What’s Your Landlord’s Responsibility? And What’s Yours?

tapWhen you first move into an apartment, you might be a bit confused. Who takes care of what? Is it your problem if the refrigerator breaks? Or is it the landlord’s problem? If the toilet runs, do you need to fix it? Does it matter? If you’re new to the apartment world, these are common questions. And we here at My First Apartment have answers.

First, the very basics: if you own it, it’s your responsibility. If you don’t own it, it’s not your responsibility. That said, there’s a little bit more to it than that. Let’s run through a few more concepts, so you get the idea.

General Wear-and-Tear

This refers to an expected (and small) degradation of the apartment as you live there. Think about it this way: when you got that new iPhone, it was shiny and looked perfect. But now, after two years, the cover has a few scuffs, and maybe the screen has a small scratch. It’s not that you did anything wrong, or were negligent – it’s just that when you use things, they show marks of use. As long as the iPhone still works, it’s not a problem. Or, to take a more dramatic example, think about your tennis shoes. When you bought them, they were gleamingly white. After a year, they’re no longer pristine. They might be more comfortable, but they look a year old. Simple as that.

cleaning stain on a carpetThis type of wear-and-tear happens in an apartment, too. A fresh coat of paint isn’t going to look fresh a year later. Brand new carpet isn’t going to look brand new a year later. And so on, and so forth – even if you treat your apartment well, it’s going to have an extra year of use added to it. This is not your responsibility to fix. Making periodic updates and cleaning and refreshing after a tenant moves out is a landlord’s responsibility. You should not be held responsible for this.

Excessive Wear-and-Tear (i.e. Negligence)

Now, let’s flip the script a little. Let’s say you never vacuum in your apartment, and you also don’t bother to take off your shoes when you come home, even if it’s wet out. After a year, your carpet is matted-down, splotchy with mud and food stains, and has a faint odor coming off it. Even though the carpet is only three years old, it’s no longer useable – it can’t be vacuumed clean, and your landlord has to replace it.

Or, to give another example, let’s say you have dining room chairs that scratch the hardwood floor in the dining room. You were meaning to buy those little felt thingies to put on the bottom of them so they wouldn’t scratch, but you never got around to it. Now, two years later, the floor doesn’t just have a few scratches – it looks like a kitten with claws was let loose in the dining room. In order to rent the place to a new tenant, your landlord will have to either put down carpeting, re-do the floor, or give a discount because of the hideous-looking dining room.

In both these instances, you will likely (and should) lose your security deposit. It wasn’t just that some natural wear took place – in both instances, the apartment was repeatedly and unnecessarily damaged.

In other words, accidentally scratching the floor once before you get the felt thingies for your chairs, or walking around the carpet with muddy shoes a couple times isn’t a big deal. But doing it all the time and never correcting it? That’s on you.

Large Appliances

In the United States, the landlord is responsible for providing you with a functioning fridge, oven and range top. If you’re lucky, you may also have a dishwasher and washer-and-dryer. This things should work, and they should work well. If they break, it’s your landlord’s responsibility to fix them quickly, no matter how they break. If they break during the course of normal wear-and-tear, your landlord is responsible for paying to fix them. This is usually the case.

That said, there may be instances where you’re responsible for the bill: for example, if you get so angry about the Bulls’ playoff loss that you pull the refrigerator door off its hinges, it’s on you to pay for the repairs – though it’s still your landlord’s responsibility to arrange and make the repairs.

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Author My First Apartment

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Alex has rented in Minneapolis, Queens, Brooklyn, and now Chicago. He can kill rodents and roaches when required, and loves picture-hanging projects. If you're ever in town, give him a shout.

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Comments (2)

  1. Avatar Tina

    If you have an area where you can plant things in the ground, do your research before to see if what you want to plant is non-intusive and easy to get rid of. There are quite a few things that look/smell/taste desirable but spread like weeds. You don’t want to be held responsible for ruining the lawn!