If you are going to be a rental property landlord, you need to have a clear understanding with regards to maintenance and your liabilities. There are several very specific situations in which you can be found liable for negligence in a court of law including:
- Failure to provide and maintain a safe environment
- Failure to take action regarding a known hazard that caused an injury
- Failure to take action regarding a known hazard that caused damage
With this in mind, you should approach all of your decisions with regard to all maintenance with one very important thing in mind. This is that you may at some point have to present this information to the judge should you be involved in a lawsuit.
You should all be aware that there are certain instances in which some statutes might overlap criminal and civil laws. With this in mind, it is always going to be better safe than sorry. This holds true, even if your tenant is the one who caused the damage. You are far better off to be proactive by taking care of the repair yourself and then billing your tenant. While this might cost you a little money up front, it can save you from a lawsuit somewhere down the road.
A Perfect Example
Let’s take a look at a very realistic scenario. Your tenant, we’ll call him Joe calls you on a Friday afternoon to tell you he broke the deadbolt lock in his front door. What do you do?
- Go out and change the lock
- Give your tenant the number to the locksmith and tell them to call immediately
- Wait until business hours on Monday and then go out to see if the lock really needs to be replaced.
- Change the lock and send a bill to the tenant.
It gets a little tricky here since you are not responsible for the lock, but according to the law, you do have a certain amount of liability. Most leases state that the tenant is ultimately responsible for damage to the lock. But suppose over the weekend your tenant’s home was robbed? What if someone came in and assaulted him? All because the deadbolt lock was broken.
Since your tenant reported the fact the lock was broken, you could easily be held liable in a civil lawsuit for failing to provide your tenant with a safe environment. No matter how you look at it or what time of day or night one of your tenants calls you to tell you one of their door locks is broken, your best choice is always going to be having the lock replaced immediately and bill the tenant. Even if they fail to reimburse you for the cost of having a new lock installed is always going to be far less than the cost of replacing everything that was stolen or worse yet the cost of settling a civil lawsuit.