How to Require Residents to Report Maintenance Problems
Most residents are good about reporting maintenance problems. Some owners and managers may say that they’re too good. But there are residents who don’t report maintenance problems. Perhaps these residents are too busy or don’t want members of your maintenance staff in their units. But residents’ failure to report maintenance problems could result in severe damage to your tax credit site and harm to themselves.
For example, failure to report a leaking dishwasher could result in flooding of the resident’s unit and the units below his. Or failure to report a broken door lock could result in the resident’s burglary. And even though the resident’s failure to report the maintenance problem causes the damage or theft, the resident will still probably sue you if his property is ruined or stolen, or if he’s injured.
That’s why it’s important to have new and renewing residents sign a lease addendum requiring them to immediately notify management of maintenance problems in their units and in common areas, says Ken Szymanski, executive director of the Greater Charlotte Apartment Association. We’ll give you an addendum in Model Lease Language: Inform Residents of Obligation to Report Maintenance Problems, which you can adapt and use at your site.
Benefits of Lease Addendum
A lease addendum spelling out residents’ responsibilities with regard to reporting maintenance problems can benefit you in several ways. It can serve to:
- Inform residents that their failure to report maintenance problems could lead to more serious problems;
- Motivate residents to promptly report maintenance problems to you; and
- Provide you with at least a partial defense in the event a resident sues you for property damage or injury that occurs as a result of her failure to report a maintenance problem. For example, if a resident was assaulted in her unit because an intruder entered through a window that had an obviously broken lock, the resident will probably sue you for negligence. But if the resident testifies that she knew about the broken lock but failed to report it to you, as required by her lease, you may have at least a partial defense to the lawsuit.
What Addendum Should Say
Your lease addendum, like our Model Lease Addendum, should say the following:
Residents must report maintenance problems in writing. Our lease addendum requires residents to immediately report the following problems in writing: broken fixtures, appliances, and heating or cooling equipment; water leaks; electrical or plumbing problems; or problems with lights, locks, or latches found in their unit or in the common area [Add., par. 1].
Editor’s Note: Requiring residents to report maintenance problems in writing puts a burden on you to address the problems immediately. A written maintenance request that goes unanswered can be strong evidence against you in court. So make sure your staff responds to all maintenance requests.
Written notice not required for emergencies. Say that in the event of a maintenance emergency, residents can dispense with the written notice requirement and report the problem in the quickest manner possible [Add., par. 2].
Residents liable for damage resulting from failure to report problems. Say that residents will be liable to you for any damage to your property that results from their failure to report a maintenance problem. Also say that they’ll be liable for damage to their property or injury to themselves resulting from their failure to report a maintenance problem [Add., par. 3].
For example, such a clause might be useful in the event a resident fails to report a leaky pipe and this failure results in a very bad mold condition. Suppose the resident lost everything stored in the closet where the mold was found. This lease language requiring the resident to pay for damages to his property that result from his failure to report maintenance problems would be useful because the resident couldn’t seek reimbursement from the site for his ruined belongings.
Failure to comply is lease violation. To put teeth into the addendum, say that if residents violate the reporting requirement spelled out in the addendum, you can exercise all your rights under the lease—including eviction [Add., par. 4].
Addendum supersedes lease, will be incorporated into lease. Make sure to say that the addendum supersedes the lease and will be incorporated into the lease. This will protect you against residents’ claims that they didn’t violate the lease and so can’t be evicted [Add., par. 5].
Ken Szymanski: Executive Director, Greater Charlotte Apartment Association, 6060 Piedmont Row Drive South, Charlotte, NC 28287; www.greatercaa.org.
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