Rental forum: Rent discount for waiting on repairman?

Posted10/2/2011 12:01 AM

Q. A tenant who rents a house from me is requesting I allow her to deduct lost work time from her rent. She notified me that her air conditioner was not working properly. I immediately called the home warranty company who sent out a technician as soon as they could that same day. They made the repair, but the air conditioner began malfunctioning again shortly after he left. I then called an air conditioner repair company who came out and replaced another malfunctioning part the next day. I responded as quickly as was humanly possible.

On the first of the month, the tenant sent me a letter with two checks enclosed. One check was for the full amount of the rent -- $850 -- and a second check for $755. She said she was sending both checks and would "let me decide which one to cash." She said she lost wages waiting for the technician to make the repairs.

I believe I did everything I could to effectuate the repairs in a timely manner. The property is in a desert community, and the air conditioning stopped working the first day the temperature hit 90 degrees.

I would never want anyone to have to suffer in the heat; however, this is a lady who is quite helpless and calls me with every inconsequential thing imaginable. I do not want to set a precedent with her in allowing her to deduct money from her rent.

Bottom line: Is it my responsibility to sit at her home and wait for a repairman, or should I allow her to deduct money from her rent?

A. I believe your response was proper and certainly well within a reasonable time frame considering how difficult it is to find proper maintenance people for HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) issues when the temperatures are unseasonable. But the best way to handle the logistics of arranging and coordinating the actual repair call will depend on the arrangements made in advance with your tenant.

Typically, for rental houses without on-site management or maintenance staff, the tenant needs to make arrangements to allow the repairman access to the rental property. There is no requirement that the property owner compensate the tenant for the inconvenience or any "loss of work" time. This is just something that has to be done to properly maintain the premises.

However, the tenant may choose to be there while the work is being done in her unit. That is certainly a reasonable request but not one that requires the property owner to cover the tenant's opportunity cost of lost wages or other financial impacts. If the tenant makes such as request, the owner or property manager should attempt to accommodate the request by scheduling the work when possible at the beginning or end of the day or at lunchtime or an "off day."

However, that is not always possible, and most maintenance professionals are unwilling or unable to make specific appointments. I am sure we are all familiar with the concept of a "four-hour appointment window," as many utility companies or delivery companies can give only that advance schedule.

There may be situations in which the tenant cannot be available and she insists that the property owner or someone on the owner's behalf be present with the repairman. In that case, the owner or property manager would make arrangements to get the work done at a time they or someone they employ can accompany the worker, and the tenant would be free to continue with her regular plans.

In the situation you describe, the tenant did have to stay at home for at least one full day and part of another day. But there was no issue raised in advance, and therefore I do not believe you should feel obligated to accept the smaller check. Based on your concern about establishing a precedent, it may be helpful to have a discussion with your tenant to see if there is a way that you can handle future maintenance needs of the property without requiring the tenant to miss any work.

• Property manager Robert Griswold is author of "Property Management for Dummies." Email