What happens if your rental property gets damaged?

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For a landlord, one of the top things they want to avoid is getting their investment damaged by a tenant. Conversely, a good lessee doesn’t want to spoil their rental home, as it means losing money, or worse: get taken to court. In this article, we will discuss the easiest way of avoiding this scenario.

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Imagine: The landlord has accepted your letter of offer and your earnest deposit, allowing you to book a rental unit in one of the most desirable places to rent in Malaysia.

But before you start moving in, the next few steps that you will do are so crucial as they will greatly reduce the odds of losing money for repairing stuff or causing damage to property.  Basically, you and the landlord should first have a formal legal contract (tenancy agreement) that outlines who is responsible for repairing damages and who shoulders the cost. The second and last one is securing proof that the damage wasn’t caused by you. The details of both are explained below:

1. Sign tenancy agreement before moving into rental property

One of the best practices in the property leasing market is for both the landlord and tenant to accomplish the tenancy agreement, a contract that states the duties and obligations of each party throughout the tenancy. If you’re a first-time landlord or tenant, here’s our cool guide in crafting a tenancy agreement in Malaysia.

Apart from describing the property being let, the agreement also typically includes an inventory or list of items provided by the owner to the tenant, such as fixtures, furniture, equipment, and appliances as well as the status and conditions of such things. The listed items should be in good condition at the end of the tenancy. More importantly, the tenancy agreement specifies who bears the responsibility for certain repairs. If you want to know more, check out this comprehensive guide about the terms & condition to look out for.

2. Take photos or videos rental property before moving in

One of the most common squabbles between landlords and their tenants is disagreements whether the tenant has damaged the rental property or items therein, or it was already damaged even before the tenant moved in. The easiest way to prevent such disputes is to take photos/videos of the property being leased along with all of its items before moving in.

During the documentation process, it is also a smart move for the tenant to thoroughly inspect the property along with all of the items in it. For instance, check if the air-conditioner, fridge, and gas stoves are working. Also, don’t forget to confirm that the toilet flushes properly. Additionally, it’s best that both the landlord and tenant have copies of the picture and videos. If the tenant has failed to inspect the property and the items therein and eventually discovers there are flaws after moving in, then the owner has the right to refuse a request for repairs.

What should a landlord do if the property is damaged without a tenancy agreement?

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Nowadays, it’s really crucial to have a tenancy agreement in place before letting a property to a stranger. While renting your home without a tenancy agreement is really risky, some landlords still do it as it is less time-consuming and many people lack the legal know-how in crafting this document.

Do landlords pay for damages in rental properties?

As a general rule, the landlord is obliged to repair structural damages to their rental property such as dripping roof, leaky pipes and broken doors/locks, so long as the damage wasn’t caused by the tenant. Cosmetic damages like scraped paint can either be borne by the landlord or tenant, depending on what was agreed.

What happens if a tenant damages a rental property?

If the damage is caused by the occupant but it’s small, the landlord can use a portion of the security deposit paid by the tenant during the beginning of the tenancy to pay for the repairs, instead of paying from out of your own pocket.

However, if the damage looks serious, such as a hole in the floor, the process to get your tenant to pay for the repairs is more complicated.

First, tell your lessee that you will be performing an official inspection. It is best to bring along a witness during the inspection and remember to take pictures or videos of the damage.  List all the damages you discover. You will need to file a police report if the damage is significant. Be sure to include a picture or videos in the police report.

Second, engage a building contractor to check the damages and ask for a quotation for the repairs. Keep in mind that if you are expecting the tenant to pay for the repairs, the landlord is only allowed to restore the damaged portion to what it used to be. The landlord cannot increase the scope of the repairs or turn them into a major renovation.

Finally, give your tenant a copy of the quotation, so he or she will be informed of the cost. If the occupant thinks it is too exorbitant, he is permitted to hire his or her own contractor so long as the repairs are done properly. The tenant can pay for the repairs first, or the landlord can do so and later get reimbursed by the tenant. If the damage to the property is so substantial that the house is no longer habitable until it is repaired, then the landlord can also seek compensation for loss of rental income.

Read more: How to sublet your property and what questions to ask a potential housemate

What should the landlord do if the tenant refuses to pay for damages?

This is where the documentation process comes in. If you have photos/videos of the property and things inside it just before the tenant moved in, it would be difficult on the part of the occupant to disprove that they didn’t cause the damage.

But without such pieces of evidence, it can be easy for the tenant to claim that it was already broken prior to the start of their tenancy. So, if you’re unsure as well, we recommend asking the tenant to split the repair costs with you.

If the lessee refuses to pay for the damages even if you’re 100 per cent sure that he or she caused it, you need to tell them upfront that the repair cost will be taken from their security deposit. This is assuming the security deposit is sufficient to fully pay for it.

What should the tenant do if the property is damaged without a tenancy agreement?

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Basically, tenants are responsible for minor problems arising from their stays, such as dirtied floors or carpets, and broken light bulbs. They are also responsible for rudimentary house maintenance, such as cleaning.

Do landlords have to replace appliances?

Sometimes, a tenant leases a home as it has certain appliances that they really want. Some prefer a gas range as it’s less costly than electric stoves, others want a dishwasher, while some can’t stand having any air conditioner. For such cases, it’s advisable for the tenant to add terms in the tenancy agreement that in the event such appliance stops functions, it will be the landlord’s duty to replace the said item. If there’s an issue with a household appliance before moving in, the best thing to do is to ask the property owner to commit to fixing it before the tenant moves in.

What to do if the landlord refuses to pay for repairs during tenancy?

In a nutshell, damage to the property caused by the passage of time (i.e. normal wear and tear) that was not directly caused by the tenant, should be borne by the landlord. This is often specified in the tenancy agreement. But if there’s no tenancy agreement and the property owner refuses to pay for the repairs, the tenant may need to negotiate to share the cost, such as deducting the repair cost from the monthly rental payments.

Read more: How to calculate the rental rate in Malaysia and what is a good rental yield for an investment property

How to get your landlord to make repairs?

If the landlord knows that the tenant will be sharing the burden of paying for the repairs, then the latter is likely to be more amenable to carry out the repairs For further convincing, the tenant can volunteer to help the owner with the repairs. Even if you don’t have skills in fixing stuff, there are many ways to help, like performing hauling duties or providing food to the workers.

What to do if the landlord doesn’t fix things?

Without a tenancy agreement, it is easy for the occupant to just leave if the property owner doesn’t fix what needs to be repaired. Conversely, it is also easy for the landlord to evict you without such a contract. But as mentioned above, there are lots of creative ways to persuade your landlord to carry out repairs. Another option is to do the repairs yourself if you’re skilled enough or know a friend who is. But if you plan to fix it yourself, always remember to obtain the landlord’s permission first.

What to do if the landlord insists that the tenant damaged items?

When it’s time for you to move out, expect that the landlord or his representative would drop by and inspect the property and items therein. If by chance the owner discovers a damaged item and insists that you are to blame, the best course of action is to show proof (i.e. pictures or videos) to disprove the allegation. This scenario also underscores the importance of informing your landlord immediately if something gets damaged during your tenancy, and not regret not doing so when it is time to move out.

If you are certain that you are not responsible for the damages, you may try to convince your landlord that you aren’t to blame. In such a situation, having warm ties with the owner can really help. But if he insists that you pay for it, discuss splitting the repair or replacement costs.

If in the worst case the landlord is adamant that you should fully shoulder the cost of repairs, then be prepared to lose your security deposit. In the absence of pictures or videos and a tenancy agreement, this would be a hard argument to win.

Can my landlord sue me for damages?

Yes, the property owner can take you to court for breaching the tenancy agreement for not taking care of the property. Even without this document, you are still not off the hook, but it will be hard for the landlord to enforce his rights without this legal contract.

Read more: How do I check out my landlord and make sure he is a reputable one?

How to avoid bad tenants and landlords?

Generally, a tenancy agreement comes with a provision that the tenant is responsible for maintaining the home in a habitable or tenantable condition, meaning it is safe for human occupancy.

Hence, without such a legal contract in place, landlords risk attracting “tenants from hell”, who can turn your investment property into a foul-smelling garbage dump, and suddenly move out without suffering legal consequences.

On the part of tenants, having a tenancy agreement with an inventory (double-checked by the occupant) can really save you thousands of ringgit in repair or replacement costs.

For instance, an occupant failed to inspect if there were damaged appliances when he or she moved in. To cut the story short, the tenant ended up paying RM3,700 for an old washing machine that he or she didn’t even use.

So, if you do not want to experience the aforementioned nightmare rental tales, always ensure that there is a tenancy agreement in place. With this legal contract, landlords can ensure that irresponsible tenants take responsibility for damages they caused, or prevent tenants from being conned by opportunism.

To make it easier for either tenant or landlord to remember what they should do, here are some dos and don’ts when it comes to the subject matter:

DOS DON’TS
Landlord Tenant Landlord Tenant
Ensure all household items and appliances are working before leasing property. Check if all household items and appliances are working before committing to rent. Enter the rental house without informing the tenant Cause any damage or conduct any renovation without permission.
Repair or replace to its original state, and bill appropriately. Expand the scope of repairs or increase the actual repair costs.
Maintain a good relationship with the landlord, so that they are more likely to carry out repairs of damages not caused by the tenant. Maintain a good relationship with tenants, so that they are more likely to take good care of the landlord’s property and household items. Failure to carry out repairs, leading to issues that negatively impact tenant’s health, wellbeing, and safety. Turn the place into an uninhabitable garbage dump due to neglect.
Return the security deposit to the tenant at the end of the tenancy if damage to the property is only “fair wear and tear”. Take good care of the property and all household items provided by the landlord, so you can receive your security deposit at the end of the tenancy. Keep tenant’s security deposit or deduct from it without any justifiable reason, or using a lie to cheat the tenant.

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