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tl/dr: My property manager (PM) states that I'm responsible for all maintenance under $200 in the home, regardless of whether it is the result of damage I cause. This is on the basis of a clause in the lease that I find very ambiguous. This also is at odds with my (admittedly non-expert) understanding of real estate law. Is it possible I'm actually on the hook for repairs clearly caused by standard wear-and-tear, and which are not at all my fault?

I just moved into a new rental home and there have been a number of maintenance items that have needed repair, which the owner has paid for. However the property manager has recently stated that we are responsible for all maintenance items under $200. That sounds very much at odds with my understanding of "real estate law" (aka the landlord is always responsible for basic wear and tear), and didn't sound like anything I read in the lease so I looked it over. There are two clauses in the lease related to maintenance:

TENANT TO MAINTAIN; USE OF PREMISES;

TENANT shall be responsible for the cost of all minor repairs and damages to the PREMISES due to the default, negligence, or willful misconduct of TENANT or TENANT'S family or guests, including [long list of perfectly reasonable things]. TENANT to alert the LANDLORD to any declining conditions inside and outside of the PREMISES included but not limited to [another list of things].

This seems perfectly normal and reasonable to me. Farther down it says:

Maintenance: The Tenant agrees to properly maintain the home and complete, at his own expense, all daily maintenance EXCLUDING furnace/AC, water heater, appliance replacement and major repairs. The tenant is responsible for the cleaning of all clogged drain lines. If the home is located within a community governed by a Homeowners Association, Tenant does hereby agree to abide by the rules and bylaws of said Association (Exceeding $200 maintenance threshold contact owner/landlord)

(emphasis mine). That last bit - Exceeding $200 maintenance threshold contact owner/landlord - is what the PM pointed to as establishing that I am responsible for all maintenance under $200. That is not at all how I understood that sentence. The reason is because this is a section talking about daily maintenance, i.e. the regular things that need to happen to keep a house running - changing air filters, light bulbs, snow removal, etc... and that the $200 threshold only applies to items such as these. However the PM believes this means that I'm instead responsible for any maintenance under $200.

To pick a specific example, the basement just lost all power. An electrician just left and determined that there is a wiring issue in the walls and a new wire needs to be run. From the perspective of the PM, if the electrician charges less than $200 it is my responsibility because of this clause in the lease.

I can't decide if I simply misread this lease because of my own expectations on the division of duties between tenant and landlord (aka the landlord is always responsible for all normal wear and tear - such as a wire breaking somewhere in the walls), or if the PMs understanding of this clause is completely at odds with basic property management law and therefore incorrect. Obviously though I need to figure out which is the case so I know how to respond. If I signed a lease I shouldn't have because I misread an important clause, then I'm going to have to eat this one and let it be the cost of learning an important lesson... So...

Is my PMs understanding of the situation correct?

  • I'd call requiring an electrician to fix problems with the building wiring to clearly count as "major repairs". Seems like the manager just doesn't want to deal with the effort or cost of arranging and paying for the repairs. You'd have to look at exactly what tenancy law says. – Nij May 7 at 23:23
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    Of course an easy fix is to tell all tradespeople that the minimum they can charge is $201 when you book them. – Dale M May 7 at 23:52
  • I'd go with your interpretation, and I'm a landlord. I would expect my tenants to do any housework necessary to keep the property clean, tidy, and habitable especially if a reasonable person wouldn't expend a specific and significant cost to do so. Things like hoovering, wiping down surfaces, cleaning windows, ensuring accessible vents are clear, clearing the lint trap on the dryer and the filter on the washer, unclogging the shower drain after your teenage daughter washes her hair each week etc etc. – Moo May 8 at 0:03
  • @DaleM lol, I like that plan! – conman May 8 at 0:51
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Bizarrely, it depends on where you live in Kentucky. There is a law, the Uniform Residential Landlord and Tenant Act (KRS 383.500 to 383.705) which states limits on residential leases (otherwise, the matter would be governed by the terms of the contract and common law). The state didn't enact those laws as enforceable in the state, it "made them available" for cities, counties and urban-county governments to adopt unmodified (or not). So it depends in part on whether your locale adopted the law. Assuming it did, in the definitions,

(13)"Security deposit" means an escrow payment made to the landlord under the rental agreement for the purpose of securing the landlord against financial loss due to damage to the premises occasioned by the tenant's occupancy other than ordinary wear and tear.

(emphasis added) That would mean that they can't take the cost of carpet cleaning, painting etc. out of your security deposit.

§383.595 (again, if applicable) states the obligations of the landlord, so he must

Maintain in good and safe working order and condition all electrical, plumbing, sanitary, heating, ventilating, air-conditioning, and other facilities and appliances, including elevators, supplied or required to be supplied by him

So it depends on whether the URLTA was enacted in your jurisdiction. This page indicates where that is the law, and also urges you to read the lease.

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  • I had found these regulations but missed the part that they didn't actually apply to all of KY. Fortunately I am in a jurisdiction that has adopted this, so it appears the PM has no leg to stand on. Thanks! – conman May 8 at 0:47

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