Dear PoPville – Should a Renter Have to Coordinate with Contractors?

Photo by PoPville flickr user Mr. T in DC

“Dear PoPville,

I live in a rowhome that’s split into multiple apartments; the landlord lives in the area but about an hour’s drive away. We’ve been having some persistent maintenance issues (appliances & fixtures, drywall & painting, pest control — your typical stuff) that require visits from various contractors, sometimes multiple appointments for the same issue.

The landlord has requested that someone in the house coordinate visits with the contractors and that one of us should be here (with keys to all the units) to meet them. It’s getting to be a bit much — nobody here has time to take off from work and planning your weekend around maintenance on a home you don’t even own gets old, too. Shouldn’t it be the homeowner/landlord’s responsibility to make sure the units are in good condition?”

33 Comment

  • A co-worker is going through the same thing. She rents a house and even though the landlord selected the contractors and products, my co-worker is the one missing work to be around when the contractor does the work. Its seems a little crazy to me, but it appears to be what is done.

  • It seems unreasonable for the landlord to expect you to take off work or be available on weekends for contractors. Is the landlord giving you keys to other units???

  • When I was renting, our landlord would send someone to the house and we would have to be home to let them in (though this only happened a few times in five years). Now I am a landlord and when the basement apartment had plumbing issues, I asked if my tenant could be present when the plumber came (I was there too). I thought it would be helpful since she’s the one who knew best exactly what was happening. I do think what the OP is describing sounds pretty excessive though…

    • I agree with you. Our landlord often lets us handle the contractors, and we prefer it that way, because its easier since we’re the ones who understand what the issues are. I don’t think the landlord has even set foot in the apartment in years–we just tell her the problems and she send someone over to take care them, and takes care of the bills, presumably. We’ve been in the apartment so long that it would be weird to expect no maintenance issues, and we’re in a much better place than the landlord to understand what needs to be done.

      However, I think it is SUPER weird to be expected to be there to let contractors in to OTHER people’s apartments. That shouldn’t be your responsibility at all. In addition, it would make me uncomfortable to know that my neighbor had a key to my apartment when I wasn’t around.

      So, my take: if issues are only with one apartment, it can (sometimes) be ok for the renter to handle it. But if the issues are building-wide, it should certainly be on the landlord.

    • What Anonymous 2:40 pm and AllTheThings said. If this landlord doesn’t want to make the one-hour drive to be there to let contractors in, then he/she needs to hire a property management company. It’s not reasonable to expect your tenants to take time off from work for contractor appointments.

  • Since it’s multiple units, and not just your own, and it’s multiple visits, I’d say that he’s asking too much.

    I’d suggest one of two responses to the landlord:
    a. you seem to need a local property management company, here are a few options _________.
    b. sure, I’d love to do all the duties of a property management company. How much are you reducing my rent?

    • That’s actually a great response. Right before I bought my first house, my landlord informed me he was about to move out of state and offered to reduce my rent in exchange for managing the property (I had been a long-time responsible tenant at that point). Of course I had to decline as I had just had my offer accepted on the house. Point being, it is something a smart landlord would want to do (and even though he was reducing my rent, he would have saved a lot of $$ by not using a professional management company).

  • I’m currently a landlord, and when issues arise, we only advise the tenant of the day and approximate time the contractor is going to be there, but handle providing access through our leasing agent. With our previous tenant, we tried having the resident’s husband (who didn’t actually work!) home to let the contractors in, but scheduling was an impossibility. I can’t imagine why the landlord can’t provide the contractors access.

  • I’ve had previous landlords just advise when a contractor was going to come by but they would usually provide access. There may have been a handful of times that someone needed to be home. I think every once in a while isn’t unreasonable, and if it’s the kind of issue where you would be better to explain to the contractor or may want to be around to ensure there is no damage to your belongings, it may even be preferable for you to be there. But more than a couple of times of year is too much, and definitely not if it concerns other units.

  • Landlord here…

    I haven’t researched this topic, but off hand, I don’t think a landlord can make a tenant do this.

    Maintaining the structure is the landlord’s responsibility, not yours.

    The only one that’s iffy is the exterminator, since it’s not clear whether you are hiring this person for the purpose of improving your living experience, or he is hiring this person as a service to all of the tenants.

    • That said – I have experienced (both as a tenant and a landlord) the situation where the tenant coordinates with the maintenance people. But in all cases, this was the tenant doing the landlord a favor just to be nice.

      • PS. A HUGE pet peeve of mine is “landlords” who are in no way prepared to actually be a landlord.

        To anyone thinking about becoming a part-time landlord, my advice is this: To say it’s a part-time job isn’t really accurate. There are no “business hours.” Think of it as a start up company. When a crisis happens (and they will, both big and small) you need to be ready to drop everything and deal with it. And beyond that, there’s a massive amount of financial risk, legal liability, and administrative responsibilities that you will be constantly managing. If you’re not ready to be the CEO of your own little company, it’s probably not for you.

        • Yeah, I was thinking “So what if the landlord lives an hour away? Most people that work in DC commute from further than that!”

  • I agree it sounds excessive, but perhaps the landlord thinks you prefer to be there when contractors are in your apartment? I could see some people being uncomfortable with the idea of strangers traipsing through their apartment when they aren’t home. Just a thought.

    • A handy man that was hired by our former management company came in the evening to fix something. They hired him to come at off times (he was moonlighting anyway) because he said people like to be home when things are getting fixed.

      I disagree. I don’t want to let you in, answer you questions about whether double parking will get you a ticket, and make small talk while you replace an outlet in the middle of my dinner, which I can’t eat without being horribly rude. I would much rather have a professional management company that communicates clearly with me about timing and repairs, then schedules them during the day and gives access.

  • All you’re required to do in most leases is provide access, which means allowing the landlord (or manager, custodian, etc.) to use his or her key, and maybe cleaning up around the area to be worked on. You don’t have to be there for repairs.

    That said, and as someone above noted, it’s often helpful if the person experiencing the problem can explain what’s going on in person so in the interest of getting the job done right (and the interest of good landlord/tenant relations) it might be a good idea to stick around for certain repairs.

  • shaybee

    We have a number to call for minor fixes, provided to us by our landlord. We can either contact this repair company directly, or we tell our landlord what needs fixing and he has them contact us. If it’s a relatively minor problem, one of us needs to stay home, but if it’s a larger issue my landlord comes over and lets the contractors in. It’s worked out so far, and he’s relatively accommodating (i.e. if no one can be home, he will come). That said, we’re definitely not responsible for fixes in the basement apartment, which is leased by someone else! That seems a bit extreme, in my opinion.

  • Doing it yourself has advantages. You have some control, and people are not poking around in your business unattnded. I always prefer to be the one, even though my landlord “should.” I don’t mind.

  • Your landlord is pawning off his duties onto you in an effort to save himself a few bucks. He should have a property management company or a locally-based handyman on retainer to handle these things. What’s especially suspect is that he’s giving keys to all the units to a tenant to manage access. That’s a big no-no.

    When I rented a room in a large group house, we’d tell the landlord what needed to be fixed and he or his handyman would take care of providing access to the house to contractors or exterminators. Sometimes, one of us would be home to provide more specific instructions to contractors, but usually some photos and detailed descriptions of problems sent via email would take care of all the problems.

    If the issues were related to cable or internet, that should be the tenant’s responsibility to coordinate since you contract for the service.

  • i have been renting the same apartment for about 4 years now and just this year my landlord moved across the country, but hired a local rental management company to deal with issues. the management company refuses to be present during issues and i have been stuck taking off work to deal with it. our washer broke and it took almost two months and 3 separate appointments with contractors through my management company to deal with it. i am not pleased with the situation. it seems just because my landlord decided to move, now everything is on me and the management company has been nothing but an added hassle.

    • Our management company has become INCREDIBLY cheap over the last year.
      ~We have large lofted ceilings in our apartment that require a 15 foot ladder to replace the light bulbs in fixtures. Additionally, the fixtures have faulty electrical connections which cause the bulbs to burn out constantly. The management company will no longer provide bulbs for us.
      ~They “fined” me and my roommate because the rent was delivered one day late (arrived in their office on July 6) due to the July 4th holiday. What’s even more ridiculous is that they cashed our check they billed us the “fine” about a week later. $175!
      ~All residents have received curtly worded letters about trash and water usage in our building. The tone of the letters is totally inappropriate and basically talks to us like we are children. They are threatening to raise the rent on everyone because we throw out “too much garbage” and don’t properly sort the recycling. This wouldn’t be an issue if we didn’t have a miniscule garbage area for 14 units.

      I’m pretty sure that they are doing all of this to try to justify a big rent increase on everyone when the leases renew. Getting their ducks in a row, so to speak.

  • my tenants actually like to be home when i’m having work done, because they don’t want contractors in the house unsupervised along with all of their personal property. If they didn’t want to be home or coordinate with my contractors, i would arrange for someone else to be there. it IS ridiculous, though, for the LL to expect tenants to give access to and supervise work in other units than their own.

  • Being there when the work is being done on your unit–it’s where you live, you should be paying attention, although the landlord should be there, too. Other units, not your domicile; it’s the landlord’s problem and if they’re not there, then they’re pretty negligent and seem like usual DCers who are clueless about anything involving skilled use of hands.

  • After 2 years of renting at my previous apartment (in a different city) my landlord asked me to do small tasks (snow shoveling for example) and gave me the keys to other apartments (to let workers in) and to the room with the circuit breaker (which was often getting tripped). He gave me a significant reduction on my rent, so I was happy with the arrangement.

  • My landlord usually asks me to be there because she lives in NYC and I prefer to be there when someone I don’t know is in my apartment. I also have pets and worry they will get out if someone leaves a door open.

    That said, when there is unexpected repair work that I have to deal with, my landlord is nice and drops the rent by $100 or something for the month. Seems fine to me.

    Just doublecheck your lease. Some leases put it in as a provision that you will be available to deal with letting contractors in/out.

  • I’m stunned by all these comments. I’m a landlord for two properties, and when there are problems I deal with them., and I alone. If the tenants want to be there, fine, but I’d never in a million years insist on it. Maintenance, repairs, etc. – my problem.

    • Really. I’ve been a renter for 20 years, with landlords near and far and good and bad, and have never been asked to be home for a repair (phone and cable excluded), let alone for work in someone else’s unit. I understand the points above about people who prefer to be there because it’s their space or because they want to speak with the contractor directly. But that should be their choice, not something the landlord expects.

  • I rent a condo and the landlord lives across the country. There haven’t been many repairs, but when there are, I’ve found, hired, paid, and been there for the contractor, and the landlord quickly reimbursed me for the contractor’s charges. It didn’t bother me because it there were only about three repairs over the four years I’ve lived here, and none cost more than $100. But it would be completely unreasonable for him to ask me to coordinate repairs for and let someone into other units.

  • Yes, it absolutely should be the landlord’s responsibility. I had an absentee landlord who never made themselves available for this sort of thing – at one point, the exterior windows in the building were being replaced, and each day for about a week, I had to take down all the blinds in the morning and put them back up at night because my landlord refused to do it.

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