The Smart Apartment Advisor Show for Wed. July 27th


Landlords dread it, tenants need it to be done well and responsibly.

What constitutes an emergency, what is simply urgent, and what is routine? 

Emergency: Fire, Flood, or Blood. Typically you call 911 first and THEN contact your landlord or property manager. If there’s smoke or water coming out from under the door, call 911. If you believe someone is hurt or dead, call 911. If there’s a gas leak call 911. These can relate to issues inside your home or the common areas of the building.

Urgent Situation: If there’s water everywhere and active flooding, call the landlord/manager right away. First responders can’t really help you. If there’s a security issue, for example someone tried to break into the building and the front door lock is broken or there’s a dangerous situation with a broken window and shards of glass everywhere, call the landlord/manager right away. If you can’t turn the water off and it’s running nonstop, call for emergency assistance. If your toilet doesn’t work and you ONLY HAVE ONE TOILET IN YOUR HOME this is an urgent situation (not an emergency) and deserves a fast response. 

Routine maintenance: These situations can be remedied within 1-5 business days and don’t directly affect the safety of your home. Examples include a non-fuctioning dishwasher, kitchen cabinet door that has come detached, non-functioning light fixture, a broken doorbell, and the like. You should expect a response to your request in a day or so and a resolution or a status update on the repairs with two or three days.

What is reasonable to expect and how should you communicate your requests to your landlord?

  • Don’t report maintenance over the phone or in person. If you do, follow up with an email to make sure the details are clear and there’s no misunderstanding. This also ensures that you have a time/date stamped record of when you formally made the request so you know how long to follow up.
  • Habitability issues include heat (ability to keep the apartment at 72 degrees for 13 hours per day), security (window and door locks, privacy), emergency egress (two clear means of egress at all times), sanitation (clean and free of infestation) 
  • You should expect a response from your landlord/manager within an hour or two for an urgent situation. If reporting an emergency you should expect a similar response time AFTER you make your report to 911.
  • If you don’t receive a response to your written request politely contact your landlord/manager a day or two later to confirm that it was received. Inquire how quickly they expect someone to be able to address the issue.
  • Your request needs to have a date and time you submitted it. If you submit through email then that’s automatically included. 
  • Record all subsequent contacts and follow up calls. If you discuss something in person or on the phone follow up with an email summarizing your understanding of the conversation or ask them to do so.
  • If you don’t receive a response and at least a service call within a week write back again and tell them that you’d hoped for a more effective response. Mention that you want to leave the repair work up to them but that you don’t want to wait much longer. You may also mention that you intend to have the repairs made on your own if you don’t receive a response by X date (about a week in the future) and that you’ll send the invoice to the landlord for them to reimburse you for the cost of the work.
  • If you do the repairs yourself do not automatically repair and deduct for the cost of the work. Give the landlord/manager one chance to reimburse you directly. If the bill goes unreimbursed for 30 days then deduct from your NEXT rent payment.

Keep in mind that maintenance and repairs are the most important customer service you can provide to your tenants. This is also how you control liability.

If you fail to make repairs in a timely manner then your tenants will do it for you and there’s no way to ensure that they will do the work to your standards and in accordance with the level of quality you demand for your money. I strongly recommend against allowing tenants to oversee repairs for their landlords. Many landlords feel that it’s easier to let tenants do the work themselves and deduct but I feel this is an unacceptable way to manage an apartment building or home successfully.

  • Emergencies are clearly deserving of your immediate attention. Respond, document the conditions, be sympathetic and kind to residents who are affected, and call appropriate professionals to take care of the problem.
  • Habitability issues that are urgent but not emergencies should also be given top priority. Mold, peeling paint, rodent infestations, all of these could give you big problems if you don’t respond accordingly. 
  • You don’t have to provide a full answer right away. Tenants will want to know how you’re going to solve the problem right away and they’ll press you. Don’t give in. Tell them you don’t know and that you’re working to solve the problem and have to discuss it with your contractor.
  • Sometimes it makes sense to respond yourself and then dispatch a contractor. Most of the time it makes sense to send the contractor first and figure out what’s going on after they’ve seen the problem. 
J.J. Panzer