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Handling Repairs - The Right and Wrong Way

By Salvatore J. Friscia, San Diego Premier Property Management, San Diego, CA

Having to make repairs to your rental property should not come as a surprise. For some reason most owners drop the ball when it comes to handling maintenance requests from their tenants. Some owners struggle to understand the importance of addressing repair issues in a timely fashion. They fail to realize how the lack of maintenance affects the condition of their property and ultimately the quality of tenants the property attracts. The owner, not realizing that every rental property regardless of age will have its fair share of plumbing leaks, electrical problems, water heater issues, and broken appliances will either let maintenance repairs linger or handle them in a poor fashion.

Repairs should not to be confused with the normal upkeep such as cleaning, changing light bulbs or plunging a clogged toilet. These issues are the responsibility of the tenant. Repairs can be considered anything a licensed bonded contractor should take care of such as; plumbing, electrical, appliance repair, heating/cooling, flooring, & construction. These types of repairs are best left to the professionals and when handled appropriately, exhibit the owner’s willingness to resolve repair issues properly and in a timely fashion. In some cases a handyman can be useful and worth the small fee to resolve minor repairs. Now, if you normally handle repair issues yourself and have the knowledge and experience to do so then that becomes a judgment call, but most owners would rather sit back and collect checks then make repairs to their rental properties.

Besides lingering or not taking care of necessary repairs, one of the most tempting mistakes owners make is to allow their tenants to physically handle the maintenance issues. This is tempting because it gives the owner a false sense of relief not having to deal with the issue at hand by allowing the tenants to resolve the problem. Usually, the tenant will volunteer to fix the repair themselves and just deduct the cost of the job (labor & materials) from the rent. Sounds fair enough, right? Problem solved, well think again. A “repair for rent deduction” headache may have just been created. This is when the tenant will consistently make the landlord aware of every little issue that may or may not need repairing to try to “work off” their rent. It may start gradually but rest assure the tenant will eventually offer their unlicensed amateur services for every minor to major repair in attempt to pay less of their rent.

Having tenants physically make repairs to rental properties is like playing Russian roulette. The owner not only runs the risk of creating a “repair for rent” headache but the tenant may handle the repairs with poor workmanship. This may result in further damages and additional cost to correct the initial repair and any new damages. Even worse the owner places themselves in jeopardy by increasing the risk of a lawsuit if the tenant gets injured as a result of making repairs to the property. Play it safe and use professional, licensed and bonded contractors that issue invoices detailing work performed and costs associated with that work. Stay on top of repairs and make sure tenants are aware that the owner must authorize any and all repairs associated with the property and when necessary, don’t be afraid to inform tenants that they are responsible for the cost of excessive wear and tear damages.

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