other pertinent reasons, change your furnace filters regularly.  Most filters should be changed monthly, especially if you have pets or the system has been running consistently.


Tenants are also generally liable for the costs of any maintenance caused by their actions or inaction.  Recently, we had a new tenant hook up their washing machine, started a load and walked away.  Little did they know, they had not tightened the hose properly and water soon poured out all over the floor.  The water then ran down a vent and onto the electrical panel, causing damage to some of the circuits and a power outage.

While this sounds terrible, the tenants did a great job handling the incident.  They immediately notified us of the issue, cleaned all the water, and ran fans and a dehumidifier in the area to ensure that there wouldn’t be any water damage.  We dispatched an electrician and turned the $200 invoice over to the tenants.  The problem was resolved within 24 hours with no long-term damage and minimal overall cost.

In another instance, a tenant in a lower unit apartment failed to notify us of a water leak coming from their ceiling.  This leak went on dripping for ages and caused a hole in the ceiling and damaged the electrical wiring to the light fixture.  So instead of a quick and easy plumbing fix of a loose shower drain upstairs, we needed to rip out the ceiling damage, fix the wiring, and put up a new ceiling.

So let that serve as a reminder to you as a tenant that even the smallest problem can become a major maintenance issue if it is left unchecked.   Be sure to notify your landlord immediately of any important maintenance issues, such as a water leak or electrical problem.

Our office has an emergency on-call system that allows tenants to connect directly to a maintenance technician or the on-call office personnel.  Tenants can also put non-emergency or routine maintenance requests in online through their tenant portals.

Be careful when submitting an “emergency” maintenance request – your landlord may not consider your issue an emergency and you may be on the hook for some or all of the costs involved with the repair or service call.  Sometimes a little troubleshooting can save you a lot of money and headache.

A Final Note to Tenants: 

Your landlord may have other expectations of their tenants and a different procedure to follow for maintenance requests.  Best practice is to communicate with your landlord and read your lease requirements to ensure that you are meeting their expectations.



Landlord Responsibilities 

The burden of maintenance generally falls on the landlord, though you may require tenants to do simple or basic items such as the ones listed above.  Prior to a tenant moving in, landlords are required to put the rental in habitable condition that ensures the property has sufficient power, water, and heat.  It must also be clean and structurally in good shape.

Landlords are also required to make sure their properties are up to code.  Many states have additional laws that are put into place to ensure the safety of tenants.  For example, Wisconsin homes are required to have carbon monoxide detectors on each level of the home if they use any gas or have an attached garage.  Be sure that you are up-to-date with your legal responsibilities to keep your tenants safe and your properties compliant.

State laws vary, but general maintenance must be carried out in a timely manner.  At Riverbend, we try to respond to all maintenance requests within 24 hours.  If the issue is non-pressing, such as a kitchen drawer that has come off-track, we will schedule it at our earliest convenience but still contact the tenant within a day of the request.  No heat in the winter or no water at any time are considered emergencies and must be remedied immediately.

Even the newest of properties are going to run into maintenance issues, sometimes even more often than older properties, as things get missed in the construction process.  However, as your properties age, your maintenance costs are likely to increase.  Just like a car hitting the 100,000 mile mark, when your home reaches 8-10 years old, you may need to begin replacing appliances and hot water heaters, servicing HVAC systems, staining decks, and replacing flooring.

Keeping up on regular maintenance and making cosmetic improvements will not only help your property hold its value, it will help to attract long-term, high-quality tenants at market rent prices.  A coat of paint with an accent wall, freshly stained deck, and new carpet will go a long way to fetching top rental rates for your properties.



Managing maintenance on your rental properties can be daunting and time consuming.  Our professional team has maintenance down to a science, allowing tenants to put in their maintenance requests electronically – they can even upload photos of the problem.  Requests are then automatically sent to all members of the team so they can be immediately addressed and scheduled for repairs.

Long-standing relationships with local subcontractors, such as HVAC technicians and electricians, gives us a cost-saving edge over most private owners and management companies, getting our clients the best possible pricing on repairs.  Because we offer a steady stream of work and prompt payment, our contractors prioritize our calls, resolving maintenance issues quickly and effectively – all of which leads to more satisfied tenants.

Contact us today to see how Riverbend Rentals & Property Management can assist with all of your management and maintenance needs.

Posted by: Ali on August 3, 2016
Posted in: Uncategorized