Rental Standoff Over Broken Refrigerator

Diagnose mechanical problem before assigning blame

by Robert Griswold

landlord helpQ: I rent an apartment and my refrigerator recently stopped working. I called my landlord who came by and confirmed that it doesn’t work. The landlord told us that now we have to pay for the new one because it’s our fault.

The landlord bought the refrigerator in 2003 and it has a warranty of only five years. We have been living in her apartment for five years, but she bought the refrigerator seven years ago. Who pays for the new refrigerator? She wants us to pay for the new one or else move out of her apartment.

A: I think there are several comments I can offer. Typically the landlord is responsible for repairing or replacing the refrigerator if the appliance was included in the amenities when you rented the apartment. The situation you describe raises a lot of questions.

First, I wonder about the ability of the landlord to determine that the refrigerator cannot be fixed and must be replaced. Unless the landlord is an experienced appliance repairperson, I would question how she knows the refrigerator must be replaced.

I also wonder why your landlord believes that the sudden failure of the refrigerator is your fault. It is possible but would be unusual for a refrigerator to stop working from use by a tenant unless there is some obvious abuse.

While it is possible that the cost of the repair could exceed the investment in a new refrigerator, it is also possible that the repair would be less and the landlord is attempting to make you the scapegoat.

I would suggest you ask the landlord to have a qualified appliance repairperson diagnose the issue with the refrigerator and make an independent determination as to the cause of the sudden failure. Clearly, you need answers from unbiased professionals so that the right outcome is reached.

If the refrigerator failed through something you did during your tenancy and it is not economically feasible to repair it, then the landlord’s proposal is appropriate. Personally, I think that is highly unlikely.

While the issue about the warranty expiring fairly soon before the product fails is frustrating, this is certainly nothing that most of us haven’t experienced and probably the reason that the manufacturer offers only a five-year warranty. So it would be my opinion that the expired warranty is a moot issue.

There is nothing that requires the landlord to have a warranty of any certain time frame, or even any warranty at all.

You have likely suffered some hardship without a refrigerator while this issue has been pending, so the one potential benefit in all of this is the new refrigerator is likely to be more energy-efficient, which would be helpful for you if you pay for your own electricity.

Until a professional appliance repairperson determines the cause of the failure, you should expect that the landlord is responsible for providing you with a working refrigerator.

This column on issues confronting tenants and landlords is written by property manager Robert Griswold, author of “Property Management for Dummies” and “Property Management Kit for Dummies” and co-author of “Real Estate Investing for Dummies.”

E-mail your questions to Rental Q&A at [email protected]. Questions should be brief and cannot be answered individually.

Copyright 2010 Inman News

See Robert Griswold’s feature, Cover All Bases When Extending Tenant Lease.

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