Just as death and taxes are said to be one of life’s certainties, maintenance is an inescapable part of the property investment journey. And if you’ve bagged yourself a top-notch tenant, you can count on them lodging a housing maintenance request as soon as any issues arise. Allowing you to nip the problem in the bud before it blows out into an expensive fix.
But while a lot of maintenance service requests will be quite reasonable, there’s always the chance of getting hit with a tenant maintenance request that is, well…not so reasonable. When this happens, you may be looking down the barrel end of some costly repairs. Repairs that actually aren’t your responsibility!
One Aussie owner found themselves in this very position when they took to Whirlpool forums to ask for advice. Their new tenant had been living in their rental for all of a week before they received numerous housing maintenance requests:
“The grass is too spiky, the clothesline is too high, the gate makes noises, the staircase is rickety…the pool water needs to be replaced because it is contaminated”
Like many investors, this owner was in the dark about whether these maintenance service requests were reasonable or not, and whether they should comply or stand their ground.
Lucky for you, this article is all about shedding some light on what reasons for maintenance are legit, what reasons aren’t, and how to handle them should they arise. In the end, knowing the difference between the two could save you a great deal of time and money on unnecessary repairs.
What are reasonable reasons for maintenance requests?
Just like a lot of things in property investment, the answers to our questions can usually be found in the legislation. But while there might not be a grocery list of all things that qualify as ‘reasonable’ maintenance requests, we can still make some pretty clear-cut inferences.
Essentially, if your tenant is requesting maintenance that ensures:
- The property is fit to live in
- The premises is in a ‘reasonably’ clean state
- The property is in a ‘reasonably’ good state of repair
Then it’s pretty safe to assume the request is legit.
Just keep in mind that ‘reasonably’ in this instance depends on “the age of the property, the amount of rent being paid, and the prospective life of the property.” So, while these requests might be well within your tenant’s rights, it does not mean the property has to be in perfect condition!
When trying to figure out what counts as a reasonable tenant maintenance request, it can be a wise idea to look at what counts as urgent repairs – the stuff that there’s just no getting around. (Unless you’re in the mood for some uphill legal battles).
So, when you get a call from your tenant, or your property manager gets a ding from their online maintenance request system about:
- A burst water service or a serious water service leak
- A blocked or broken toilet
- A serious roof leak
- A gas leak
- An electrical fault
- Or any other serious maintenance issue
You’d do well to start making repair arrangements ASAP, since these are, without a doubt, reasonable reasons for maintenance requests.
What are unreasonable reasons for maintenance requests?
Once again, the state governments haven’t done us any favours in making it clear as to what counts as ‘unreasonable maintenance requests’. But just like we can infer what is ‘reasonable’ by looking at what owners are responsible for, we can certainly infer what is ‘unreasonable’ by looking at what tenants are responsible for.
That means that if your tenant is asking for you to perform minor maintenance tasks like:
- Replacing light bulbs
- Cleaning windows
- Removing cobwebs
- Routine gardening (watering, mowing, weeding etc.)
Then your tenant doesn’t really have a leg to stand on, since all these day-to-day duties are, legally, the responsibility of the renter. After all, it’s on the tenant to:
- Keep the residence ‘reasonably’ clean and tidy; and
- Leave the premises as close to the condition it was in at the start of the tenancy (except for ‘fair wear and tear’)
Say your tenant slaps you with a maintenance service request to fix a shattered window. Shattered because they were throwing a basketball around the place. Seem unfair that you should have to flip the bill to repair the window? Well, that’s because it is. It’s unreasonable, and that’s why the bill settles with them.
As the owner, you are “not required to fix any damage that [tenants] cause”. But, if you’re after some compensation to cover the damage, you “must try to limit the cost of any repair or replacement.”
So, if the unfortunate happens and your tenant accidentally causes some common tenants damage like:
- Spilling wine on the carpet
- Putting a hole in the wall
- Excessive marks on the wall (from scuff marks or crayons)
- Urine stains from pets
- Mould growth from lack of cleaning
Rest assured that they cannot reasonably request that you be the one to pay to fix it. Any damage they cause, accidental or otherwise, falls on them, tenants have a responsibility to the rental property they live in as well.
How much do unreasonable maintenance requests cost?
Just to give you some idea of how much unreasonable maintenance requests can set you back, here’s a short breakdown of common things that, 9 times out of 10, you shouldn’t be paying for:
The cost of unreasonable maintenance
Fix hole in a plaster wall
General house cleaning
General garden maintenance
How to address an unreasonable maintenance request?
Emotions can fly high on both ends when it comes to unreasonable maintenance requests. As an owner you might be a bit ticked off that your tenant would ask for something so silly. And your tenant might feel hard done by that you’re not jumping to their request that they think is quite legitimate.
If the situation isn’t handled appropriately, it could well leave the two of you holding onto some nasty grudges that just won’t do either of you any good down the line. A good owner-tenant relationship is one of the cornerstones of securing happy, long-term tenants after all!
So, if you do find yourself on the receiving end of an unreasonable housing maintenance request, then you might like to follow these simple steps:
1) Acknowledge the request
Property investment is a business at the end of the day, so you should treat it as such by being courteous and communicative. This means letting your tenant know that you have received their request and that you’ll take steps to look into the issue.
It’s also good practice to respond in a timely manner, since most tenants expect a response in under 2 hours.
If you’re immediately dismissive or defensive, you’ll only be throwing fuel on the fire of an already touchy situation.
A simple email, SMS or call saying: “Thank you for making me aware of the issue, let me look into it and get back with you”, will suffice.
2) Explain why the request is unreasonable
Once you look into the request and come to the conclusion that, yes, your tenant is being a bit unreasonable here, the next step is to let them know that that’s the case.
Clearly present your reasons for why the maintenance request is unreasonable and why you don’t think you should have to oblige them in this instance.
Are they requesting you do something that is typically the responsibility of the tenant? Are they asking you to bring the premises up to a near-perfect condition that isn’t proportional to its age? Are they asking you to cover the cost of an unhinged door because they slammed it out of place?
Whatever the request might be, it’s important that you respectfully let them know why it isn’t your responsibility to fix it. Doing this will hopefully give them a chance to see where you’re coming from, and why their request isn’t all that valid.
3) Take it to the real estate compliance service
In the unfortunate scenario that neither you nor your tenant will let up on the maintenance request, it’s best to try reaching out to your state or territory’s rental authority, like Fair Trading. They know what’s what when it comes to tenancy rights and obligations, and aim to resolve most disputes within 30 days.
4) Take it to Tribunal
This is the last stop on the block. If you still haven’t been able to find a compromise, the final resort is to apply to your state or territory’s independent tenancy Tribunal to reach a settlement. You can expect an informal hearing where you and your tenant will have to provide evidence, upon which the Tribunal will have the final say on the matter.
:Different's online maintenance request system explained
Maintenance is crucial to seeing your investment property successfully give you a steady return on investment. The industry is strife with miscommunication and mismanagement when it comes to this space and a lack of clear processes to streamline maintenance requests.
At :Different, we treat property maintenance a bit differently. Our online maintenance request system, through our Owner App, means that you always have visibility on what is going on with your property, keeping you informed and in control.
So how does it work? Let’s take this hypothetical to better understand how we handle maintenance requests.
Your tenant notices a broken faucet in their kitchen, they proceed to take a few photographs and a video or two, and post it on their Tenant App and submit a maintenance request. Our dedicated team responds to 94% of received requests within 12 hours and notifies you through the Owner App. From there, you view the request and the quote we have found for you based on historical data, you can then approve or request for your own tradesperson to have a look at the problem. You will be kept in the loop throughout the process and upon completion of the maintenance, you will be notified through the Owner App, simple and efficient.
Maintenance is part and parcel of property investment. So, you shouldn’t be surprised when your tenant gets in touch to ask you to repair this or that. But not all maintenance requests are reasonable and knowing an unreasonable request from a reasonable one is crucial if you want to save yourself both time and money!
The easiest way to break down what requests are legitimate and which ones aren’t is to ask yourself who’s responsible for what?
While owners might have to vouch for the bigger ticket repairs that ensure the property is generally fit to live in, tenants have some responsibilities of their own which they can’t just pawn off as a simple maintenance request.
Day-to-day duties that keep the premises clean and tidy, as well as any accidental damage, are all things that come back to the tenant at the end of the day.
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