Commercial Property Management: Tenant Repair Requests
When you think of the typical landlord-tenant relationship, customer service probably doesn’t come to mind but it is in fact a major component of every commercial landlord-tenant relationship. In such a setting, customer service entails keeping tenants happy so they continue their lease. There are many issues which can give rise to the need for customer service but the most common are repair/maintenance requests and rent collection.
Repair and maintenance requests made by tenants
Repair and maintenance issues are something property managers regularly face in the day-to-day operation of a commercial property. Next to rent collection, they are most common cause of conflict between property managers and tenants. Conflicts usually arise due to a misunderstanding about which party is responsible for making repairs. A well-drafted lease will include a repair/maintenance clause, so the best practice is to thoroughly review the clause with a tenant BEFORE they sign a lease. Knowing the rights and obligations of each party ahead of time will avoid confusion when a tenant inevitably makes a repair/maintenance request.
The language used in repair/maintenance clauses varies greatly, but many specify common repairs such as those involving plumbing, lighting, roofing, and HVAC. In the rare case a repair or maintenance request is not covered in the lease, you must look to state law for guidance as to which party is responsible. In any case, there are two procedural steps that all property managers should take in order to ensure compliance with the lease and state law. They are as follows:
Step 1: Read the lease
When a tenant makes a repair/maintenance request, you must first read the lease paying close attention to any repair/maintenance clauses. If there is no repair clause, or if the repair clause doesn’t cover the repair in question, you must follow state law and individually negotiate with the tenant. This is discussed in more detail below.
Step 2: Let the tenant know who is responsible
After you have carefully read the lease, you should contact the tenant and let them know who is responsible for the repair.
- If the lease says the tenant is responsible, you should give the tenant a copy of the applicable portion of the lease with an explanation why management is not responsible. This can be done via a certified letter, an email, or a hand-delivered letter.
- If the lease says the landlord is responsible, you should provide the tenant with a copy of the applicable portion of the lease along with a guarantee that you will make the repair within the specified time frame. You must complete the repair within the time frame specified. This shows that management exercised due diligence to expedite the request and ensures that you will not be in breach. If the lease does not specify a time frame, the general rule is that the landlord has "a reasonable time" within which to make a repair. What constitutes "a reasonable time" varies by state so you will need to look to your state's laws for guidance. Once the repair has been scheduled, you should notify the tenant so they can prepare for the repair in advance if need be, and so they will know when to expect the repairs to be completed. Repairs often interfere with the normal course of business so notifying the tenant about the date and time of any repair is crucially important.
- If the lease does not cover the repair, you will need to individually negotiate with the tenant AFTER you have carefully read your state’s laws. If the repair is costly, or if you are unsure how to proceed, you may consider consulting with an attorney. The best practice is to make any repairs which are not too costly. This helps establish a good repoire with the tenant by showing that management is flexible and has its tenants' best interests in mind. On the other hand, costly repairs are a little more complicated since you and the property owner will have to weigh the potential cost against the benefit to the landlord-tenant relationship.
Part of your time as property manager will be spent collecting rent. Most leases require that the tenant pay a late fee ranging from $25-$100 for payments made past the due date. In such a case, management may either charge the late fee as per the lease OR forgive the late fee to establish better relations with the tenant. Sacrificing a minimal late fee is a small price to pay for establishing a good relationship with your tenants. In either case, management should send a letter to the tenant stating that their rent is past due and that they have been charged a late fee OR that the late fee has been forgiven. The letter should also specify when the landlord may move to evict the tenant for nonpayment according to both the lease and applicable state law.
The information in this article is for general information purposes only. Nothing on this or associated pages, comments, answers, or other communications should be taken as legal advice. The information provided is not intended to create, and viewing of this information does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship.
© 2012 Bahin Ameri