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Who Fixes What? When to Call Your Landlord for Repairs

Take advantage of one of renting’s leading benefits.

It’s the part of renting that most homeowners miss: When something breaks in your apartment, call in a service request, head to work, and by the time you’ve returned home, ideally your clogged kitchen disposal, broken dishwasher, or wonky ceiling fan is back to its old self again.

As long as renters take reasonably good care of their units, a landlord bears most of the burden for making repairs. There’s no scouring the Internet to find a reliable plumber or electrician, and you don’t have to make the call on whether a drafty window needs to be replaced or just repaired.

But that’s not always the case. Sometimes landlords can take days or weeks to make repairs, and it can be tempting to try to repair your apartment yourself, or call in a contractor or repairman to fix the issue.

The general rule of thumb is to always call your landlord first before making repairs yourself. It’s their job, and they are bound by state law to meet standards that keep rental units habitable. But if you’re not sure whether the repair is your landlord’s responsibility or your own, follow this general protocol.

1. Communicate the issue

Repairs should be left to the landlord, and tenants should call their landlord as soon as possible before trying to repair anything themselves. The landlord is required to respond within a reasonable amount of time. Sometimes these time frames are outlined in your lease. But defining a “reasonable amount of time” depends on the nature of the problem. Is it posing a safety risk or is it more of a superficial issue? Is it interfering with your ability to do essential tasks or is it just an inconvenience?

2. Wait a reasonable amount of time

If your landlord does not respond and you believe that the delay is unreasonable, you can opt to arrange for the repairs yourself. Remember to document when and how you gave notice to your landlord, as well as why you feel the response time was unreasonable.

With proper documentation, you may be able to seek reimbursement from the landlord for any out-of-pocket costs you incur while making the needed repair. Remember, this tactic should be used only under particularly urgent circumstances. In nonemergency situations, you’re generally expected to give the landlord several days (or even weeks) to make the requested repairs.

If you move too quickly and do not give your landlord a reasonable opportunity to respond, you may be in breach of your lease, particularly if it contains a provision limiting your ability to make alterations without prior consent. Even something that would be considered an improvement, such as replacing a pane in a drafty window, could put you at risk of eviction.

While you are responsible for basic day-to-day cleaning and upkeep during your tenancy, it is the landlord’s job to maintain the overall condition of the property.

Bottom line: Let your landlord do their job and be glad that you won’t be the one haggling over the cost of new pipes this winter!

How have you worked with your landlord to get repairs made? Share your tips in the comments below!