Depending on state law, city regulations, and municipal codes, there are many requirements for landlords and property management companies to abide by when providing rental property. Although these may differ slightly depending on location, there are some general responsibilities that all property management companies and landlords have.
Landlords everywhere must provide a sanitary, warm space with a toilet, wash basin (a tub or shower), and a kitchen sink, and the structure, plumbing and electrical systems should conform to applicable building codes. These requirements exist to protect the safety of tenants, and they are beneficial for the property as well, as most have to do with property maintenance and upkeep.
As a landlord, it’s your job to ensure that your property is habitable—it will keep your tenants happy, your property maintained, and you out of legal trouble. Below are some of the basic requirements for habitability.
Adhering to Building Codes
Building and safety codes are in place to ensure properties are safe to inhabit. Though they may look different depending on where your property is located, these codes regulate things like: structural integrity of the building, maximum number of people per unit, safety guards on windows, asbestos disclosure, use of fire retardant paint, electrical wiring standards, plumbing standards, adequate lighting in common areas, disclosure of lead-based paint, smoke detector requirements, carbon monoxide detector requirements, and emergency exit requirements.
Most cities will mandate a property inspection before placing tenants to ensure that the property is compliant with all existing safety codes. Usually they will issue occupancy permits for proof of compliance as well. Check with your local municipality for codes and regulations.
Keeping Vital Services Functioning: Electricity, Plumbing, Heating, Lighting
A landlord is responsible for ensuring that all utilities are in functioning order, including but not limited to systems such as: plumbing and running water, electricity, gas, heat, area lighting, and elevators (if applicable). Some other utilities (like air conditioning and appliances that have been supplied by the landlord) typically are not required to make a property habitable, but they are part of a landlord’s contractual agreement with the tenant. If a tenant moves into a property with a functioning microwave and air conditioner, it’s reasonable to expect that the landlord will keep these things in working order per a contractual obligation.
Note that this requirement is not that the landlord actually supplies the utility to the tenant or foots the bill—it’s just that the landlord must make sure that the systems that supply these utilities are in good working order. Whether or not the utilities are included in the price of the rental (and thus are the landlord’s responsibility) is a separate issue to be addressed in the lease agreement.
Performing Repairs and Maintenance, and Avoiding Unsanitary Conditions
To keep the property in good condition, a landlord is required to do what is “reasonably” necessary. For example, a landlord would be required to fix a roof leak, but not replace the entire roof because one small area leaks. There are a few other areas where the responsibility is not as clear-cut: rodent issues and mold issues. Both can be caused by tenant neglect, which can be very frustrating for a landlord or property management company.
Let’s start with rodents. A mouse infestation that existed before the tenants moved in is clearly the landlord’s responsibility, but what if the property was clean until the tenant repeatedly left food out? Ultimately, extermination is the responsibility of the landlord, but if the issues persist or return, a landlord can cite poor hygiene on the part of the tenant and limit responsibility.
Mold is another tricky subject. The presence of mold usually signifies leaks or foundation issues—two things that the landlord is required to repair. However, sometimes mold is the result of unhygienic practices on the part of a tenant, and in these cases, the landlord isn’t always responsible for mold remediation. The good news is that very few mold strains that grow inside dwellings are toxic. However, the strains that are toxic are health hazards and need to be dealt with immediately, and thus whenever there is mold, professionals should be called.
Providing Proper Trash Receptacles
Tenants need access to a method of trash disposal, whether or not they pay for it or the landlord pays for it (per the lease agreement). Many times this can be determined by the property location—is the building in the city with access to dumpsters in the alley? Or is there a trash removal service hired? Landlords are required to provide the appropriate garbage cans or recycling bins, and the size and amount of these receptacles needs to be appropriate for the number of tenants. For example, one bin for a building with 20 units is not appropriate.
Additionally, landlords also must keep the sewage systems in working order.
Maintaining Common Areas
Landlords are responsible for maintaining all common areas of the building and making sure they are safe and clean. Maintaining safety includes keeping the area free from hazards like faulty banisters or unsafe stairs, and making sure that there is adequate lighting with working light bulbs. Cleanliness is usually most applicable to buildings with more than one tenant, and it means that landlords should keep common areas free from trash and debris. This is required by landlord-tenant law.
Property management does not come without hiccups, and when a problem arises with any of the above systems, it’s the landlord’s responsibility to step in and correct it. Beyond plunging a toilet or changing a light bulb, it’s not acceptable for tenants to be making major repairs on their own.
If being responsible for these items makes you nervous, Learn more about our property management services today. to take care of your needs!