Moving into a rental property will more often than not come with the occasional hiccup, but no more than when a dispute arises about whose responsibility it is regarding the maintenance of the property. Disputes of this nature can often escalate to a point where a complaint is lodged with Rental Housing Tribunal or worse still, in the courts. More often than not it is due to a lack of understanding of the legal principles around the maintenance responsibilities of a rental property.
It is the landlord’s responsibility to provide the tenant with a safe, structurally sound dwelling that is void of threats to their health and the outside elements.
The best way to pre-empt any possible dispute matter arising with regards to maintenance issues, is to get it in writing. Most good rental lease agreements will include a section on the obligations of the landlord and the tenant, when it comes to maintenance matters. Be sure to read through this carefully, in order to question or amend anything you are not happy with before signing.
Here are a few additional things you might want to take note of:
- Inspect the premises prior to you moving in and make a note of anything you think should be brought to the landlord or agent’s attention. It could be anything from a cracked tile, to a carpet coming loose, to a plug missing from a basin, etc. Get them to acknowledge by signing and committing to what course of action will be taken.
- Once you have moved in, report any item that becomes faulty or breaks, immediately to the landlord. Don’t leave it until it becomes irreparable or in a state that becomes a danger to you, and it now becomes your responsibility.
- Remember, it is the landlord’s responsibility to ensure that everything in the dwelling is in a safe working condition and remains that way during the course of your lease. This would include items such as, the general structure of the dwelling, electrical, plumbing, air-conditioning, ventilation, etc. Obviously, anything breaking down or becoming faulty would have to be assessed, as to whether it was as a result of fair wear and tear, or negligence on your part. Such repairs, according to the Unfair Practice Regulations of the Rental Housing Act, should be carried out within 14 days of it being reported, unless an extended period is agreed upon by the landlord and tenant.
- By the same token, the tenant is also obligated to play their part, by keeping the property in a clean, safe and tidy state, using items relating to electrical, plumbing, sanitary, air conditioning, etc. in a responsible manner, and not intentionally or negligently damage such property.
- When vacating the property, ensure that it is in a state of cleanliness that would be acceptable to the new tenant moving in.
On the question of fair wear and tear, this is often where the disputes arise. So let’s look at and try and define exactly, what fair wear and tear means. It literally means the damage or loss of the use of an item, due to ordinary normal use or exposure to natural elements such as the sun or rain of the property or fittings. If the tenant has damaged or substantially shortened the lifespan of something that normally doesn’t wear out quickly or at all, then it becomes the tenant’s responsibility to repair or replace any such item.
Things that would fall into the fair wear and tear category as an example, would include, any damage caused to doors, windows, cupboards, etc., from exposure to normal ageing, temperature or moisture, fading paint or wallpaper peeling away, wear on flooring or carpets through normal use, leaking taps or plumbing and electrical items malfunctioning through no fault of yours.
Examples of what would be classed as not fair wear and tear would be, broken window panes, blocked toilets or drains due to misuse, burn marks on carpets, counter tops or curtains, infestation of pests such as fleas, cockroaches or lice, chipping of plaster on walls, stains on floors or carpets caused by pets, excessive build-up of dirt on items such as baths, basins, showers, stove tops and ovens and carpets or tiles.
At the end of the day, should a dispute rear its ugly head, apply common sense and be reasonable with your demands.