Handling Repairs as a Landlord

Under the Maryland Code, as well as many local laws, a landlord has a duty to offer housing that is habitable — specifically, the landlord must “repair and eliminate conditions and defects which constitute, or if not promptly corrected will constitute, a fire hazard or a serious and substantial threat to the life, health or safety of occupants.”

That means landlords need to provide regular upkeep on systems providing heat, water, and electricity, as well as ascertaining that the building is structurally sound. Staying on top of these issues is the way to keep tenants satisfied and keep rental properties occupied — as well as to stay out of court!

When maintenance issues arise, property owners may want to tackle some repair jobs by themselves. Just be aware that performing the work may not be as easy as it looks. If it isn’t done correctly, tenants can hold the landlord responsible for any injuries that result from substandard repairs. For example, a property owner who takes on the job of installing a new water heater but fails to set the temperature control to a safe level may be held liable if the resident receives scalding burns in the shower.

We know that the majority of landlords work hard to ensure that their renters live in safe buildings. If minor repairs need to be done and a property owner feels competent handling the situation, there are many upsides to stepping in and completing the project. On the other hand, it’s easy to pick up the phone and call a professional with experience, and it could save you money in the long run.

Hire it Out or Do It Yourself?

It’s called an investment property for a reason. Landlords are in the business to make a return on their investment. Everyone wants to find ways to save a few dollars here and there, and handling repairs yourself is one way to do it. But the time it takes to maintain the property can add up, contributing to an already stressful job.

While paying someone else to oversee and/or perform maintenance can cut into profits, a landlord may gain peace of mind if they find a company that can take care of repairs, making management a little easier.

The first job that has to be tackled is the decision of whether to hire a property management company to oversee such issues, to call a fix-it man, or to show up in person with a toolbox in hand. Evaluate the situation by thinking about the payoffs and the drawbacks.

Here’s an overview:

Option #1 Do-It-Yourself Landlord

Pros
Saves Money
Job May Be Done More Quickly
Check In On Tenants
Cons
Takes Time
Adds Stress
Tenants Complain to You

Option #2 Hire a Maintenance Company

Pros
Simply Pay the Bill
Sit Back & Relax
Expert Repairs
Cons
Can Be Expensive
Finding a Reputable Company
Money Going Out

Option #3 Some of Each

You may find that the middle ground is the most comfortable position for you — maintain your personal contact with the renters, but let a qualified repairperson maintain the equipment.

Details to Take Into Consideration

If a landlord needs to charge a tenant for repairs, it may be hard to justify expenses or even prove the work was necessary. In the case of a dispute that ends up in court, a landlord who hired a repairman would have dated, itemized receipts to show as evidence. For landlords who choose to go ahead and perform their own property maintenance, it’s advisable to discuss plans and costs beforehand with the tenant.

Taking care of maintenance issues gives a landlord detailed knowledge of their own property. It’s possible to be overcharged by contractors for repairs that didn’t really need to be done. A hands-on landlord would know if the water heater is really outdated, whereas someone writing checks to a maintenance company may not be aware that the water heater didn’t need to be replaced.

Get the Job Done

Because not all landlords are diligent about maintaining their rental properties, Maryland state and local authorities have put in place a number of protections for tenants. Among these is the right in certain circumstances to withhold rent due the landlord, by placing it into a rent escrow account at District Court. Having to forgo rental income — even temporarily — could present a hardship for property owners who rely on that income each month. This is just one reason it’s wise to stay on top of repairs.

If a conflict does arise concerning maintenance issues in rental properties, Lusk Law, LLC is ready to assist property owners facing formal complaints or litigation. Investment property owners in Howard County, Baltimore County, Baltimore City, Frederick County, Carroll County, Washington County, and Anne Arundel County, and throughout Maryland can rely on us to handle residential or commercial landlord-tenant law cases. With over a decade of experience in representing landlords, we’re ready to offer a consultation concerning your rights. Please call us at 443-535-9715 or fill out our contact form if you have any questions about this topic.

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