Tenants' Rights to Privacy and Repairs FAQ

Real estate investors often serve as their own landlords. If you're doing this with your real estate investment properties, it is crucial to understand your role and the legal obligations that come with it. One of your primary duties will be the maintenance and repair of your property. Staying on top of maintenance is essential for having good relationships with your tenants and protecting the value of your investments. Similarly, tenants have their own set of obligations about maintaining the property they occupy. While obviously repairs are inevitable, it is crucial that landlords are aware of tenant privacy rights. Below, we will discuss some of the most frequently asked questions about property repairs, the responsibilities of both landlords and tenants, and under what conditions a landlord may enter a property.

Who Is Responsible for Repairs of a Rented Home?

Both the tenant and the landlord have certain rights and responsibilities when it comes to the routine upkeep of the property. While there will be some variation between the states, or even local ordinances and regulations within a state, there are some basic principles that are nearly universal. Let's begin by discussing the typical obligations of landlords.

Landlord's Maintenance and Repair Responsibilities

Generally speaking, the landlord is responsible for keeping the property habitable. Of course, this term is somewhat subjective. But the consensus seems to be that a "habitable" property is one that has the accommodations and amenities for basic human needs. These include access to water, electricity, and other utilities. Landlords are also required to abide by any local building codes for safety reasons. Working locks and smoke detectors are common examples of these ordinances. States with extreme climates, such as Texas or Alaska, may also require the landlord to weatherproof the home and maintain functional central heating and cooling.

Tenant Maintenance and Repair Responsibilities

While the landlord is ultimately responsible for the habitability of the property, tenants have certain responsibilities as well. Some of these are fairly obvious, day-to-day tasks. No tenant could reasonably expect their landlord to do their household chores or cleaning, even though those things certainly impact how "liveable" a property is.

Even major appliances can sometimes be the tenant's responsibility. This is particularly true if the tenant brought the appliance with him/her upon moving into the rental property. Furnished homes may be more complicated in this regard, and these details are usually addressed in rental agreements.

What Happens if Landlords Fail to Make Necessary Repairs?
The consequences for failing to make necessary repairs as a landlord can be quite serious. The fall-out can be annoying, costly, or even ruinous. Typically, it is cheaper and overall easier to make repairs rather than delay or resist doing so if your legal obligation is clear.

Some of the unfortunate consequences of shirking your responsibilities as a landlord include the following:

  • Lawsuits. Common damages tenants seek include partial or total rent refunds, out-of-pocket costs, and even damages for the inconvenience caused.
  • Fines. While fines depend on the severity and scope of the issue, they can easily add up to much more than the cost of the actual repair.
  • Disgruntled tenants damaging your reputation. If word gets out about this type of issue on social media or review websites, you have very little recourse. Negative reviews can seriously hurt your business. You cannot even successfully sue for defamation if the tenant's claims against you are true.

If you're a landlord, the safest and wisest choice to make is always to make repairs as quickly as possible. If you're notified of the need for repair, take immediate action and maintain good communication with your tenant. Documenting communication with your tenant about these issues can also assist you in the event of a lawsuit. If your tenant tries to sue you, you will later be able to show you did your due diligence. The same suggestion applies to tenants as well. If you request a repair, document your end of communications. Taking the time to make a written record of events in the present can prevent many legal headaches in the future. Since most lawsuits are born out of misunderstandings rather than outright fraud, documentation and good communication protect both landlord and tenant.

When May a Landlord Legally Enter Their Tenant's Residence?

Privacy rights of tenants vary based on location. A qualified attorney can help you understand these rights, but here are some of the basics.

1. Do Landlords Have to Notify Tenants Before Entering the Property?

Under ordinary circumstances, a landlord will notify a tenant prior to entering a property for any reason. 24-hour notification is a common practice. Some states also allow landlords to enter to determine whether repairs are needed.

2. What About Emergencies?

While we certainly hope you don't experience a personal or medical emergency as either a landlord or tenant, these things do happen. Many rental agreements spell out certain protocols for emergencies.

Even the police can enter your home if they have "exigent circumstances." An example of exigent circumstances might be if an officer approaches the door, but hears somebody screaming for help inside. While ordinarily law enforcement would need a search warrant to enter your property, these "exigent circumstances" are an exception to that rule.

While obviously police and landlords fulfill completely different roles and are defined and regulated by different types of law, the principle remains the same.

For more details about the laws that state when a landlord can enter occupied property in your state, please refer to our article "State Laws on Landlord's Access to Rental Property" here on the Royal Legal Solutions blog.

We hope that this has shed some light on the basics of privacy and repairs. If you would like to comment on this subject, feel free to share both your positive experiences and horror stories below. Please also feel free to ask any remaining questions you may have. As usual, if you need personal advice about your specific situation, make plans to consult with one of our real estate attorneys today.

Last Updated: 
April 30, 2018

Scott Royal Smith is an asset protection attorney and long-time real estate investor. He's on a mission to help fellow investors free their time, protect their assets, and create lasting wealth.

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