Landlord Tenant Q&A with CATHERINE M. MATTHEWS (R)

CATHERINE M. MATTHEWS (R), GRI
Broker-In Charge, Callahan Realty, Ltd.
Past President, Oahu Chapter
National Association of Residential Property Managers

Q. I am really angry at my landlord. She came to do an inspection and told me I had to pay for half of the damage to the ceiling in the living room because I did not call her to tell her there was a plumbing leak in the upstairs bath. The repair is going to cost $500! I did see a brown spot on the ceiling but wasn’t sure what it meant. The plumber found that the bathtub was leaking behind the wall; I can’t see that so how could I tell her? Do I really have to pay for this; it’s not my ceiling or my tub.

A. The fast answer is yes you do. I also think charging you only for half is generous. The Landlord Tenant Code (HRS 521-55) obligates you, by law, to inform the landlord of any defects in the property that you believe are NOT your obligation to repair. The standard Board of Realtors Lease (Section S-7) also requires you to inform the landlord of any defect and holds you financially responsible for any damage resulting from a defect you did not report.

Being a tenant does not hold you free from obligation of all of the maintenance of the property because you don’t own it. As a tenant, you need to take a look around and notify the landlord when things are wrong. In fact, I suggest when you see something that needs repair you put it in writing, a short note or an email. If it is a note, make a copy to keep. Not all landlords are great landlords. You may want to keep a record that you reported a problem so the landlord doesn’t come back and say they never received your notification. If you see that the problem is causing damage, follow up again in writing and state that there is damage. Your incident with the ceiling could have turned into a repair costing many thousands of dollars had mold begun to grow and spread. You could have been held liable for that. It is a good thing the landlord performed an inspection when she did. Most landlords do inspections once, maybe twice per year; you are their eyes in between these inspections.

The standard lease also requires tenants to perform routine maintenance on the property (Section S-5), changing light bulbs, cleaning and/or changing air conditioner filters. Maintaining all appliances is another requirement. This does not mean paying for repair if they break down; however, appliances must be properly used and run on a regular basis. For example, a dishwasher if left unused for months will require a repair to be started up again. The motor freezes up, resulting in a repair call to free it.

Tenants do have obligations to report damage and maintain the property. Landlords also have obligations to respond timely to these reports, but that is another question altogether!

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