In the past, I have allowed tenants in my single family rentals to do custodial maintenance and some minor repairs. Another landlord I know says this isn’t a good idea. So far I haven’t had problems but should I reconsider?

There can be many reasons why allowing tenants to do repairs is not a good idea. Depending upon the scope of work and the tenant’s skills and abilities, there could be issues related to legal responsibilities, quality of work, liability, possible worker’s compensation insurances, unemployment insurance, income tax liabilities, potential mechanic’s liens, and an unhappy landlord-tenant relationship.

As a practical matter though, many landlords delegate custodial maintenance to the tenants. Custodial maintenance is routine upkeep of the property or rental unit. Maintenance duties allowed by state law may vary. For example, a landlord may be allowed to transfer more duties for a single-family home than for units in a multi-family building. Transfer of maintenance responsibility to the tenant does not relieve the landlord of a duty to monitor the tenant’s work performance and quality standards and, as necessary, take control to ensure compliance with habitability standards.

Sometimes the landlord isn’t aware that the tenant is making repairs for which he hasn’t the skills and experience to do them correctly and safely. Regular property inspections can help discover repair and maintenance issues that should be done or need to be redone.

A tenant may repair items on his own even though the lease doesn’t require him to do so, either because he caused damage and doesn’t want the landlord to know about it or because the landlord didn’t respond to a maintenance complaint in a timely manner. Many times, tenant repairs are not properly done, costing more to correct than it would have cost to have been done by a qualified vendor.

Assigning maintenance and minor repair to the tenant in the lease can lead to problems if you do not monitor agreed upon work or do not conduct property inspections. The tenant often doesn’t do repairs that are his responsibility because he doesn’t have time or doesn’t know how. This can result in additional problems. Accordingly, landlords should carefully consider which maintenance tasks should be done by the tenant and which should not.

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