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Repairs that Are Tenantsí Responsibilities

When renting an apartment or home, you may think you’re off the hook when it comes to any kind of home repair or maintenance. After all, isn’t that a perk of renting? You may be surprised what exactly your landlord is responsible for, and what you need to know how to fix or how much to save to pay a professional. Become a savvier renter and get to know this list of ten repairs your landlord isn’t responsible for (unless otherwise stated in your rental contract).

Replacing HVAC filters, light bulbs, and smoke/CO2 detector batteries. These home maintenance purchases fall to the tenant to replace. It does give you some control over how often you replace them, though. Want to spend less on lightbulbs? Use high-efficiency bulbs and use them less. If your lease requires you to replace the air filter in the HVAC system (usually every three months or so), your landlord may supply them.

Unclogging drains. The caveat here is this only includes backed-up sink, shower, and tub drains and toilets that you caused. If it’s part of a larger plumbing problem, then it’s on the landlord to remedy. With this in mind, you should know what exactly your sink’s garbage disposal can handle (hint: not handfuls of potato skins, a washcloth that slipped down there, or gristly meats). If your own efforts with a plunger or drain cleaner don’t deliver results, call a professional plumber ASAP. You don’t want to be responsible for additional damage caused by repeatedly using a compromised drain (think overflowing water…and other stuff!).

If you’re unsure about a trustworthy plumber in your area, contact your landlord and ask who they recommend.

Dripping faucets. Unless the leak is causing structural damage or mold, it’s on the tenant to fix the annoying drip-drip-drip of a leaky faucet. It’s usually a quick fix that only requires the right-sized wrench and a little knowledge you can pick up on the Internet or from a homeowner friend.

Lawn care, landscape maintenance, and snow shoveling. This applies for single-family home rentals and can include mulching, landscaping, mowing, edging, weeding, trimming, snow shoveling, leaf collection, and gutter cleaning. Some landlords will handle all or part of these responsibilities, but check your lease so you know exactly what to expect in each season. If you’re responsible for all yard upkeep and sidewalk maintenance, read up on your city’s ordinances: you can be fined for letting your grass get too wild or for not shoveling the public sidewalk in front of the house within a few hours of a snowstorm’s passing.

Damage to property due to negligence. Negligence means willful or accidental property damage or destruction—by you, your children, your pets, or your guests. If a window is broken, a hole knocked into a wall, or a fence post dug up, the smartest move is to alert your landlord and let them know you’ll fix it. They may be able to make a recommendation on who to call for good work and an honest price. Expect any damage not fixed by you to be deducted from your deposit when you move out.

Fresh coat of paint and carpet cleaning. These might be covered by your landlord when you move out, or your landlord may only deduct the cost of these services from your deposit if the total is over a certain amount. If you’ve painted any walls in a different color, clarify with your landlord if you are responsible for purchasing and repainting the walls in the original color, or if you only need to put in the time to repaint everything. Some landlords keep cans of neutral paint on hand and are satisfied with the free labor to restore the original look of the unit.

Pet damage. Regardless of if the animal was allowed or smuggled into the unit, the tenant will foot the bill to fix any resulting damage from the pet’s stay. This includes cleaning or replacing carpeting, repairing destroyed landscaping, refinishing wood floors, and replacing chewed doors, trim, or drywall.

Broken appliances. Maybe. This is basically a subcategory of damage to the property because of tenant behavior and use. If a tenant misuses an appliance—say, puts tinfoil in the microwave or fails to clean out the lint trap in the dryer—they are responsible for repairing or replacing the appliance. If any appliance malfunctions outside of misuse or stops running due to old age, the landlord should replace it (again, check your lease). It’s important to know that if an older appliance breaks, the landlord is only responsible for repairing it and does not have to replace or upgrade it.

Holes in the wall from frames, shelving, and mounted entertainment systems. Some rental leases outline that any damage to drywall—including the tiny holes used to hang artwork and photo frames and any damage from adhesives—needs to be patched, sanded, and repainted by the tenant on move-out.

Pest infestations. If pests or vermin move in shortly after a tenant does, mostly likely they’ll be responsible for paying the bill to remove them. This is especially the case if the landlord can prove the unwanted guests moved in due to tenant habits, like leaving old food and trash out in the kitchen. Some infestations happen regardless of tenant habits (think termites). If this is the case, the landlord should pay the exterminator. It’s a smart idea to read up on your state’s laws regarding pests like bedbugs and their removal.

If you’re a renter, the moral of the story is to carefully read your lease and understand what repairs are your responsibility. If you have questions or something is unclear in the lease, ask the landlord about it! Honest landlords will be happy to have an informed tenant, and dishonest ones will be evasive about a clear answer and you’ll know not to rent from them.