Skip

Does maintain premises in good repair mean I need to fix the washer?
August 21, 2012 3:28 PM   Subscribe

Washer broke and we think it's the motor. Landlord said it's old and it's on us to repair if we want but she wouldn't be surprised if the machine's time was just up and she wasn't going to replace it (nor ding us on our security deposit if we moved out and it was still broken). I don't agree that we should just deal with it. How would you, as a normal human who has rented places before, interpret the relevant section of the lease (inside) and take this up with her?

Landlady isn't local but overall, she's very responsive and we get along ok. I think she appreciates she can trust my husband and myself to keep the place maintained and do little fix-its efficiently (cleaning out traps, plumbers tape for minor leaks, occasionally clearing debris off the roof so no damage occurs).

However, I have no knowledge of machine repair. The landlady, when told of the issue, said the was expecting the machine to die soon because she bought it used and that the lease says the machine is as-is and doesn't have to be replaced or repaired. She said that we could elect to have it repaired at our own cost but that wouldn't make the machine ours but that otherwise, she wouldn't be doing anything and told us the nicest laundromats in town. I don't think I should have to pay for the repairperson without reimbursement (assuming the issue was not due to negligence) just to get the place back to where it was when we signed the lease.

Husband and I scoured the lease and we don't see what she is seeing at all. I emailed her asking for the specific section (still waiting on reply) but the only time the machine is listed is here: Tenant will, at his or her own expense, maintain the premise in good repair and in a clean and sanitary manner including all equipment, appliances... Not limited to ...(and it lists things like cleaning out the lint trap - nothing out of the norm) . The only other time appliances are mentioned is in the check in/check out list and it says it's clean and functioning. I really think the issue is whether "maintain the premise in good repair" means we need to repair it or whether we're just responsible for normal upkeep (clearly I think the later). And before it's said, 3 of my dear friends are local lawyers but before we take that leap, I'd like the opinion of other folks - am I off base in my expectations? - and ideas/compromises that will help us avoid lawyers. (Money is an issue right now - husband and I can't just let her take out the broken one and buy a new one that we will then move with us. That is WAY out of budget.)



We're in Montana so I went to check the MT laws and they aren't adding much more to my understanding. I found the sections below that pertain.:

70-24-303. Landlord to maintain premises ... (1) A landlord:

(e) shall 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 the landlord;

(3) A landlord and tenant of a one-, two-, or three-family residence may agree in writing that the tenant perform the landlord's duties specified in subsections (1)(f) and (1)(g) [1f and 1g aren't relevant to the washer] and specified repairs, maintenance tasks, alteration, and remodeling but only if the transaction is entered into in good faith and not for the purpose of evading the obligations of the landlord.

70-24-321. Tenant to maintain dwelling unit. (1) A tenant shall:
(d) keep all plumbing fixtures in the dwelling unit or used by the tenant as clean as their condition permits;

(e) use in a reasonable manner all electrical, plumbing, sanitary, heating, ventilating, air-conditioning, and other facilities and appliances, including elevators, in the premises;
posted by adorap0621 to Law & Government (25 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
Normal upkeep is what is meant. I had an ongoing problem with a previous landlord, this was the state's legal council's take: you do not own the appliance, you should not have to repair it. It the shingles fell off the roof, would you have to repair it? I have the same problem with my landlords. Legally they are not correct. If you used the washer to wash bricks, you would probably be liable, but for normal wear-and-tear, it is the landlord's responsibility. I don't know why people become landlords if they are not willing to actually perform the duties of a landlord. When you rent a property, you rent the appliances to. The landlord must keep the appliances in working order.
posted by fifilaru at 3:34 PM on August 21, 2012 [4 favorites]


that is "rent appliances too"
posted by fifilaru at 3:35 PM on August 21, 2012


Tenant will, at his or her own expense, maintain the premise in good repair and in a clean and sanitary manner including all equipment, appliances

I read that the same way your landlord does--it is up to you fix the washing machine.
posted by LarryC at 3:35 PM on August 21, 2012


fifilaru is correct, larryc is wrong, i am not your lawyer.
posted by entropicamericana at 3:40 PM on August 21, 2012 [5 favorites]


Whover owns it has the responsibility to fix it unless someone else is directly responsible for breaking it.

Usually.

But I don't neccessarily know how things work where you live. A renter's tribunal or legal aid clinic would probably be a good place to get info/ help.

Don't let the fact that you like the landlord confuse you.
posted by windykites at 4:02 PM on August 21, 2012


Does the lease specify the appliances that will be furnished? I used to be a landlady. I provided a washer/dryer hookup in their kitchen, and explained that the previous tenants left the washer; if it broke, I would not repair it. I lived upstairs, and shared my dryer (in the back hall) and paid the electricity and water costs. I thought it was a pretty good deal for them. If the lease says a washer is provided, then it's clearly her responsibility.

Going to the laundromat is expensive in time and quarters. Post on freecycle.org and craigslist/free; you're very likely to be able to pick up a used, working washer at no cost. They are easy to install; I'm not a do-it-yourselfer, and I can install one.
Or - who pays for water? Price a high efficiency washer - whatever Consumer Reports says is a good one. Price the difference in cost of water per year. It may be worth her while to pay for it
Or - find a nice used or even new one, and ask her to pay for/share the cost of it. You can get a cheap, small Haier for @ 200. Many stores will have a scratch-n-dent section, and sometimes bargaining is possible. If you present her with some bargain choices, she may very well agree, esp. if you agree to deal with the details.
posted by theora55 at 4:05 PM on August 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


This is the relevant part:

A landlord:

(e) shall 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 the landlord;


"A landlord shall maintain in good and safe working order and condition all electrical ... appliances ... supplied by the landlord."

The landlord should be fixing (or replacing) the washing machine.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 4:06 PM on August 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


We pay all utilities and to make it clear, I don't particularly like the landlady but she's been fair enough. She does have a reputation in town that if we knew of, we wouldn't have moved in. We've been here for over a year. I'll def ask around for some sort of tenants group and I have 3 close friends that live blocks from me who are lawyers who can draft something if it comes to that.

The lease doesn't mention that she will provide a washing machine but it also doesn't mention other appliances. The way EndsofInvention looked at that key bit is what resonates with me but obviously that works in my favor. I appreciate the other views and questions. Anyway, this appliance was supplied by her so it makes me think she's responsible.

I greatly appreciate the variety of views, including dissenting ones. At least I feel like I'm not totally off base. I rented out a condo in an old city and whenever my tenants (that I knew were responsible) called with an issue, I got a professional out there ASAP. I'd expect them to leave my place with reasonable wear and tear and I felt it was my obligation to have the place provide everything it provided when they first signed the lease.

Explicit quotes from lease - "Maintenance, reapirs or alterations: Tenant acknowledges that the premises are in good order and repair, unles otherwise indicated. Tenant will, at his or her own expense, maintain the premises in good repair and in a clean and sanitary manner including all equipment, appliances (other stuff) and will surrender the same at termination in as good condition as recieved, normal wear and tear excepted. This will include but not be limited to dirty filters in dishwashers, plugged lint traps in washers or dryers, plugged toilets due to foreign objects being flushed." The rest is just specific to papering, painting, etc. The maintenance expected doesn't make it sound like major repairs/maintenance is my responsibility.

Also "Tenants will be held responsible for any misuse of septic, sewere system, and plumbing. Tenant is responsible to notify ownder of any maintenance needed. Tenant may be held resp for damages from failing to notify owner of leaks, toilets running, gutters failing or other maintenance needed." Under required cleaning for return of security deposit, the washer isn't mentinoed so I guess it'd be "Miscellaneous - all items as stated on the condition report must be in teh same condition as when you moved in, expect for normal wear and tear." The condition report says "Washer/dryer - working and clean, clean behind and on top of washer dryer". That's it.
posted by adorap0621 at 4:47 PM on August 21, 2012


The thing about this is - to be quite brutally honest - is that it doesn't matter what the law says (EndsOfInvention is correct in indicating that the law requires the landlord to maintain the appliance), it matters what you are willing to do about it.

You really only have three options here:
  1. Sue your landlord.
  2. Withhold rent/reduce rent for the cost of repair/replacement.
  3. Try to convince your landlord to repair the appliance out of good will.
It sounds like the third option has failed already. Unfortunately, all options eventually lead to something equivalent to one of those three options. There is no mechanism to force your landlord to comply with the law except by using the law or otherwise convincing them.

It may be in your interest to simply pay for the repair/replacement yourself even though you are not required to do so. Sometimes, this is appropriate when your rent is sub-market-rate or when your landlord is unusually flexible with your living situation. In other words, even if the law requires something from your landlord, it may be in your interest to waive that requirement.

I'm not saying you should immediately fall in line with the landlord here - just weigh the cost of throwing the book at your landlord (which could conceivably result in anything from the landlord promptly replacing the washer to the landlord ending your tenancy at the end of your lease [*]) to the cost of just taking care of it yourself (which is, at the least, a fixed cost).

Disclaimer: I have taken all three options at various times. I have sued/threaten to sue two previous landlords to fulfill a legal obligation, convinced one landlord that the lease was right and they were wrong, and allowed a lease violation in another case.

[*] Yes, I acknowledge that retaliatory actions by landlords are not well-taken by the law. In general, lest a specific provision in a city/state's law (which is present in some places), there is no requirement that a landlord renew a lease. Either way, it gets back to the question of even if you are in the right, is pursuing that worth your time
posted by saeculorum at 4:53 PM on August 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


Former California landlord here. I think it's typical that your agreement and the amount you pay is based on all of the facilities, appliances and amenities as they exist upon move in or agreement date.

At the very least she should be lowering your rent.
posted by snsranch at 4:54 PM on August 21, 2012


Check this out. This site is Montana specific and lists what is Normal Wear and Tear. Anything beyond that is the responsibility of the landlord.

Also what EndsOfInvention and saeculorum say. They're both right on.
posted by snsranch at 5:04 PM on August 21, 2012


Conventional wisdom, tenant law, MeFite experience and your expectations all line up: if you maintained it and didn't abuse it, a broken washing machine is the responsibility of the landlord to repair or replace.

If I were in your shoes, I'd try for the middle path: Replace the washer with a used or scratch/dent unit and write a very polite (registered) letter to the landlord explaining what you've done, what it costs, and your disagreement with her interpretation of the lease. Then enjoy toasty clean underwear all winter long.
posted by Kakkerlak at 5:22 PM on August 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


OP, I think you're engaging in an XY Problem, a.k.a. barking up the wrong tree. I don't know MT tenant law or anything, but here in California this would be filed under a decrease in services, not upkeep. You signed onto and moved into a place with a working washer. Washer is now broken, so the place is now less than what you paid for, and (here in CA) it's up to the landlord to restore your place to the level of functionality it had when you moved in, i.e. fix the washer.

I wouldn't let fly with any threats, but if she won't fix this I wouldn't go fixing things around the house yourself anymore. Call her for every little thing.
posted by rhizome at 6:15 PM on August 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


My boyfriend and I moved into a unit with a stacking washer/dryer and ran into a similar problem a few years ago - our landlord repaired the unit, knowing it was on its last legs, and then replaced it a couple of years later.

When discussing this with your landlord, I would stick to the points brought up by EndsOfInvention and rhizome. Your landlord is responsible for maintaining your appliances to the same level of working order they had when you moved in.

If she still refuses to pay, you may be able to repair it yourself and deduct the amount from your rent. BUT research the specific steps you need to take in order to do this first! You may be required to give your LL written notice of the repair needed, then give her time to complete the repair before doing it yourself and expecting a rent deduction. Get your lawyer friends to help you with this. I would have gone this route if my LL didn't repair our washer when it needed it.
posted by youngergirl44 at 6:59 PM on August 21, 2012


"A landlord shall maintain in good and safe working order and condition all electrical ... appliances supplied or required to be supplied by the landlord."

Unless a washing machine is required by law in your jurisdiction, I would say that the landlord is no longer supplying a washing machine.

the lease says the machine is as-is and doesn't have to be replaced or repaired

This would probably be the most relevant section of the lease, and leads me to believe that you don't have much of a leg to stand on.
posted by Rock Steady at 7:29 PM on August 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


It seems to me (I am in Canada, so maybe things are different here) that you are not responsible for the repairs and neither is the landlord. Washers are perks, not essential appliances. Unless the lease specifically included "washing machine kept in working condition" as a landlord's responsibility, which it doesn't seem to, I can't imagine why the landlord should be forced to repair it. If the lease actually says the opposite, as the landlord says, you have even less of a case.
posted by randomnity at 7:38 PM on August 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


Unless a washing machine is required by law in your jurisdiction, I would say that the landlord is no longer supplying a washing machine.

You could say that, but legally a portion of the rent is going toward a working washer, so if the landlord doesn't want to replace or repair the one that came with the unit, they should reduce the rent paid by some amount. Whether it's legal for the landlord to just "oh well" and reduce rent without complication is an exercise left to the reader. There's a signed legal document for the initial state of the unit (a lease) involved, after all.
posted by rhizome at 7:48 PM on August 21, 2012


Update - the lease doesn't mention the washer except for what I already included above (and that's not really anything). If she cut the rent for the loss of service that'd be one thing. Ideally we get it fixed. We will get an estimate for repair from someone and we may pay for it to be repaired and then consult with a lawyer about reimbursement. The more important update is the response from my landlady. I asked her specifically to cite where in the lease it says she wouldn't be fixing this and it was as-is and her response is

"Bottom line, the washer dryer is no longer usable.  I have had experience with the stackers over the years and this one lasted longer than most.   To repair it would not be financially feasible.  This is the last washer that I have in any house.  It is the last one that I will own.

know that I explained this to you when we met to rent the house.  The washer/dryer was only as long as it lasts.  It is my policy and has been for many years.  I explain this to everyone.   I am so busy right now and until I leave that I do not have time to deal with this.

I lost so much money the past 2 years and did not raise the rent on any of my houses.  One house is coming up for rent this October and I am raising the rent from $730 to $795.  If you look at what is available, you will see that your rent is considerably lower than what is available.  

I hope that you can understand this and that it will not be a hardship on you.  If you chose to buy your own washer and put the old one in the garage, that would be OK.  I actually have advised other tenants that having a washer alone and hang drying all but the sheets is probably the only alternative in my homes.  There is no way to hook up a washer and dryer set at any of my 2 bedroom houses. "


For what it's worth, I absolutely don't recall her saying anything about not replacing the place and as much as she probably believes she did, I believe my husband and I mentioned wanting laundry as a non-negotiable. Thankfully, that's why we have written leases.

I totally understand that if we pursue getting this fixed using lawyers, we'll probably want to move in June. The place is an OK deal (good but not great). My husband would be willing to jump ship now, I'm more inclined to find some sort of compromise. If it gets fixed for under $200, I'm willing to eat that cost, move in June, and do absolutely NOTHING in terms of maintenance outside of what is clearly in the lease.

Lots of best answers in here.. just going to hold off in case this added response adds something. Thank you, everyone.
posted by adorap0621 at 9:14 PM on August 21, 2012


...the lease says the machine is as-is and doesn't have to be replaced or repaired

Well, in that case, I'd inform the landlord that you will be buying a new washer for your personal use, which you will then take with you when you move out. Also, if she wants the broken washer, she needs to come and get it, otherwise the delivery guys will take it to the dump.
posted by Thorzdad at 3:54 AM on August 22, 2012


A few people are quoting a phrase out of context:

The landlady... said... that the lease says the machine is as-is and doesn't have to be replaced or repaired."

I think the OP has made it clear that the lease doesn't actually say any such thing.

OP, it only takes a pickup truck, SUV or large station wagon and a couple of moderately strong people to transport a washing machine. In a pinch you could even cram one into some hatchbacks (e.g. a Honda Fit.) If you have access to those resources then you can buy a replacement used machine on Craigslist for probably $100 or less.

Your landlady is flat wrong but the cost of forcing the issue is going to be higher than the cost of just taking care of it yourself, so I'd suggest that you buy your own used washer and go on with life a bit wiser. Retain copies of your emails about all of the correspondence you've had with her around this, in case you have other problems that in the aggregate become worth going to small claims court over.
posted by jon1270 at 4:38 AM on August 22, 2012


A few people are quoting a phrase out of context

That's a fair point, I did misread the question. Still doesn't change my armchair analysis of the question, as the lease saying nothing about whether or not a washing machine will be supplied means the landlord is not required to provide one. If it's existence was non-negotiable, it should have been put in the lease.
posted by Rock Steady at 5:32 AM on August 22, 2012


Maintenance, reapirs or alterations: Tenant acknowledges that the premises are in good order and repair, unles otherwise indicated. Tenant will, at his or her own expense, maintain the premises in good repair and in a clean and sanitary manner including all equipment, appliances (other stuff) and will surrender the same at termination in as good condition as recieved, normal wear and tear excepted.
IANAL, but without anything more explicit about what happens if something breaks due to "normal wear and tear" I would take this to mean "Lease includes, and you are responsible for maintaining, whatever appliances are here until they wear out." I had a similar situation in an apartment with an ancient refrigerator that finally bit the dust. I don't remember the specific language that was in my lease, but it amounted to the same thing; we weren't on the hook for buying the landlord a new fridge, but he wasn't on the hook for buying us a new one either.
posted by usonian at 6:05 AM on August 22, 2012


This doesn't answer any of your legal questions but I see tons of people giving away or selling washers & dryers really cheaply on local listservs/craigslist. Might be worth exploring.
posted by jabes at 6:09 AM on August 22, 2012


We had a partially functioning gas stove in a rental house (top range okay, oven/broiler not). Landlady said "I'm not fixing or replacing it; it's yours now. You can replace it." My roommate bought a new one and took it when we left.
posted by lathrop at 7:11 AM on August 22, 2012


For those of you curious or finding this q useful: I went to a lawyer buddy to verify I wasn't looking at the lease wrong. Then I opened the front of the washer to try to spot any obvious defect. It was clear - a broken belt. Told landlady, cited the lease, cited MT laws - dispassionately. I asked one question - where in the lease or MT laws does she see the appliance isn't covered? Her response: she verbally told us she wouldn't maintain the thing and said the fix would be super expensive and she said we were taking advantage of her. I called around and started collecting estimates - the three repair people have all cited under $100. I told her and she sent an email citing Arizona tenant laws about essential appliances and other irrelevant things like not raising rent and other verbal conversations we had. She also offered up a one time option to break the lease.

I'm honestly inclined to fix the thing, not tell her, stay until the end of the lease, and then at the end, take my working part with me (immature, I know). My husband is just angry at this point on the principal of it - if she doesn't respect the lease now, what won't she respect later - especially when she is out of the country until June? We'll chat with a lawyer, look over rental options and after a big plate of cookies I'll probably be able to talk husband off the ledge. Yes, she's probably not in the right and we could fight it but $100 is worth it to me for a bit of calm and good karma come move out time.

the lesson is: it was helpful having a lawyer look at the lease and ensure I wasn't off my rocker and to ask for her perspective trying to be objective. I have attorney friends but they all said it'd be normal for them to do this and even draft a letter for free (in hopes of generating business in the future). Also, in the future I will be very, very picky with questions in the lease about appliance repair and use so that going into the lease, it's in plain English. Finally, I'm glad I took lots of pics of the place when I moved in because this is a battle that will likely have repercussions when I move out in June. Oy.
posted by adorap0621 at 2:04 PM on August 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


« Older What would be a good movie cho...   |  I lost my perfect black jacket... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.


Post