When it comes to maintenance, it seems like landlords and tenants are constantly going back and forth on whose responsibility it is to pay for the repair. Electrical outlets and electrical system issues are often contested, so here’s a quick guide on how you as a landlord can handle the discussion about who is responsible for electrical repairs.

Common Electrical Problems

Electrical problems are common in homes of all types, ages and sizes and rental properties are no different. Common electric problems include dead outlets, faulty light fixtures or nonworking light switches. More serious electrical problems might include sparks at the electrical outlet, heat around the outlets or switches, flickering lights, circuit breaker trips and frequent light bulbs burnout.
There are very few electrical problems that an untrained person should try to fix on their own. Most electric repairs should be done by a licensed, trained professional. However, because electricians are expensive, landlords and tenants often argue on who gets to pay the bill for the repair.

Landlord Responsibilities

It’s a landlord’s responsibility to ensure that a rental property’s electrical system, from outlets to light fixtures, are all operating properly before the tenant takes possession of the unit. A working electrical system is required as a condition of habitability in most state statutes regarding landlord responsibilities. This is because the electrical system is a key factor in working smoke detectors and often for heating systems as well.
If a rental unit is not considered habitable, the landlord faces restrictions on renting and enforcing the lease agreement. Other systems that are mandatory for habitability include plumbing systems and sewage systems.
A working electrical system, including electrical outlets is an essential part of a habitable unit. If for any reason an electrical outlet is not working within a few days or weeks after turnover, the landlord should be responsible for fixing it.
If an electrical outlet seems to stop working for no discernable reason, then it’s the landlord’s responsibility to seek out the problem and arrange for repairs to be made. Because an electric outlet problem can often tied into a greater electric system problem, it’s in the landlord’s best interest to get repairs arranged as soon as possible.

Tenant Responsibilities

A tenant is responsible for repairs to an electrical outlet if it can be shown that the damage was done because of some kind of tenant action. Examples include if the tenant overloads the outlet or a foreign object is inserted into the outlet and creates a short circuit. Causing damage to a wall and subsequently the electrical outlet or wiring would also qualify. Finally, if an outlet or a wall an outlet is on is damaged by water from a tenant’s negligence, the responsibility for electrical repairs would also fall on the tenant.

Time Frame for Repairs

Depending on the impact of a problem with the electrical system, landlords have some flexibility in how long it might take to arrange for a repair. If an electrical outlet is not working, for example, it could simply require a reasonable amount of time until an electrician can be contacted and scheduled to visit the unit. A broken outlet is not an emergency and would not affect the habitability of a rental property.
If the problem is system-wide and prohibits the tenant from using electricity for anything longer than a few hours, it could mean trouble for the landlords. An emergency service person should be called out to make repairs as soon as possible. If the problem cannot be remedied soon, the landlord may be responsible for alternative housing accommodations while the repairs are made.
If the electrical repair is the tenant’s responsibility, the landlord should work with the tenant so schedule repairs as soon as possible. Again, the severity determines the timeframe. Landlords may want to give a deadline to the tenant for small repairs like a broken outlet, such as 30 days. Landlords can also communicate with the tenant as to whether the tenant should arrange for repairs on his own, the landlord arranges the repair and is reimbursed by the tenant, or another solution. If a tenant will not make the repairs in a timely manner, the landlord can deliver a comply or quit notice, and follow through if necessary.

Giving Notice for Inconvenience

Generally, when an electrician needs to work on the electrical system in a home or business, all electrical currents must be shut down for a time. If your electrician will need to have the electricity off for longer than an hour, it’s a good idea to let your tenants know ahead of time so that they can make additional plans. In extreme cases where the power must be cut for more than a day or so, landlords and tenants should work together to ensure that minimal disruption occurs.
Do you have any rules in your lease agreement or maintenance work about electrical systems? If so, how have you handled it effectively?

9 Comments

  1. Thanks for sharing this informative article with us, Stephen! I’m sure property managers are dealing with many electrical problems from tenants. I’m glad that the landlord is required to seek an electrician for certain bigger projects. I wonder how much they pay out in electrical expenses.
    Alex Jennings | Electric Work

    • Electrical work can get VERY expensive I recently learned first-hand. I wanted to update the outlets and the wiring in a 1500sqft cape cod and I was quoted $4600!!
      I shopped around a little and found that this was pretty much the going rate. I guess I just didn’t expect it to be that much.

  2. Sounds very shady Kala. Might be time for a new tenant. But to deal with the immediate problem I’d say that you never gave authorization to touch or fix anything, and therefor not paying them anything. Be sure to highlight what exactly you want them to do in these types of situations.

  3. I’m a property manager for an old commercial/residential building. There hasn’t been any updates on electric in one of the retail units for years. The tenant has several display cases which are plugged into 3 different outlets but on the same breaker which also handles ceiling fans and track lights. The breaker is becoming very hot now but isn’t being thrown. The building owner has decided that they have to pay for the electrician to either place additional plugs or add some more breakers in an old federal box. The owner said they have to pay for it without their approval and they say it should have been updated years ago. I’m caught in the middle. The tenant has rented the retail space for 18 months, 4 months over their original 1 year lease.
    Who’s right and who’s wrong?
    Thanks,
    Diane

  4. Hi! My name is mike.here is my question? I’m renting from a landlord who is a good guy. But the house was built in 1950 and the electrical system is from the 60s when it was redone. He has owned the house for about 10 years now and has never updated it. We had an electrician here and he said the electrical system is basically a fire hazard and he himself can not fix it at all. The house would have to be gutted and rewired. So….my question is who is liable for that? If he rents the house to a family and it goes up in flames I would think he would be reliable. Not the renter’s.

  5. My bathroom light will not turn off having to flip the bathroom breaker to conserve electricity but it shuts of both bathrooms. How long does a landlord have to repair that on a section 8 housing.

  6. Must I fix an electrical outlet even if the Landlord has not checked if the fault was caused by me ,I mean electrical outlets are always ON and not tampered with so if its faulty is that my responsibility to fix it?

  7. Hi there,
    I just moved in to a brand new unit, it has not even been a week. I recieved all my appliances 3 days ago and they all keep making the power short circut.
    What rights do i have as a tenant?

  8. I have lived in my house for bout 2 months now. Since we moved in we can run stuff in our bedroom when the kids are in there rooms it will shut down all the electric upstairs. I have told my landlord its getting worse over time. Now when I go and the breaker back on there is a buzzing noise in the breaker box and when I turn the breaker on I can see blue and white in like its little flame’s. I live in west Virginia. Who can I get ahold of to get help. Iam on time with rent I just don’t want it to catch on fire and someone gets hurt. Thank you

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