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How Can Landlords Make Tenants Pay for Repairs

One of the primary responsibilities of a landlord is making repairs to sustain habitable conditions on their rental property. However, that isn’t a sustainable real estate business strategy and isn’t a universal law. Under certain circumstances, your renter might be liable for repair costs, and you can legally enforce those rights as a landlord. Do you wonder when tenants are responsible for property damage? Or how can a landlord make tenants pay for repairs? Stick around; we’ll be covering that below.

When Are Tenants Responsible for Damage

Tenant or Guest Damage

Wear and tear are expected, and landlords often have to account for that in their budgets. However, sometimes a clumsy tenant can shorten the lifespan of an appliance. While it could be a genuine accident by your renter or their misinformed guest, the burden still lies with them to make repairs. They have to foot the bill, whether it’s scratched flooring, broken toilet, or clogged drains. Since it’s the tenant’s responsibility, they cannot deduct such expenses from their rent. 

Failure to Report an Issue

According to landlord-tenant laws, a renter is responsible for alerting their landlord when something goes wrong. For instance, if there is a mold infestation in the basement or the water heater starts to malfunction, your tenant needs to contact you immediately. If they don’t, the problem can fester until the mold damages your walls and furniture or the water heater stops working. Both scenarios are avoidable if the renter reports the issue with timely information. Thus, neglecting to alert you of such problems could make them liable for the repair. However, that’s not to say you should take responsibility for conducting periodic inspections. 

Property Misuse

The law grants landlords the power to determine what activities are allowed on their premises within reason. For example, property owners can legally implement a no pets or non-smokers policy. Thus, any tenant that agrees to sign a lease has to abide by those rules and regulations. However, not every renter does. Besides, such renters risk eviction for violating their lease. They are also liable to cover repair costs for any property damage. Property misuse can also extend to poor home maintenance, such as unreasonably dirty walls and smelly furniture. 

Maintaining Safety Features

Landlords should conduct safety tests and ensure detectors and equipment are working and upgraded when needed. After moving in, it becomes the tenant’s responsibility to check on this equipment and maintain them in working condition. That might include replacing dead battery smoke detectors and changing burnt-out security bulbs. 

Repair and Deduct Laws

While we’re talking about the responsibility of landlords and tenants for repairs, we should mention the repair and deduct laws. Repair and deduct is a principle that allows tenants to deduct the cost of necessary repairs from their rent. It is often applicable when the landlord is negligent or refuses to fix significant problems within a reasonable time. 

Although, it’s crucial to note that not every issue warrants the application of such laws. As a rule of thumb, it only applies to problems that violate the warranty of habitability. In other words, tenants can only subtract such costs if they use them to repair the plumbing, heating, electricity, or eliminate pests. However, some states might allow provision for other rental issues. Also, tenants cannot use repair and deduct laws to claim more than a month’s rent. 

repairs in a rental

Payment Methods Landlords Are Allowed to Use

Security Deposit Deductions

In addition to their first month’s rent, most state laws permit landlords to charge tenants a security deposit. This fee is usually around the same as a month’s rent and should typically cover tenant damage or missed rent. Thus, if a pipe bursts from the renter’s negligence or they’re unable to pay their rent, the property owner can legally deduct it from the deposit. However, making reports and saving receipts for these repairs is crucial. You might need proof if there’s ever a dispute with a tenant.

Direct Billing

Sometimes a security deposit might not cover the cost of tenant damage over the total tenancy. In such a scenario, you can request the renter foot the repair costs out of pocket. Although, most property owners would rather not allow tenants to oversee the repairs themselves. The best cause of action if you can’t make the fix personally is to outsource it to an expert. After completing the job, they can remit the bill to the tenant for payment. 

Renter’s Insurance

Another payment method landlords can use is renters’ insurance. If your tenants have sufficient coverage, their insurance company can foot the bill for any loss. This solution is particularly cost-effective if there is significant damage to the property. For example, the water damage might be extensive if your apartment flooded because the tenant left the tap running. However, if they win the claim, it could lessen the burden of repairs on both parties. 

Small Claims Court

Finally, if a tenant isn’t willing to pay for the damage they caused, you can take them to court. You’ll need to hire professional legal counsel for the best result, but if you win, you could earn compensation for repairs and troubles. However, this solution is often the last resort for many landlords when their tenants refuse to be reasonable. 


At the beginning of this article, we set out to answer the question of how landlords can make tenants pay for repairs. Making your renters take responsibility is crucial to maintaining your property’s condition and avoiding unnecessary expenses. Thus, you should know that tenants are liable when they cause damage, fail to report an issue, or use a property for unintended purposes. In such a scenario, you can recoup maintenance costs by deducting from their security deposit or billing them directly. Additionally, if they have coverage, their insurance company can also cover it. And as a last resort, you can take them to court.   

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