When it comes to making repairs on a rental property, timely fixes are a must. But exactly how long does a landlord have to fix something on the property before facing legal ramifications or other unfortunate consequences? 

It is important for everyone involved with a rental property to understand the legal timeline regarding repairs needed on a rental property, and what happens when a landlord fails to meet these deadlines. 

It is also important to be aware of each party’s set of responsibilities when it comes to the maintenance of the home. In the United States, each state has its own set of specific landlord-tenant laws to protect both parties. 

In this article, we will cover some of the most common rules regarding rental home repair. Make sure to do research based on the specific state your rental property is located in. Some states are more landlord-friendly than others.

The Warranty of Habitability

The warranty of habitability refers to the implication that landlords will cover the costs of any repairs to the property that could potentially make the rental home uninhabitable for the tenant. This is similar to the covenant of quiet enjoyment, as they are both implied legal aspects of every lease agreement. 

This means that while a lease agreement may not explicitly detail each and every repair that could be needed for the rental property over the duration of the lease, it is legally assumed that the landlord must make the necessary repairs to maintain the habitability of the rental home. 

Floor covered in tools with a sign that says HOME PROJECT

But what repairs are necessary to keep the home habitable? To answer this question, it’s important to familiarize yourself with the differences between critical and non-critical repairs. Below are some examples to further help you understand these repairs, along with the time frame landlords have to make those repairs. 

How Long Does a Landlord Have to Make Repairs?

If the repair is critical, then that means that the issue in the home is making the property uninhabitable. This violates the warranty of habitability and must be fixed by the landlord as soon as possible. Typically, a landlord has three to seven days to repair the issue in the home. 

If the repair is non-critical and does not affect the habitability of the rental property, then the landlord will generally have up to 30 days to fix the issue. 

Again, when it comes to repairs and timelines, each state will have its own set of rules and regulations. It’s always important to familiarize yourself with your local landlord-tenant laws. 

Critical Repairs

So what exactly is a critical repair? As mentioned above, a critical repair involves any issue in the rental home that makes living on the property dangerous, extremely difficult, or even impossible. These issues typically need to be fixed within three to seven days. 

Person in orange coveralls soaking a rag in a bucket in a kitchen

Some examples of a critical repair include the following:

  • Tenants cannot access hot water on the property.
  • Tenants cannot access drinkable water on the property.
  • The property cannot generate heat in the winter or in a cold climate.
  • There is a severe pest infection on the property (ex. Cockroaches, bedbugs or rodents).
  • The electricity in the home is not functioning. 
  • The property does not have a functioning plumbing or waste removal system.
  • The smoke and carbon monoxide detectors are broken or not present.
  • The refrigerator (if provided by the landlord) is broken.

Non-Critical Repairs

Non-critical repairs are maintenance issues in the rental home that may not affect the habitability of the property but are frustrating for tenants to deal with. This means that landlords have a little more time to address these issues. Generally, a landlord has about 30 days to make non-critical repairs on their rental property. 

But what exactly do non-critical repairs look like? Here are some examples:

  • Loud and squeaky floors.
  • Radiators that are noisy and disturb the tenants.
  • Tears in screen windows or doors.
  • A broken ceiling fan.
  • A leaking faucet.
  • Cabinet doors that have broken hinges.
  • Minor appliances that have stopped functioning properly and were provided by the landlord, such as a microwave or a dishwasher. 

Normal Wear and Tear vs Damage Caused by a Tenant

What happens when the damage to a property is caused by the tenant or it is unclear who caused the damage? These situations can be tricky to navigate as a landlord or a tenant.

Four closed cans of paint on a marble floor

Both landlords and tenants must be aware of the difference between property damage and normal wear and tear. Many aspects of a rental property may wear out naturally as it is used over time. This is considered normal wear and tear. 

These repairs are the result of the property or the appliances being used for their intended purpose and are not the tenants’ responsibility to fix or pay for. These maintenance issues must be fixed by the landlord or property owner. This is the most common type of non-critical repair that occurs on a rental property. 

But what does normal wear and tear look like in a rental home? These are some examples of things you may see from time to time:

  • Carpets that are worn out and need to be replaced.
  • Rusty or old faucets.
  • Chips in the bathtub.
  • Paint scratches on walls, appliances or cabinets.
  • Floor or wall scratches.
  • Curtains or furniture coverings that have faded over time due to exposure to the sun.

Damages Caused by Tenants

While tenants may not be responsible for repairing damages caused by normal wear and tear, they must cover the cost of damages that they cause to the property. 

Whether the damage is caused by neglect of an ongoing issue in the home, active abuse of the property, or an unfortunate accident caused by the tenant, the repairs and the cost must be handled by the tenant. 

Two people wearing white aprons in a white room holding paint rollers and smilking at each other

Landlords must always keep a record of move-in and move-out property inspections of the property in order to keep track of any damages that may have occurred during the tenancy. This can also help them determine if the damage is normal wear and tear or if it was caused by the tenant abusing or neglecting the property. 

Here are some examples of repairs that a tenant would be responsible for in a rental home:

  • Stains on a carpet that are large and noticeable.
  • Broken appliances caused by the tenant not using them for their intended purpose. 
  • Drains that are clogged due to tenants neglecting or misusing them.
  • Holes in the walls or windows of the rental property.
  • Damage to the property that has been caused by the tenants’ pets, such as chewed baseboards or damaged floors.

If a tenant damages a rental property, the landlord must write a letter to the tenant. This letter must include a detailed list of damages caused by the tenant and how much of the security deposit will be withheld to cover the cost of repairs. Always check your state’s local security deposit laws for more details on this process. 

What Happens if the Necessary Repairs Are Not Made?

If a landlord fails to make the necessary repairs to the rental property, what options do tenants have to ensure the repairs are done as soon as possible? While this is a frustrating situation for any tenant, there are some steps they can take that can force the landlord to abide by the warranty of habitability. 

Cropped image of someone hands holding a tube of plaster and a white door with windows

1. Tenants May Withhold Rent 

This is another law that may change from state to state, so it is important to familiarize yourself with your local regulations regarding the withholding of rent from your landlord. 

However, if your state permits it, a tenant usually has the right to withhold rent from the landlord if the landlord is refusing to make a critical repair that affects the habitability of the rental property. This is possible because a lease is considered a legal agreement in which both parties have responsibilities. 

The tenant agrees to pay rent in return for a safe and habitable rental home, so if the landlord violates the warranty of habitability, then the tenant has the right to withhold rent. 

2. Tenants May Pay for the Necessary Repairs 

According to landlord-tenant laws in certain states, like Texas, some tenants have the right to pay for the cost of the necessary repairs for the property themselves and then deduct those costs from future monthly rent payments. 

In order to do this, a tenant should carefully keep track of any and all repair costs. This will enable them to legally prove to the landlord how much they have paid for repairs.

3. Tenants May Take Legal Action against the Landlord

If the issues regarding unfulfilled repairs of the rental property are bad enough, a tenant may be able to report their landlord to a number of state and local housing agencies for failing to uphold their end of the lease agreement. 

A box of tools and a pair of pliers on a marble floor

When a landlord is reported through these channels, the data can be accessed by the public, so a landlord may be motivated to make the repairs to keep their reputation in good standing. Once landlords have been reported, city officials may also take action on the tenant’s behalf. 

4. Tenants May Break the Lease Agreement and Move Out of the Property

Depending on the state and its specific landlord-tenant laws, a tenant may be able to break their lease and move out of the property if the necessary repairs continuously have not been taken care of in a timely manner. This is the case in Delaware, for example. 

The tenant may also take the landlord to court to pay for the cost of moving and repair fees. When it comes to any of the above courses of action, all tenants should work with a lawyer so they can be aware of any and all legal aspects regarding their local landlord-tenant laws.

Why Should Landlords Make Repairs Quickly?

Ideally, a tenant should never need to take a landlord to court or report them to have a repair addressed in the rental property. Ultimately, it is always in the landlord’s best interest to make repairs promptly, regardless if the issue is critical or non-critical. This is essential to a landlord’s business for a variety of reasons, including the following:

1. To Maintain a Positive Relationship with Tenants

By always taking repairs seriously and addressing them in a timely manner, a landlord can build a positive relationship with their tenants. 

Two people's hands using paint rollers to paint a white wall

Finding a reliable and responsible tenant can be hard for any landlord, and long-term tenants are a great way to reduce vacancy rates and save time and money on marketing. By addressing tenant concerns promptly, a landlord can ensure that their tenants want to stay at the property longer. 

2. To Keep the Property in Great Shape

While prompt repairs are a great way to keep tenants happy, they can also help ensure that the property stays in great condition. Leaving even a small repair or failing to clean the property for too long can result in more costly future issues, so it’s best to deal with each and every problem quickly. 

3. To Avoid Building a Negative Reputation

By attending to repairs quickly, landlords can ensure that they are keeping up an excellent reputation, which will make it easier to fill up any future vacancies that they may have. 

There is a wide variety of government databases that are available to the public, which includes prospective tenants, so the last thing that any landlord wants is to build a reputation as a neglectful rental property owner!

Bottom Line

At the end of the day, it is always a good idea to make all critical and non-critical repairs as soon as possible. Whether you’re a landlord or a tenant, it is in everyone’s best interest to keep the rental property in top shape at all times!

Make sure to always check your state’s landlord-tenant laws to see what deadlines and regulations are involved regarding the maintenance of your rental home.