How can my friend not have to pay for dishwahser repair?
February 20, 2010 9:02 PM   Subscribe

My friend recently moved into an apartment, and after trying to use her dishwasher has found it doesn't work. She contacted the landlord who will send someone out, but they specify she will have to pay for it if it isn't considered normal wear and tear. How can she respond to the landlord with the least chance of having to pay?

Here is what she says: "I moved into a new place 2 months ago, and upon using the dishwasher the first time, the dishes came out dirty, and the second time, they were dirty with standing water and two pieces of broken glass in the bottom of it. I know that the broken glass is not from my glasses because not only are they all intact, they broken pieces of glass are much thinner than that from the set of glasses I own. I emailed the landlady to ask her to send someone out to look at it, without going into any of this detail, and she replied telling me:
'I am not sure what could be the situation with the dishwasher. We have not had any problems in the past with it. We will get someone there to examine the concern asap. Please note that should this be an issue that is not a natural wear and tear with the system you will be responsible for all charges to repair. Please provide your availability to receive a repair man.
Thank you kindly.'
I am certain this was a preexisting problem caused by the last tenants, and don't want to be held responsible for the repairs."
posted by DanielDManiel to Grab Bag (28 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
This doesn't answer the question directly--I don't know what she can say to the landlord to avoid paying for the repair. But I have had a lot of dishwashers in my day and not-getting-clean and not-draining can be simple things to fix on your own. Checking the drain filters and the little holes water comes out of on the spray arms for obstructions could make a visit from the repair guy unnecessary. This link at wikihow shows how to do it.

On the other hand, perhaps it will be heartening to her to know that clogged drains and water holes are totally a part of normal wear-and-tear. It seems much less likely to me that one catastrophic thing happened when the previous tenants had it than that it has just accumulated the usual gunk that dishwashers accumulate.
posted by not that girl at 9:26 PM on February 20, 2010

Well, maybe your friend needs to wait until the repairman comes out and diagnoses the problem.

I am not doubting your friend's account at all, but think of it from the other side: it took 2 months for her to use her dishwasher for the first time? If it were the first week or two, it would be much easier to accept that it was broken by the previous tenant. Plus, at this point the landlord has returned the previous tenant's security deposit, so they don't really have any option but to pay out of their own pocket, and of course they are going to try to find any way not to have to pay.

So yea, I think the next step is to get the repairman's opinion, and go from there.
posted by cabingirl at 9:30 PM on February 20, 2010

Response by poster: Really good responses so far. My friend adds: "The prior tenants didn't get their security deposit back. They skipped out on their lease." Which to me means there may not have been a great check on what they left in disrepair. I mean who runs the dishwasher to make sure it works after you have shitty tenets who don't even get their security deposit back? Also, in response to the question of timing, my friend says: "I am one person here who never uses more than a few dishes and pans at a time, so I hand wash them rather than run the dishwasher. I cooked a large meal on valentine's day and that was when I attempted to use the dishwasher and discovered the problem."
posted by DanielDManiel at 10:00 PM on February 20, 2010

Response by poster: Also to clarify: my friend is sure that the broken glass was there the first time she used it, but went unnoticed until she had to clear out the standing water, and really deal with what was in the bottom of the machine.
posted by DanielDManiel at 10:07 PM on February 20, 2010

Yeah, I join cabingirl in totally believing your friend's account but also seeing it from the landlady's side. You pay a premium to rent a place with a dishwasher, generally. Why would you pay that premium if you weren't going to use the dishwasher in the first two months? It seems suspicious, especially if you're a person who uses the dishwasher often and can't imagine not doing that.

I really don't think she has any choice but to hope the repairman thinks this is normal wear and tear. At this point it would seem pretty shady to say "Oh, it fixed itself!"
posted by crinklebat at 10:36 PM on February 20, 2010

'I am not sure what could be the situation with the dishwasher. We have not had any problems in the past with it. We will get someone there to examine the concern asap. Please note that should this be an issue that is not a natural wear and tear with the system you will be responsible for all charges to repair. Please provide your availability to receive a repair man.
Thank you kindly.'

Pretty much all that she said was:

1: She's not clear about what's going on with the dishwasher.
2. She is sending someone to find out what is going on with the dishwasher.
3. Something most likely in your lease contract. (Find out if it is.)
4. When is a good time for someone to take a look at it.
The point I'm making is that the landlady hasn't really told you any specifics yet except that someone will be looking at it. Right now, no one is making your friend pay anything. Someone is going to take a look at it. Your friend needs to be clear that she doesn't want to pay for repairs regardless of what is considered "normal wear and tear" since she just moved in. Don't even mention "normal wear and tear". If you guys start trying to define exactly what that phrase means it will be a very long time before anything gets done.

The conversation needs to go like this:
Friend: I don't want to pay for repairs.
Landlady: Something something something.
Friend: How can we work this out so that we're both happy with the outcome?
posted by bam at 11:26 PM on February 20, 2010

Best answer: I have to respectfully, but vehemently, disagree with the above advice.

Your friend did not break the dishwasher. It doesn't matter whether it was 2 days, 2 weeks, 2 months, or 2 years into the lease, the simple fact is that the landlady rented the apartment to your friend with an already-broken dishwasher, and that's not your friend's responsibility. She need not allow herself to be bullied into paying for landlady's negligence.

If the landlady had done the proper walk-through after the previous tenant vacated, she would have discovered the broken dishwasher. It is her responsibility, not the tenants, to know the condition of the apartment and its appliances before she rents it. (Though in the future, your friend should know that it's always a good idea to go through and document any damage or irregularities the first day of taking residence in a new apartment.)

Your friend should politely thank the landlady for addressing her concern so quickly, tell the landlady when she'll be available to let a repairman in, but reaffirm that as she hadn't used the dishwasher until this point, if it is broken, it was such when she took residence. If the landlady sends a repairman over, great, let him do his job, and refer the bill back to the landlady.
If the landlady wants to press the issue, she can take it up with your friend.

Chances are, she won't. Landlord's pretty much always try to convince the tenant that it's his/her responsibility to pay for things whether it is or isn't. It's basically a bullying tactic. If the tenant is reasonable but firm, they will usually back off. After all, they're the one who is depending on getting a check at the beginning of every month. They are the service provider, and your friend is their client.

Absolute worst-case scenario, they'll end up in a stale-mate where the dishwasher stays broken. At this point, its your friends' choice whether to continue to request that the dishwasher be fixed, or just leave it alone. If she chooses the former, it should be in the form of politely phrased letters mailed to the landlord. If the landlady ignores the requests, eventually your friend can look into the proper channels in her city to file an intent to withhold rent.
posted by patnasty at 11:49 PM on February 20, 2010 [10 favorites]

:D That's basically what I was saying. I'm sorry that I wasn't clear about it.
posted by bam at 12:13 AM on February 21, 2010

Unless explicitly stated in the rental contract, the landlord is under no obligation to provide a dishwasher, working or otherwise. Necessities such as stove, fridge, toilet must be present and kept in working condition according to tenant law in most states, however a dishwasher is an extra amenity and the only way you might convince the landlord to pay for all or part of the repair is to ask very nicely. Your friend was most likely given a grace period of a week or two to check everything out in the apartment and record/report anything that was broken. Considering that she did not raise this issue at the time, it is effectively her responsibility to fix if she wants it working.
posted by sophist at 12:36 AM on February 21, 2010

I am not sure what could be the situation with the dishwasher. We have not had any problems in the past with it.

I think it is worth noting that the landlord does not say "it was checked and working normally when the last tenant moved out.". They just say (basically) "It hasn't broken before", which is a bit of an obvious statement. Not many things break before they break for the first time.

I'm not sure that your friend needs to do much more than politely point out (I'd do it now, rather than after the repair is assessed) that they hadn't used the appliance up to this point, so surely the responsibility lies with the previous tenant? After all, if the security deposit was not handed back, surely the landlord has the money to fix it anyway?
posted by Brockles at 1:02 AM on February 21, 2010

The landlord is in no position to make your friend pay for the repair, in any immediate sense. She's not going to go through your friend's wallet or garnish her wages. At worst, she can make it difficult to get her security deposit back whenever she moves out. The main thing I'd be careful of is that your friend should not pay the repairman herself, no matter what the diagnosis. The landlord owns the apartment and the appliance, and is herself calling the repairman; the bill is her problem. Your friend should not give cash, or write a check, or show a credit card, to the repairman.

I would keep a written record of exactly what has happened up until now, i.e. I attempted to use the DW for the first time on X date, had Y problem, tried again on Z date, then reported to landlord, etc., just so she can state her case clearly and consistently later on if there should be some lingering disagreement.

That said, it does sound likely that the dishwasher probably just needs a bit of filter cleaning. It's possible that she can find a brand and model number somewhere on the unit, which might lead her to a PDF of the user's manual, which probably has a troubleshooting checklist and instructions for simple corrections. A few minutes looking for that information might save some hassle.
posted by jon1270 at 4:24 AM on February 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

What's next, making excuses not to fix the toilets because flushing them would be normal wear and tear? Puh-leeze. You're renting an apartment with the expectation that the various parts of it will be in good working condition. If you wanted to deal with the repair and maintenance costs you'd be BUYING a place. When you rent the landlord is responsible for all of that. Now, if you break something due to improper use then you can expect to have to cover the costs of repairing/replacing it. But when a major, built-in appliance fails due to no fault or mis-use of your own then it's clearly the responsibility of the landlord to cover the cost of repairs in full, not you.

Nobody likes the surprise costs of unexpected repairs. But when you're a landlord it comes with the territory.
posted by wkearney99 at 5:49 AM on February 21, 2010

Rental law varies by state, and here in New York it is the landlord's responsibility to keep any fixtures and appliances that were in the apartment at time of rental in working condition, whether they were specifically listed on the lease or not. Landlord is not obligated to provide fixtures beyond basics, but if they are there they have to be fixed. I work in property management and we have to fix things like this. If we have a vacant apartment that has a dishwasher or something like that in bad repair we would just remove it so we wouldn't be obligated to replace or repair it.

I agree with the suggestion that she keep records of when she tried to use it and what happened.

Also agree with the people saying it's probably not a huge deal, just needs some cleaning out. When I moved into my former rental house we had dishwasher problems caused by being clogged up with the former resident's dog's hair, yuck!
posted by Melsky at 6:23 AM on February 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

Well, just to clarify, I am not saying that the friend should have to pay for a repair just because they didn't use the dishwasher for two months. I am just saying that the landlord is going to look at that and may try to use that against her, but also that it wasn't worth getting ready for a fight until the source of the problem is known.
posted by cabingirl at 6:48 AM on February 21, 2010

Maybe before your friend and the landlord arrange for a repair visit, have your friend (or the landlord) check out this recent thread: Dishes still dirty

It could be an easy fix without any major expense.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 7:13 AM on February 21, 2010

I would look to the terms of your lease, and determine how it handles repair responsibility. I can't give much of an opinion without reading it, but I know how my leases have read in the past. Under the terms of the leases I have had, I would be responsible for damage beyond normal wear and tear that I caused.

As some true examples:

-Ice storm caused enormous pine tree to break branches and smash stuff. That's not normal wear and tear, but I didn't cause it. Landlord paid.

-Got in a fight with a roommate, he punched hole in door. We paid.

Thus, assuming your friend's lease does not obligate her to pay for all damages beyond wear and tear whether or not she caused them (and if it does, bad on her for agreeing to such a clause, to be honest), then the landlord would have to reasonably demonstrate that the problem was beyond normal wear and tear and your friend caused it. The best way I can think of off the top of my head is to hold onto the broken glass, and to ask a lot of questions and take pictures during the repair process. Perhaps it may be as simple as the broken glass being purple, and your friend owns no purple glassware.

In terms of documentation and written communication with the landlord, I agree with jon1270 and patnasty, as I think they have some pretty good advice. I don't like the advice to start the conversation by saying "I don't want to pay for this." In my opinion, never use "don't want" as your reasoning if you have the stronger and more persuasive "it's your responsibility as per the express terms of our lease, dated X, section y, which states...." to depend on.

None of this is a legal opinion or legal advice by the way. It assumes certain language in your friend's lease that may or may not be there, and is just a comparison to the lease and repair arrangements I've had in the past. The assumptions may very well be very wrong depending on the language. So really, your friend needs to read her lease.
posted by bunnycup at 7:28 AM on February 21, 2010

(Final word, I would personally be wary trying to repair it myself. If your friend tries to do so, and then breaks it more, there's not much question but that the further repairs are your friend's fault. You wouldn't catch me dead tinkering with the appliances my landlord owns. I recognize people here are saying "Oh it might be easy," but it might not be.)
posted by bunnycup at 7:30 AM on February 21, 2010

Best answer: Please let us know how this turns out!

I agree that the landlord might not actually end up charging the tenant and that the wording of the email was both inflammatory and a bit "CYA" just in case the landlord might need to charge for the repair down the road. Like, say if it turned out during the repair your friend really did break the dishwasher.

Your friend should email back the landlord with her availability and remind the landlord that she has not used the appliance up until this point, etc.

"Regarding the repair cost, I do understand that if I broke the appliance through negligence, of I course I would expect to pay for the repair. However, I did not break the appliance via use or misuse, and this includes clogging the drains with either food or broken dishware. I used it for the first time on Feb XXth and discovered it wasn't working. Therefore, it wasn't working prior to my tenancy.

I appreciate your swift response with the repair appointment."

Here is a sentence I left out, but your friend could use it if the issue gets pressed after the repair is made...

"I gather from your previous email this appliance has not seen any regular maintenance."

I originally thought your friend should download a manual and clean the filter or whatever. I now disagree. Let the repair guy do the work. If your friend breaks something while attempting to fix it, than she will be liable for the repair. This is ALL on the landlord, let them deal with it.

Your friend should view this appliance as though it is still under the previous tenancy or whatever. When it is fully operational, then she can consider it under her tenancy and responsibility.

Good luck.
posted by jbenben at 7:33 AM on February 21, 2010

I would just get the repairman, and if she makes your friend pay, remember this. And get a detailed receipt for the work, along with printouts of the email conversation. Then, the last several months prior to moving out, your friend should withhold (a) the repair amount, and (b) the amount of the security deposit. (withhold the security deposit amount in addition, since the landlord will obviously not return the security deposit). Then, move out as planned.

This isn't legal advice, it's stick it to the man advice.
posted by HabeasCorpus at 7:52 AM on February 21, 2010

This is probably a really bad idea. Every lease I've ever signed has made it clear that withholding rent is not allowed. If you do it, they will just submit it to a collections agency and move along, completely destroying your credit (and life, once they start calling your friends and family). Not a good play to save $100 dollars.

As others have said, read your lease. They aren't usually that long or complicated, but it's probably not going to pan out well for you. The end result: try to reason kindly with the manager/owner. If that fails, pay the bill. This is why you do walk-throughs and check out everything as soon as you move into the apartment.
posted by yeoldefortran at 8:25 AM on February 21, 2010

I mean who runs the dishwasher to make sure it works after you have shitty tenets who don't even get their security deposit back?

Your friend does.

I have no reason to doubt your friend's story, but this is why she was given a condition inventory to fill out when she moved in. From the landlord's perspective this happened on her watch. Now, I'd say it's debatable whether this is normal wear and tear, but you'd have to have the repair man come out anyway to sort that out.

Don't withhold rent or deposit unless you want to make it harder to rent elsewhere while wrecking your credit and ending up paying anyway.
posted by cmoj at 9:52 AM on February 21, 2010


Again, not a lawyer, and maybe OP should talk to one, but in my personal experience I don't agree.

This is a disputed debt, not an uncollected debt, and with documentation about the dispute, one would be able to dispute it with the credit agencies. Credit reports aren't something you should let a shitty landlord use to strong-arm you.

I've had a $100 disputed debt on my credit report before. I disputed it and got it off, and it didn't destroy my credit in the interim. My credit took a slight, slight hit (still in the healthy range), and I just put a note on my report that the debt was incorrectly charged to me.
posted by HabeasCorpus at 10:54 AM on February 21, 2010

I would personally try to circumvent all this by making sure I was home when the repair person came and making friends with him/her. Unless s/he works directly for the landlord only, and they usually don't, they're often pretty nice people who have landlords themselves. Just tell them the story and ask if they'll put some innocuous phrase on the bill that says that it's been broken for more than two months or that it's all normal wear and tear or whatever the landlord wants it to say in order for her to pay for it.
posted by mygothlaundry at 10:56 AM on February 21, 2010

Response by poster: but this is why she was given a condition inventory to fill out when
she moved in

"I wasn't given a condition inventory. If I had, I would have taken it
upon myself to fill it out.

The comments are fantastic though. I will not attempt to fix it
myself, even though I really want to, and I'll send her an email based
on the suggestions of the person who actually says what I should say
to her, and have her send someone to fix it.

Thanks so much!!"
posted by DanielDManiel at 11:19 AM on February 21, 2010

OP, after further thought, maybe I'm being too harsh on the landlord. A more equitable solution might be in order.

It's not the landlord's duty to pay for the dishwasher, BUT, the problem was not fixed because your friend was not given a condition inventory. Maybe the two could agree to split the cost? It seems that neither party is entirely without fault in this situation.
posted by HabeasCorpus at 11:27 AM on February 21, 2010

If you're in California I am fairly certain it is the landlord's responsibility to either fix the broken appliance which they provided, replace it, or remove it. Unless your friend took a baseball bat to it, or tried to wash a dog in there then it should be pretty much covered by normal wear and tear.

California tenants rights handbook. I've read the entire thing in the past, and think I'm right about this, but you should take a look anyway. Plus it's a great thing to have on hand when moving out.
posted by JackarypQQ at 1:27 PM on February 21, 2010



This is true in every country/state I've lived in, held a real estate license, or worked in property management.

OP - Thanks for the update.
posted by jbenben at 2:56 PM on February 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks everyone. I highlighted the two answers that my friend found the most useful for writing an email in response, but she was amazed at the number and quality of responses as a whole. You may have created a metafilter convert.

I'll try to post an update for those of you who are most invested once the whole situation is resolved.
posted by DanielDManiel at 8:47 PM on February 21, 2010

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