Owning a rental property is a great way to bring in some extra income and hedge yourself against inflation. But, it can be challenging to handle all of the aspects of property maintenance and repair.

Oftentimes, property owners struggle with the issue of liability when it comes to maintenance on their properties. Depending on the circumstances and the relevant laws and regulations that apply in your specific region, liability may vary for maintenance and repairs on your property.

Understanding a little bit more about maintenance and liability can help you navigate your next maintenance issue effectively, efficiently and in accordance with relevant laws and regulations.

Types of maintenance issues and liability

In general, renters expect landlords to be responsible for maintenance needs at a rental property. While this is often the case, there are some grey areas in which tenants might be liable for the cost of repairs. In most cases, these issues are laid out in the rental agreement a landlord has with their tenant.

While every rental situation is different, there are a few basic types of maintenance that follow consistent patterns when it comes to liability. Here are a few:

Pests: Try as you might, pests might become an issue at your property. It is your responsibility as a landlord to ensure, to the best of your ability, that the property you are renting out is pest-free upon move-in. Beyond this, liability isn’t always clear. There are some types of pests, like bed bugs, that most landlords are expected to manage and remove in the event of an infestation. In other cases, the renter might be responsible for pest removal if they did something to attract pests to the home.

Appliance malfunctions: Landlords are responsible for the maintenance and repair of appliances that come with the unit. Tenants are responsible for any appliances that they bring with them when they move. In some cases, however, a tenant may be responsible for repairs if they do something to damage an appliance in the unit. This is typically covered in a rental agreement and falls under the category of tenant vandalism or negligence.

Wear and tear: Dents in the walls, chips in the floor and scuffed up cabinetry are common in rental properties. In most cases, a landlord will conduct an inspection of the property or unit when the tenant moves out to determine whether they have caused any damage requiring repair. The landlord will tally up these charges and take the cost out of the security deposit of the renter or bill the renter directly. To ensure you don’t have to deal with any conflict with your renter in relation to this move-out inspection, it’s important to walk through the unit with your renter during the move-in. This allows you to establish a baseline to compare the move-out inspection to.

Mold: If your property is located in a particularly humid climate, mold is a major concern. Some regions have guidelines in place that dictate mold exposure limits in residential units. It’s important to handle mold proactively to ensure the safety of your tenants. In most cases, mold removal and remediation are the responsibility of the landlord and not the tenant.

Protecting yourself as a landlord

While there’s no way to completely eliminate your liability as a landlord, it’s important for you to take steps to ensure your tenants are taking responsibility for problems and repairs they are liable for.

The best way for you to protect yourself and avoid conflict with your tenants when it comes to repairs is to lay out detailed information about repair expectations and liabilities in your rental agreement. Cover this agreement extensively with your renter before they sign so they know what to expect. A written agreement is useful for reference if a problem comes up in the future. It’s also your first line of defense if a legal dispute about liability escalates and you’re forced to represent yourself as a responsible landlord.

As a property investor, it’s likely you will experience some maintenance issues at your property at some point or another. The most important thing for you to do is to plan ahead so that you have an agreement in place before issues arise. This kind of preparation will help you ensure that maintenance is handled properly while allowing you to avoid conflict with your tenants. It’s the best way to set expectations and provide everyone involved with peace of mind.