Landlord Tenant Q&A with LURLINE R. JOHNSON (R)

LURLINE R. JOHNSON (R), ABR, CRB, CRS, GRI, RMP
Property Manager
Property Profiles, Inc.
Past President, Oahu Chapter
National Association of Residential Property Managers

Q. On Friday afternoon when I got home from work I noticed that my refrigerator wasn’t working. I called my landlord right away and she said she would call someone. A technician came by the next day. The landlord called back later that day saying that it was the compressor and it wasn’t worth repairing. Her plan was to purchase a new refrigerator. On Tuesday afternoon a new appliance was delivered. I appreciated that, but my problem is that I lost about $300 worth of frozen meats, vegetables and dairy products. I spoke to the landlord asking to be reimbursed for the loss. I feel that I am within my rights to ask for reimbursement. I am still waiting to hear back from her.

A. I find that the time that a landlord is going to get a call about a leak, clogged line or a malfunctioning appliance will invariably be on a Friday afternoon. The Landlord Tenant Code does give clear direction to landlords and tenants about how to address the issue of a failing refrigerator (or other essential item).

First of all, the Landlord Tenant Code makes the requirement that the landlord must maintain a fit premises. Section 521-42 (4) states that the landlord must maintain all electrical, plumbing, and other facilities and appliances supplied by the landlord in good working order and condition, subject to reasonable wear and tear.

The code then goes on to say (521-64(c)) that in any case involving repairs, except those required due to misuse by the tenant, to electrical, plumbing, or other facilities, including major appliances provided by the landlord pursuant to the rental agreement, necessary to provide sanitary habitable living conditions, the landlord shall commence repairs within 3 business days of receiving oral or written notification, with a good faith requirement that the repairs be completed as soon as possible; provided that if the landlord is unable to commence repairs within 3 business days for reasons beyond the landlord’s control the landlord shall inform the tenant of the reasons for the delay and set a reasonable tentative date on which repairs will commence.

Finally, if the landlord fails to perform in the manner specified in the above subsection, the tenant may immediately do or have done the necessary work in a competent manner and upon submission to the landlord of receipts amounting to at least the sums deducted, deduct from the tenant’s rent not more than $500 for the tenant’s actual expenditures for work done to correct the defective condition (521-64(d)).

As a tenant you are also responsible to help maintain items within your own rental unit. I always suggest to my tenants in situations like this to try to get a cooler and some ice, ask a neighbor or family member to help hold some of their frozen items, or have an impromptu barbecue to use up some of the food items before they spoil.

It is within your right to ask the landlord for compensation but they really have no obligation to provide reimbursement – assuming of course they handled the situation in a timely manner and within the guidelines of the law.

It seems that in this case the landlord did everything humanly possible to help rectify this situation. She called in a technician immediately and a new appliance was purchased in a reasonable time frame.

It is regrettable that you experienced a loss, but a situation like this is really no one’s fault. It is just life, and everyone has to try to work together to come up with mutually agreeable solutions.

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