Written by CLAUDIA KWAN
Having clearly-defined expectations can keep homes in better shape for both renters and landlords.
Repair and maintenance can be a contentious area for tenants and landlords to navigate – especially since figuring out the intent behind the relevant sections of the Residential Tenancy Act (RTA) can be complicated.
Plumbing-related issues are probably the number one source of the maintenance calls she receives, says Samantha Martin, senior property manager at Casa Rental Management. How she responds to each depends on the details.
“The definition in the RTA specifies ‘immediate threat to life or property,’ so if it’s an overhead pipe that’s burst and water is raining down, ruining everything, that’s an emergency,” she explains. “But if say, the toilet is flooding and you’re able to reach back and turn off the water, that’s not an emergency – it can wait until the next morning.”
There’s some additional context to consider in these types of situations, says Martin. While landlords are responsible for much of the repairs and maintenance – more on this in a moment – tenants have a duty to monitor conditions in the unit and report them. If a toilet is leaking from the seal, and over time, the spreading water begins to cause mould and other damage, it could be considered negligence to not have reported the issue in a timely fashion.
Appliance repairs fall under the purview of landlords, although tenants do have a duty to use them properly. It’s generally wisest to have a contractor take care of these issues, even if a tenant thinks it’s possible to deal with a wonky dishwasher on his or her own; if it’s not fixed properly and flooding ensues, it could be a huge liability issue.
Tenants do still bear responsibility for some of the upkeep of a home, particularly as it relates to maintaining reasonable cleanliness and safety standards. Many times, there can be conflict about light bulbs.
“We get asked a lot about light bulbs. (As property managers) we do not replace them on behalf of a landlord, that is 100 per cent a tenant responsibility – it’s something you’re using that you have to replace,” says Martin. Failure to replace burnt out bulbs can mean a deduction from a security deposit. “The landlord is responsible for making sure the lights are working. It could be helpful to have a list of what kinds of bulbs the fixtures take.”
The Residential Tenancy Act also includes provisions around regular carpet cleaning by tenants, and there is some responsibility for yard work and snow removal. Here again though, it depends on the specifics of the living situation.
In a single-family home where the tenant has exclusive use of the yard, the tenant would be responsible for mowing the lawn and weeding. A landlord would be responsible for things that required more specialized training or equipment, like trimming trees and hedges. Since shoveling snow isn’t a specialized skill, the tenant would be responsible for that.
In a duplex or multifamily residence (such as a home divided into several apartments), the landlord would normally be responsible for everything. However, if the landlord and tenant both live on site, the grass and snow would be considered shared responsibilities. As part of setting up a lease agreement, they could work out a maintenance schedule.
Martin says it’s important to consider specifics around repairs and maintenance when setting up tenancies. That includes clear documentation of the condition of a home when a new tenant gets it, with lots of photos and detailed notes, and setting out expectations around cleanliness levels upon move out.
“We have a checklist that says ‘this is what you’re expected to do’, and most of them do a good job,” she points out. “Really, it’s the tenant doing it well for the next tenant, not the landlord. The person leaving is moving somewhere else and they would want it clean too, right?”
Painting and patching walls can be another grey area; Martin says it’s best to be as clear as possible in the lease agreement. You can specify that a tenant needs permission to hang pictures, and even leave extra paint in a closet in the home for when it’s needed.
It almost goes without saying that it’s mutually beneficial for issues to be reported and dealt with promptly; it’s always more pleasant for a tenant to be in a home with everything working properly, and a landlord can avoid more costly repairs down the road by taking action right away. Repairs and maintenance are considered business expenses, and thus tax-deductible for a landlord.