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Who Should Fix It?

Apartment Maintenance Issue
April 2018

When residents try to complete repairs without proper skills, they can do more damage than the original issue caused.

When it comes to interior damage, there can be some confusion on whether the resident or the apartment owner is responsible for making repairs and covering costs. In many situations, this misunderstanding leads to unreported and potentially worse damages that can become more expensive and time consuming to repair in the future.

Regardless of who is at fault, it is important that apartment owners and residents are in accord with repair responsibilities. So, who should fix what?

Residents should be financially responsibile for repairing any damages that stem from lack of apartment upkeep and cleanliness. This includes removing stains, managing trash, and unclogging the toilet and garbage disposals. Many move-out charges can be avoided simply by leaving the apartment home in the cleanest condition possible—performing a little oven, fridge and bathtub cleaning can go a long way.

To ensure minor damages do not develop into major concerns and to avoid costly and time-consuming repairs, apartment owners should encourage residents to perform the following routine tasks: 

  1. Conduct oven cleanings and cleaning cycles on dishwashers and washing machines. 
  2. Run and reset the garbage disposal if it becomes clogged.
  3. Keep grout and caulk cleaned around tubs, sinks and toilets.
  4. Dispose of all trash and pet droppings as quickly as possible. 
  5. Change lightbulbs when they burn out and smoke-detector batteries.

Residents also are to be made aware that they are responsible for paying for or replacing any torn or broken furnishings prior to move out. A most common, yet ignored, apartment item is window blinds — residents should replace these on their own if they are dirty or torn. Residents should also tidy up living spaces as much as possible.

Ultimately, leases do not allow for residents to repair many items or situations (see below) on their own, and apartment owners would prefer that they didn’t because it can sometimes cause more problems, especially if the attempted repairs are unreported. 

However, if an appliance does malfunction, there are ways residents can troubleshoot before maintenance steps in. These overlooked yet easy solutions include turning off the water source to stop a toilet, dishwasher and washing machine overflows; opening the top of the toilet to check that the flapper chain is connected for proper flushing; and flipping the breaker on the electrical panel when the power goes out.

Though troubleshooting can be helpful, apartment residents must notify owners of any damages and they should avoid trying to repair them on their own. To avoid health and safety hazards and other problems down the road, leases should clearly state that it is the apartment owner’s sole responsibility to repair major damages that stem from fires, broken pipes, faulty electrical outlets and other serious events. 

Other fixes that should be left to owners include large-scale drywall repairs, fixture-related damages involving electrical and broken appliances and any flooring repairs. These types of fixes should be accompanied by an agreement for residents to pay for the costs of repairs or replacements when the damages are the result of resident activity beyond just normal wear and tear. When residents try to complete these repairs without the proper skills, they can end up doing more damage than the original issue caused.

In the end, neither residents nor apartment owners want damages. Owners aim to provide happy, healthy and safe places to live, however, accidents happen, and it’s important that apartment owners are clear with their residents on who is responsible for what, and how they can handle minor repairs on their own to ensure damages are appropriately handled.

Residents are required to report damages, and it is management’s job to educate them on who to contact when they need help. This means providing a maintenance emergency helpline for immediate assistance. 

When it comes to apartment damages, communication between residents and apartment owners is key. Apartment owners should be open to reviewing best practices, troubleshooting issues and discussing options for addressing damages with their residents, and residents shouldn’t be afraid to ask.

Lisa Rice and Kayte Peters are Regional Managers at Morgan Properties.