Landlord / Tenant Q&A: LURLINE R. JOHNSON (R), ABR, CRB, CRS, GRI, RMP
LURLINE R. JOHNSON (R), ABR, CRB, CRS, GRI, RMP
Property Profi les, Inc.
Past President, Oahu Chapter
National Association of Residential Property Managers
Q. When I went to do a survey of my unit recently, I noticed water damages under the kitchen sink to the board beneath it. The tenant did not report it right away! The tenant claims she did not notice it and does not check under the sink often. I did find out from the plumber that it was a faulty faucet but that it must have been like this for months to have the cabinet flooring to be in that poor of a condition. He also mentioned that the water was ponding all around the faucet so it was something noticeable. Can I charge the tenant for the damages, or is this considered an owner’s responsibility to pay?
A. This one doesn’t have an absolute right or wrong answer. I am basing my answer on the assumption that the landlord wrote the lease with the Hawaii Association of Realtors Standard Rental Agreement Form. The tenant does have an obligation to notify the landlord if there are any defects that need to be addressed. The lease states the “If tenant notices any defects in the unit which are not tenants duty to fix, the tenant must notify landlord immediately upon discovery of defect. Any damage caused by tenant’s failure to report any defect is tenant’s responsibility”.
In this instance the question is how long did this leak go on and should the tenant have been aware of the problem. If the bottom of the cabinet is completely rotted out and in need of replacement then it can be assumed that this has been a long standing problem and not something that just happened.
I can understand that a tenant might not have had the need to open up under a cabinet for a period of time but if there was standing water on the counter, that should have given them an indication that there could be a problem and lead them to investigate.
I would have a serious conversation with the tenant and try to establish a time frame for when the defect was discovered and how long the problem was going on for. It seems that there should be at the very least a proportionate amount owed by the tenant for the repair of the cabinet flooring.
This again brings us back to the issue of periodic inspections. At least once or twice a year to check for these and other issues. I make it a point to check every water feature and under every sink just for this reason. You also have to educate your tenant as to their responsibility to keep you informed. Tenants are not always aware of the proper procedures for maintaining items.
Besides water problems, termites are another major issue that tenants need to inform the landlord about. Unfortunately many tenants aren’t even aware of what termite droppings look like. Again, education from the landlord can help to make the tenant a more cooperative and responsible participant in the leasing process.