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What maintenance issues are an emergency, what maintenance can wait?

Although tenants may think all maintenance issues are an emergency, they aren’t. There are definite differences between the type of maintenance that can wait till the next day and those that require immediate action.

Emergency Maintenance

Emergency maintenance issues impact the safety or health of your tenant or put your building at risk. In case of an emergency, tenants should be able to contact you or have access to an emergency restoration company that can show up on-site within minutes. Understand people from other cultures may not know who to contact in case of an emergency. A checklist with a description of emergencies and contact numbers will go a long way towards keeping tenants safe and protecting your property.


Emergencies usually fall under three categories: floods, fire, and pests.

  • Floods: burst pipes or sewage backup can destroy property and cause toxic mould.
  • Fire! Just hearing fire makes you run for cover. Let tenants know 911 should be the first call.
  • Heating: in addition to tenants freezing, a furnace malfunction in the winter can cause burst water pipes and be disastrous.
  • Electrical: any short circuit can lead to fire or electrocution.
  • Refrigeration: tenants need a functional refrigerator for their food. Enough said.
  • Pests can pose serious health risks to tenants including mice, rats, fleas, cockroaches, silverfish, bedbugs, and even ants. They also make properties uninhabitable. It’s best to leave the extermination to professionals who use non-toxic, non-harmful means to eliminate pests.


Non-emergencies involve the type of maintenance issues that are annoying but not critical. A dripping kitchen faucet, a ripped screen door, a toilet that runs occasionally, or a non-functional garage door opener won’t ruin your property or impact the health of your tenants. Of course, you don’t want dozens of minor issues to pile up, leading to a run-down property, but many operational problems can be dealt with by one visit from your maintenance person. Many landlords have property management software that allows tenants to digitally log and track maintenance requests. If you don’t, let your tenants know the procedure for logging maintenance requests.

Conducting regular maintenance inspections should catch many small issues and prevent any emergencies.

There’s another reason for keeping up with maintenance; insurance companies won’t pay claims for anything that they consider negligence on the landlord’s part. If your property has a dripping kitchen faucet that turns into a black mould issue over time or a leaking roof that causes ceiling and wall damage from erosion, insurance won’t pay. So, it just makes sense to keep your property in good shape.

Who is responsible for what?

The landlord is responsible for maintaining and repairing the building envelope and the appliances within the building. However, the circumstances dictate who pays. Normal wear and tear, landlords pay for, and the tenant should cover damage caused by tenants.

Suppose your tenant left the balcony door open in the winter, which caused the heating system to freeze, which then caused a flood. Your tenant should pick up the tab.

If a window in the house cracked because the house settled, causing a stress fracture, you pay. If a tenant threw a plate through the window, they should pay for having it repaired.

If your toilet is 15 years old and doesn’t flush properly, it’s your responsibility to have it repaired or replaced. If the tenant’s toddler flushed a toy down the toilet, they should pay for the repairs.

Should your tenants complete repairs?

The short answer is no. Unless you know your tenant is a certified tradesperson, it’s better to have a professional complete the work. If you have agreed to allow your tenant to complete maintenance repairs in exchange for reduced rent, make sure you document, sign, date it,  and everyone has a copy.

Educating your tenants about your emergency and non-emergency procedures and maintenance responsibilities will keep your tenants safe and your property risk-free.

Do you educate your tenants about emergency and non-emergency maintenance? How? I’d love to hear about it [email protected]

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