Landloard/Tenant Q&A: CARL L. FRAZIER, B, (R), PB, RMP

CARL L. FRAZIER, B, (R), PB, RMP
Owner, Principal Broker
Cornerstone Properties
Past President, Oahu Chapter
National Association of Residential Property Managers and
National Conference Speaker

Q. My unit came with a built-in microwave, but it broke recently. My landlord says it’s a “small appliance” and that they aren’t required to fix or replace it. Is this true? What are my options as a renter?

A. Good question! This is hard to answer since I don’t have a copy of your lease in front of me. The Hawaii Association of Realtors Standard Form Rental Agreement is silent on this issue so we will look to the Landlord Tenant Code for the answer. A well written lease should always spell out in “special terms” what, if anything, will not be fixed.

Basically, if something comes with the property it should be maintained and repaired as needed.

There are times when this is not possible -for example, trash compactors which were installed in homes for a number of years. They are not as popular as they once were and, in most instances, parts are no longer available. If it breaks you would be unable to fix it and may not want to replace it now that we recycle and trash is handled in a different manner. This should be spelled out in the lease. If a tenant has left behind an under-the-counter can opener, coffee maker etc. and the new tenant wants it, you may indicate in the lease that these will not be repaired or replaced.

Major appliances should be fixed – unless the lease specifically states otherwise for some reason. Sometimes a landlord may not want to replace a built-in microwave because of the expense which can run $250-$500; however, they may consider removing it, building a shelf and putting a store-bought countertop microwave in its place, so you do continue to provide what was in the unit at the time of the rental. When the current tenant leaves, if you do not want to maintain the microwave, which now truly is a small appliance, put it in the lease or remove it before you rent the unit. Be mindful if your built in microwave had the vent on it for the range, you want to be sure not to violate any building codes that may exist by removing it without considering all of the ramifications.

That being said, what does the Landlord-Tenant code say about it? Other Repairs – Section 64(c). In some cases, conditions exist in the unit which need repair and which the landlord is obliged to maintain, but which do not rise to the level of an emergency or create health or safety problems (see Landlord Obligations: Conditions a Tenant May Expect From Landlord). The rental agreement itself may contain additional maintenance obligations for the landlord. A. The tenant must notify the landlord in writing of a condition which is not in compliance with the landlord’s obligation of maintenance. The landlord must commence repairs within 12 business days. There is a good faith requirement that the repairs be completed as soon as possible. B. If the landlord is unable to commence the repairs within 12 business days for reasons beyond the landlord’s control, the landlord must inform the tenant of the reason for the delay and set a reasonable tentative date on which repairs will commence. C. If the landlord does not commence the repairs as described, the tenant may perform the repairs or have them done. Then, upon providing all receipts to the landlord, the tenant may deduct up to $500 from the next month’s rent to cover the cost of the repairs. The tenant may only employ this procedure once every six months, so the initial notice to the landlord should include every defective condition known to the tenant. The amount which the tenant may charge to the landlord during the six-month period may not exceed three months’ rent. Different rules may apply if the problems were caused by the tenant or the tenant’s family or guests.

Bottom line is this. It seems to me (I’m not an attorney) that your landlord, according to the code, needs to fix or replace the microwave unless it specifically states otherwise in your lease.

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