Yeah, Your Landlord’s Not Responsible for That

published Jun 17, 2021
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One of the biggest advantages of renting an apartment is having annoying home maintenance tasks taken care of for you. Water heater kicks the bucket? Your landlord will deal with it. Prank calls aside, your refrigerator stops running? They’ll either fix it or get you a new one. 

There are specific things your landlord (legally) must do, like provide a safe and hazard-free place to live, and handle maintenance issues — ideally sooner rather than later. But there are some things that your landlord expects you to handle. Here’s what your landlord is likely not responsible for in a typical lease agreement.

Personal Property Damage  

If something happens to your personal belongings, that may not be your landlord’s problem. 

“Tenants have a duty to mitigate their damages, which means that if you discover a water leak, you have to immediately inform your landlord and move your personal belongings out of harm’s way,” explains Domenick Tiziano, owner of AccidentalRental, a site for landlords.

In fact, he says your lease may limit your landlord’s liability in the event of water leaks.  “I include a lease clause that clearly states that I cannot guarantee the basement will remain dry and that tenants store their items there at their own risk,” Tiziano explains. That’s why he says, whether renters’ insurance is required by your landlord or not, you should get it to cover your belongings if something happens.

Personal Property Theft

Another reason you might want renters’ insurance: theft of personal property. David L. Berkey is a partner at Gallet Dreyer & Berkey in New York City, and his practice focuses on real estate law. He says that your lease may require the landlord to keep the building’s common areas in good repair: “This means that exterior door locks and lights should be kept in good working order.” 

However, if a nonresident breaks in and steals from or harms a tenant, he says there’s usually no basis to file a claim against the landlord. There are some exceptions: “If there was a history of such conduct, the landlord had notice of such history, and the landlord failed to keep its building exterior door locks or lighting in good working order, that might constitute the basis for a claim,” Berkey explains.

Pest Control

Landlords are responsible for general pest control, but if you’re the cause of an infestation, Tiziano says that’s another matter entirely.

“If the cause of the infestation can be directly attributed to the tenant’s living behavior, then the responsibility may shift to the tenant,” he warns. “Your lease may include a clause stating that the apartment was delivered pest free and that the tenant is responsible for removing any pests that are attracted due to their failure to maintain a clean living environment.”

Hotel Costs

If something happens to your apartment and it becomes uninhabitable, don’t expect your landlord to put you up in the Ritz Carlton (or even the Holiday Inn). 

“Landlords are generally not responsible for covering your costs of alternative housing, and this is especially true for causes outside of a landlord’s control such as power outages or unscheduled maintenance,” Tiziano explains. “Even if your apartment loses water or power, your landlord may only have a responsibility to reimburse you a prorated portion of the rent while the property is being repaired.” In other words, you won’t get any money to cover the hotel bill.  “This is another reason to get renter’s insurance; it often covers these costs,” Tiziano reiterates.

Problems with the Neighbors

If you have less-than-ideal neighbors, don’t expect your landlord to play peacekeeper or enforcer. 

“Problems created by noisy neighbors, or those who smoke or fail to keep hallways clean… are usually not the landlord’s obligation to resolve,” Berkey says. “Most leases have rules and regulations which the landlord requires its tenants to follow, but also provide that the landlord is not responsible for enforcing the rules and regulations against another problem tenant.” 

If you have a problem, he recommends courteously talking to your neighbor about the conduct in question.  “If that fails, the tenant may have to sue the neighbor for creating a nuisance that interferes with the tenant’s right to enjoy the apartment.”