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Maintaining real estate properties can be a handful, irrespective of whether you’re a homeowner or a tenant. Even if a home has regular maintenance checks and upgrades, issues are bound to crop up from time to time, especially as the home gets older. If you’re living in a rented home, you’ll know that if your plumbing fails or if you want any kind of maintenance work done, you’ll need to reach out to your landlord, who will then send a contractor to look into the issue. But what do you do if the landlord’s contractor just doesn’t fix the problem, or maybe even makes it worse? Can a tenant hire a contractor? And who foots the bills? Let’s take a quick look.
What the law says
From a legal standpoint, the property management and maintenance of rental properties is the sole responsibility of the homeowner, even if you are a long term tenant. This means that should the home need any repairs and maintenance, you ought to bring it to your landlord’s notice and get the repairs done by the contractor they send.
Even if the contractor sent by your landlord is making the situation worse, you can request your landlord to hire a different contractor, but you cannot insist on it.
The only respite you have as a tenant is when it comes to mold remediation. The law states that the homeowner must ensure that the cleanup and the post clean up inspection are meant to be done by two separate contractors. In this case, you can ask to see the contractor’s license before giving them access to the home.
If the contractor is not licensed, only then can you, as the tenant, insist that the landlord hire a different contractor.
However, everything is not only in the favor of landlords. The law also states that if you, as a tenant, do not get a satisfactory resolution from your landlord, you can withhold rent until your maintenance issue has been properly addressed. Local laws in some states require tenants to put the rent amount in an escrow account until a resolution is reached.
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What if the tenant hires a contractor?
But what happens if you, the tenant, decide to take matters into your own hands and hire a contractor? Who pays for those repairs?
If you hire a contractor, the landlord is in no way obligated to pay for any of those repairs. It is the responsibility of the tenant to bear all of those costs.
Most lease contracts will also require the tenant to get prior approval before making any modifications or major repairs to a rental property. So think hard before you decide to go out and hire a contractor yourself.
Read more: How to properly pay a contractor?
How to hire a contractor
Here are a few quick tips to help you with the process of hiring a contractor, should the need arise.
1. Get referrals
Get referrals from neighbors, your local hardware store, and timber depot before hiring a contractor. You want a reliable contractor who is known to complete projects satisfactorily, on time, and within budgets while paying his suppliers on time as well.
2. Interview them
Have telephonic interviews with all the contractors you’re considering, and make sure you ask them for previous customer referrals as well as details of ongoing projects. Make sure you check on the authenticity of those referrals.
It is also important to meet prospective contractors face to face before you decide as well. This is a person who will be working in your living space, and even though it may be a rental, you will need to have a rapport to be able to communicate effectively with each other.
3. Verify details
Make sure the contractor you’re hiring is licensed, bonded, and insured. Also, ensure the contractor has worked on projects similar to what you have in mind.
4. Payment schedules
Always discuss payment schedules in advance before deciding on a contractor. Ideally, a good contractor will take 10% of the project cost in advance, three installments of 25% during the course of the project, and the remainder when you’re satisfied that everything has been completed to your satisfaction.
Beware of contractors who ask for too much of an upfront payment. It shows that they may be unreliable, or may not be in good financial health. Similarly, beware of a contractor who’s willing to work on the project for a much lower cost as compared to others. It shows that the contractor is desperate for work, and may cut corners to complete the project.
5. Ironclad contract
Make sure you have everything in writing in an ironclad contract before starting any repairs or renovation work. The contract should include the scope of work, materials used, purchase schedule, payment schedules, taxes paid, start and end dates for the project, etc.