In every state – Texas included – renters are entitled to live in safe, livable conditions, regardless of the price of rent. “Livable” consists of the very basics, like a roof to keep out sun and rain, a reliable home heating system, hot water, and sturdy infrastructure so that the building is in no danger of collapsing. Other basic but critical features include a lack of toxic substances like lead, asbestos, and toxic mold. The doors and windows should provide protection from potential intruders.
But tenants also have responsibilities with regard to repairs and maintenance. Anything beyond normal wear and tear caused by the tenant means that he or she is liable. But what, exactly, constitutes normal wear and tear?
Read on for more information about your rights and responsibilities regarding the maintenance of your rental property.
Landlord Responsibilities: Implied Warranty of Habitability
Most of the country uses what’s called an implied warranty of habitability, which is a fancy way of saying that you’re expected to keep the space livable for the people who reside there. This is a basic right that was established within the court system back in the 1970s, and Arkansas is the only state that doesn’t recognize the standard.
Under the implied warranty of habitability, landlords must do the following:
- Keep the building’s foundation and structure intact and safe. Floors, walls, roofs, and stairs should be stable and secure.
- Ensure that all common areas are clean and safe to walk through, like hallways and stairwells.
- Make sure all internal systems are in safe and working condition. This includes electrical, plumbing, heating and cooling, ventilation, and sanitation. If the property has elevators, they should be safe and up to date on inspections.
- Keep both hot and cold water running.
- Provide trash receptacles and pickup when appropriate.
- Remove environmental toxins, like lead paint dust, asbestos, black mold, and others. This is especially critical for homes with young children, or for residents who have other health conditions.
- Exterminate pest infestations, get rid of rodents and other problematic critters.
- Provide that the rental property is reasonably secure from criminal intrusion, with functional locks and any other appropriate safety measures.
Tenants have the above rights regardless of any waivers or disclaimers you provide. In other words, you’re responsible for making the home livable. In two states – Texas and Maine – there are a few relatively narrow situations in which particular livability requirements are the responsibility of the tenant. When in doubt, consult the experts. In cases like these, it’s massively beneficial to work with a property management organization.
Tenant Responsibilities: Beyond “Normal Wear and Tear”
While landlords are responsible for keeping the home safe and livable, tenants must do their part. It’s not a landlord’s fault if a tenant, child, or pet causes significant damage, and the tenant will subsequently be liable for the repairs.
Tenants should keep the property – or the portion of the property in which they live – clean and sanitary. Tenants who fail to comply with these criteria may want to request repairs, but it’s entirely acceptable for a property owner to refuse – or have the work done, with the stipulation that the tenant will have to foot the bill.
When you write the lease agreement, include a provision requiring the tenant to respect the property. In technical terms, this means the tenant may not “commit waste.” He or she should keep living quarters and common areas clean, dispose of trash properly, and refrain from causing deliberate or negligent damage to the property.
The lease agreement should also specify the expected condition of the property when the tenant moves out. Damage beyond “normal wear and tear” is unacceptable; again, the tenant should be contractually required to pay for repairs.
Damages beyond normal wear and tear may include the following:
- Significant filth in the home, front porch, yard, and other surrounding areas. Failing to clean up human or animal waste, or to properly dispose of dead animals, constitutes filth.
- Allowing, through their behaviors, infestations of rodents, bats, birds, insects, and other vermin. Such animals can permanently damage a property. Tenants should immediately alert property owners to such issues. If the tenant’s negligence caused the infestation (such as improperly stored food), the tenant should pay for damages and extermination.
- Failing to properly dispose of any trash on the premises. Large amounts of refuse may contribute to pest infestations. Leaving trash outdoors or in the yard may bring in complaints from surrounding neighbors.
- Breaking (whether deliberately or not) any part of the property. Broken windows, holes in walls, damage to floors or carpeting, and other damages are the tenant’s responsibility. If the damages occurred from structural problems – like a leaky roof – it’s the tenant’s responsibility to inform the property owner and request repairs.
Repair and Deduct
It can’t be stressed enough. As a landlord, you must provide the necessary repairs and maintenance to make the property livable. If you fail to do so, the tenant may proceed with something called “repair and deduct.” If you are liable for the repair in question, the tenant can pay for repairs and then deduct the cost from their next rent payment.
There are a few stipulations to this rule. For example, the cost of the repair cannot come to more than the total amount of $500 or one month’s rent under the lease agreement – whichever is greater. Such repairs and deductions can be made as often as is required, as long as the repairs fall under the implied warranty of habitability.
As a landlord, it’s best to avoid this situation if at all possible and perform requisite maintenance as it occurs. Should a dispute arise, a property management service can help negotiate and identify the responsible party.
Property Management with Green Residential
Based in Houston, Green Residential also provides stellar property management services in Katy. If a maintenance issue should arise, we can provide the repairs you need to make your property comfortable for the tenants who live there. Our support line is active 24/7, and we’ll always work with you to determine the responsible party when it comes to paying for the repairs.
For more information about how Green Residential can help with your property management needs, contact us today.