What home maintenance do you, a long-term renter, do yourself?
December 5, 2018 2:29 PM   Subscribe

We've lived in the same apartment for 5.5 years, and will for the foreseeable future. But with long-term tenancy comes questions like -- uh, you're supposed to have your dryer vent cleaned?? WHO KNEW? And more importantly, who is responsible?

I know that people do stuff like cleaning (dryer and HVAC) vents, washing (the outside of) windows, deep-cleaning appliances, re-caulking showers, etc., but when you're renting, whose job is that? What tasks do you do, and which do your landlord handle (if any)?

When I say "whose job is that", I mean: who keeps track of what maintenance needs to be done? Who hires the maintenance people? Who lets them in? Who pays for it?

When we moved in, the only maintenance that was discussed was replacing the filter on the furnace, which we do. We are also generally clean and reasonable people. But like, stuff gets gross after a while.

All landlord-tenant relationships are different, etc, so I'm just trying to figure out what's typical. Assume that we are not ourselves handy, and therefore will not be doing this maintenance ourselves. We live in a 3-unit building.
posted by goodbyewaffles to Home & Garden (14 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
To start answering that question, you need to read your lease.
posted by praemunire at 2:37 PM on December 5, 2018 [3 favorites]

I've read my lease. I'm just trying to find out what's typical. Thanks!
posted by goodbyewaffles at 2:40 PM on December 5, 2018 [2 favorites]

In my experience, it depends on the type of rental. Duplex owned by an individual landlord? They expected us to do a lot of stuff, like cleaning the vents (not stuff like caulking the shower, though.) I think this is mostly because they were cheap and didn't have the expertise to know what to do when. We were also expected to take care of the lawn by our entrance.

When I lived in a mega-apartment complex, they had several maintenance folks who kept up with things, including changing our outside lightbulbs, changing the AC filters in the apartment, stuff like that. We weren't really expected to do any maintenance, except for cleaning the carpets and appliances and stuff like that.

In neither case were was the landlord/management company proactive about any of this. We were definitely the ones who had to approach and, if necessary, bug the heck out of them to get stuff done.
posted by itsamermaid at 2:58 PM on December 5, 2018

It depends on the building for what happens outdoors and with common amenities. Indoors, it's generally your problem.

If you rent in a building with HOA, strata, or building management, common amenities should be taken care of by that entity. Our centralized entity is very activist and well-funded so they do maintenance for landscaping, snow removal, salt, leaf collection, fire alarm testing, gutter cleaning, outside window washing, etc etc. If pest control or common area/utility repairs are needed, this is the responsibility of the central entity to schedule and coordinate. Other buildings are different and it would be self-service for gardening and snow removal, that would be covered in the lease. However everything that happens outside the front door of my unit is generally not my problem as a tenant.

For things inside of the unit, it is my job to deal with the maintenance until something breaks. In practice, this means I do not do maintenance, wait until the thing breaks, then make it the landlord's problem. The only thing I do is clear the drains periodically as I do not like to shower in standing water nor deal with plumbing backups. If I cared, I would deep clean the appliances, shampoo the carpets, and wash the inside of the windows myself.

General maintenance tasks for normal wear-and-tear inside of the unit are the landlord's problem to solve. I'll show up if they schedule the maintenance, and I'll call for emergency repair, but I won't ask for the maintenance to be done myself. I do not expect the unit to be repainted, the carpets replaced at end-of-life, or the caulking to be re-done during my tenancy. If I needed something non-essential to be done, I'd either do it myself or move. I can't be bothered to negotiate with the landlord for these things.
posted by crazycanuck at 3:03 PM on December 5, 2018

The stuff you're describing, in general, seems like it would be the landlord's responsibility. For instance, we regularly get news stories about apartment fires for people whose dryer vents weren't cleared. And it points to the landlord's fault. Is the washer/dryer unit included in your apartment?

Have you contacted your landlord to find out the details of these things? I mean, a bathroom that needed to be caulked, that's obviously the landlord's obligation in my mind. Washing outside windows, well, I'm not going to get up and do it, am I?

Deep cleaning appliances could mean several things? A stove? A washer and dryer? I would consider stove cleaning to be my own responsibility. But clearing vents, that's iffy.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 3:08 PM on December 5, 2018

I'm in Canada, rented all my life up to now, in mostly similar apartments (triplexes or duplexes owned by landlords versus big apartments with a superintendent and bigger organization). I had two landlords out of maybe 15 who were proactive about maintenance, the rest would fix things if asked but go with the cheapest route and did very little preventative/maintenance.

The rule I went by was house things that just happen regardless of who is living in them (like vents, re-painting, eavestroughs) are the landlord's responsibility unless they say otherwise in the lease, things that are dependent on the tenant (like if you use the stove a lot the stove/oven needs cleaning), is on the tenant, but that is just how I approached things, I think there are clearer rules based on your local district. Unless they want you using a specific kind of bulb I always did that myself, same with furnace filters although it's nice when they supply them. If you think the caulking is getting yucky and letting water damage happen I would bring it up to your landlord and they should cover it as that's considered "general wear and tear" and not something you've caused.

Keep in mind I'm in a place where we don't do damage deposits and landlords are thrilled if you pay your rent on time and don't cause major damage, I think in places where you pay a damage deposit they will ding you when you leave to cover the costs of cleaning and re-painting etc.
posted by lafemma at 3:14 PM on December 5, 2018

If your lease specifies, it doesn't matter what's typical.

If it doesn't, state law can also have some bearing on this. For example, rather weirdly, in NYC tenants can be made responsible for maintaining smoke detectors. Some tenants' rights organization in your locality has probably put out a pamphlet that touches on this somewhere.

From there, I'd say that most commonly fixtures are the responsibility of the landlord and accessible consumables and cleaning the responsibility of the tenant. You'd need to change the lint trap yourself for the dryer, but servicing the vents should be the landlord's job. Cleaning walls and floors and inside windows is of course the tenant's job, but outside windows and maintaining walls and floors the landlord's. Some landlords are proactive about this kind of maintenance; others are not and you have to prod them.
posted by praemunire at 3:49 PM on December 5, 2018

You have a dryer? Fancy!

But seriously, it depends a lot. I live in Vermont where a lot of the rental situations are either an owner-occupied duplex (more or less what i have) or small houses or multi-unit places that are owned by a family who is responsible for their care and upkeep. I have been living in the same apartment for ten years and while I mostly consider it my job to just tell my landlord what's up (an older lady who occupies the main house while I live in the mother-in-law) that has been changing over time. Usually the deal is that I notify her, she deals with maintenance people slightly (but not entirely) working around my schedule. Sometimes things happen when I am not home (like getting my bathroom floor refinished, I was fine with this) and sometimes I need to be there and coordinate with the handyperson. We have a back and forth on a few things as well. So here's my list

- I do all my own cleaning (inside and outside of windows too) and she handles yard work. I keep my steps tidy, and in winter I shovel to my car but she handles plowing
- I replace light bulbs and smoke detector batteries do any repair that I can do with a basic set of tools
- if that repair costs money (i.e. tub caulking) I will clear it with her beforehand and ask what she would like me to do
- if it's cosmetic I'll usually just do it myself if it's under $20
- if something breaks I let her know and we talk about how to manage it. She tried to fix a dripping sink with me once and it turned into a comedy of an even more broken sink so now we call the plumber

The one thing we disagree on is slow drains. I can not stand standing in water while I shower. She keeps handing me Drano. I use it, but in winter there is some issue and I have to pressure her to, every few years, call a plumber to handle it. She digs in and I push on it. I cut my hair and the situation got a lot better :D
posted by jessamyn at 3:55 PM on December 5, 2018 [1 favorite]

Everything to nothing at all, depending on where your apartment sits on the spectrum of apartments. If you have a slumlord, then pretty much everything. If you live somewhere fancy where part of what you're paying your extravagant rent for is the service, then pretty much nothing. There is no "typical."
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 4:44 PM on December 5, 2018

Although I guess that if pressed, I would say that most renters who have dryers in their apartments are responsible for taking care of the vent themselves or at least asking to have it cleaned if they don't personally feel up to it. It's not a "hire a specialist" task, it's a do it yourself or have your landlord/property manager do it type task.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 4:51 PM on December 5, 2018

Simple diy stuff like replacing the smoke alarm or flapper valve I do myself. If it’s hard to DIY like replacing carpet or rehanging a door I hire a pro and bill the landlord, with his permission beforehand unless it’s an emergency. He lives a few thousand miles away and can’t be expected to handle the day to day of working with maintenance folks.
posted by phoenixy at 10:28 PM on December 5, 2018

In addition to the stuff I would label “maintenance”: in any long term (more than a year or two) living situation there’s stuff that needs extra cleaning beyond normal levels of “I am a person who has a job outside the house and whose house is mostly tidy” clean, and I feel like you’re also asking about that?

I guess it’s going to vary based on how clean you are, but for me that would be stuff like: washing floors that don’t normally get washed, dusting underneath furniture that’s hard to move, cleaning the insides of cupboards, cleaning carpets, cleaning that stupid spot between the stove and the cupboards where stuff falls down...I guess you could call it “deep cleaning”.

I have never lived somewhere where I thought I would be able to convince a landlord to do/pay for that kind of thing outside of a change of tenant (but I’ve never lived in the same place >3 years). In general I’ve always assumed it would be easier to fix small stuff on my own rather than wait around for a landlord to do it. For example I’m staring at a cracked electrical outlet cover that I’m either going to replace if I don’t put furniture in front of it. FWIW my current lease spells out that I’m to replace light bulbs and furnace filters on my own dime, and the landlord didn’t bother filling holes in the drywall after the last tenant, so I don’t feel bad about doing whatever I want.
posted by quaking fajita at 4:44 AM on December 6, 2018

For larger apartment buildings, a lot of that sort of thing was handled as general maintenance by staff. Renting a house or a house converted to a couple of apartments...eh...less so, and depends ENTIRELY on the landlord's attitude about keeping up their property.

I've had nervous new landlords who were much too busybody and apparently felt that ordinary wear-and-tear would just not be a thing if tenants were "properly" cleaning their apartments. Oh honey, your cheap carpet is not going to look new for ten years through three different tenants no matter how many times you side-eye my vacuuming job. Stahp.

I've lived in places where if the tenants didn't clean things, it just didn't get done ever until the tenants move out and the landlord would be all shruggo "renters amirite, they're all slobs, why should I bother cleaning the grout?"

I've had landlords that discussed with us where they saw the line between "definitely call me and I'll have my handyman come out and take care of that" versus "this is the kind of basic household repair I need you to just handle on your own."

Personally, I would not hire maintenance people on my own or pay for them; anything that requires outside expertise needs to be handled by the landlord IMO. I would however give a good landlord a friendly heads-up like "next time you're thinking about overall building preventative maintenance, you might want to put caulking our shower on the list. We do what we can to keep things clean and it's not leaking (yet) but it's starting to look worn."
posted by desuetude at 7:57 AM on December 6, 2018 [1 favorite]

I am not sure if there's a "typical".

In my experience (going on my 12th year at my current rental), I've been responsible for things like replacing light bulbs in built-in light fixtures, re-adjusting the circuit breaker if it trips, maintaining drains and plunging the toilet if it clogs. My maintenance crew is for things like leaky ceilings, full paint jobs, holes in walls, clogged drains that aren't responding to my initial attention, electric problems above and beyond circuits and lightbulbs, etc. I also have a very good relationship with my super (he is hands-down adorable) and sometimes he'll tell me the difference between "yeah, I'd better be the one to handle that" and "oh, you totally can do that instead of waiting for me, just go get [blah] from the hardware store for like three bucks and it'll take care of it".

Desuetude has a good rule of thumb - if it's the kind of thing that requires outside expertise, then call your landlord. If it's the kind of thing that you conceivably could do without any additional expense (i.e., cleaning out an easily-accessible dryer vent), then I'd go ahead and do it - even if you technically didn't need to, your landlord may appreciate your tending to the property and you'll look good. (My super says that my landlord loves me because I take good care of the place.)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:26 AM on December 6, 2018 [1 favorite]

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