What Are a Landlord’s Responsibilities Regarding Electrical Safety?
Electricity is actually made up of extremely tiny particles called electrons, that you cannot see with the naked eye unless you have been drinking…Comedian Dave Barry
Let’s face it, electricity is an essential part of everyday life and will be present in every property a landlord rents out to tenants. Despite our familiarity with it, however, an electrical system has the potential to cause serious injury, fires, and damage to property and possessions if it’s not maintained correctly.
According to the Electrical Safety Foundation International, electrical fires in the U.S. account for more than 51,000 fires each year and nearly 500 deaths, not to mention numerous injuries. And in real dollars and cents, electrical fires cause a whopping $1.3 billion in property damage each year.
These are sobering statistics for any homeowner and even more sobering for landlords whose accountability for personal safety extends beyond their immediate families. Tenants rely on their landlord to keep the building’s electrical systems safe, up-to-date, and well-maintained.
Being a property landlord can be financially rewarding; however, at times, it seems there is a never-ending list of laws and regulations to which they must abide. Above all, the property should always offer a safe setting for tenants. So, being acquainted with landlord obligations helps reduce the risk of property owners being held accountable for lax safety standards and/or inadequate building maintenance.
In point of fact, it’s a legal requirement for all landlords to comply with electrical safety standards when renting out a property. We invite you to read this blog concerning what the law and tenants can expect from the landlord when it comes to electrical safety.
Note: See an important disclaimer at the end of this article.
Common electrical problems
Electrical problems are common in homes of all types and sizes, and rental properties are no exception. Some of the more serious problems might include sparks at the electrical outlet, heat around the outlets or switches, flickering lights, circuit breaker trips, and frequent light bulb burnouts.
Other accidents occur during electrical maintenance, especially where the person performing the work is unaware of the hazards. There are really only a few electrical problems that an untrained person should attempt to fix on their own. Most electric repairs should be performed by a licensed, trained technician. But, as we know, that’s not always the case. To save a few bucks, fully qualified electricians are not always the first person who is contacted.
What are the landlord’s responsibilities?
It’s a landlord’s responsibility to ensure that a rental property’s electrical system, from outlets to light fixtures and everything in between, are all operating properly before the tenant takes possession of the rental unit. In fact, a working electrical system is a required condition of habitability spelled out in most state laws regarding landlord responsibilities.
Here’s a typical example. A working electrical system, including outlets, is an indispensable part of a habitable home. If for any reason an electrical outlet stops working for no discernable reason, it’s the landlord’s responsibility to discover the root cause of the problem and arrange for the proper repairs. Because an electrical outlet glitch can often be tied into a greater electric system problem, it’s really in the landlord’s best interest to get repairs made as soon as possible.
The implied warranty of habitability
Tenants have a right to occupy and live in a safe and habitable home. So said the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in 1979 when it decided that it’s the landlord’s responsibility to make certain that a rental property meets basic structural, health, and safety requirements. This is referred to as the landlord’s implied warranty of habitability, an implied right in every written or oral rental lease agreement.
It’s well accepted that the rental property’s electrical system falls into the category of meeting safety requirements.
Under this implied warranty, the tenant’s obligation to pay rent and the landlord’s responsibility to maintain the habitable premises depend upon one another. If the landlord breaks his obligation to keep the premises in a reasonable condition, this may relieve the tenant from his obligation to pay part or all of their rent until the landlord makes the necessary repairs.
In Pennsylvania, however, a renter cannot simply stop paying the rent. There is a certain procedure that needs to be followed. A tenant should contact the proper local authorities for details.
It’s also important to note that the requirement does not mean that the landlord provides a perfect dwelling. He or she is not required, for example, to provide a beautifully painted rental property.
Only serious defects are covered under the lease agreement. For example, dangerous wiring must be repaired by the landlord. If he or she doesn’t make the repairs, then the implied warranty of habitability gives tenants the right to repair the defect and deduct the cost of the repair from future rental payments.
A defect is “minor” not because of its cost but because it doesn’t make the rental unit uninhabitable. No doubt, a minor repair might be annoying or even distasteful, but it wouldn’t seriously endanger the health or safety of a reasonable tenant. For example, replacing an ugly but otherwise safe carpet may cost thousands. Still, it’s considered a “minor” repair because floor coverings that are merely worn out do not make the rental property unfit for the tenant. On the other hand, if the only thing between the renter and an apartment with electricity is a part that costs $100, the repair is considered as “major,” because a home without electricity is deemed to be uninhabitable.
This implied warranty pertains to all written or oral rental leases for apartments, mobile homes, or other Pennsylvania dwellings. The landlord must provide safe and decent housing even if the tenant signs a lease that says he or she takes the rental property “as-is.” The right to safe and decent housing cannot be given up in the lease.
How does the landlord minimize liability?
When it comes to ensuring the safety of the electrical system in a rental property, there are several steps the landlord can take to help ensure he or she is in compliance with the safety requirements.
- Always use a licensed, insured electrician for all electrical work, including routine maintenance.
- Schedule regular inspections of the electrical systems in all rental properties.
- Schedule electrical inspections between tenants, as part of preparing a unit for new occupants.
What’s the proper course of action?
When an electrical problem creates a hazard, the renter must contact the landlord or property manager before doing anything else. In most cases, a phone call is all it should take to get a response, but if none is forthcoming, it’s important that the renter repeats the request in writing and saves a copy.
The law gives the landlord a reasonable amount of time to make the repairs. This amount of time depends on the seriousness of the defect. If it’s an emergency, the landlord is expected to act quickly. In the case of a non-emergency, he or she would be given more time. Unfortunately, the law usually isn’t more precise about what is reasonable. It could be as long as 30 days for a problem that’s more of an inconvenience than a severe hazard. But if the tenant is living without electricity for a month, this is a definite hardship. Ultimately, it may come down to the opinion of the judge if the problem is serious enough to end up in court. Both landlord and renter would be best served if a problem didn’t get this far.
Landlords can help protect themselves by documenting exactly when they receive all notifications of a problem with the property and when they took action to resolve it. Even if the landlord can’t fix the problem immediately, it’s his responsibility to let the tenant know the circumstances that are causing the delay and when it will be resolved. A good landlord will encourage tenants to report all know problems, including electrical, immediately to avoid potential liability for injuries.
Moving on. If the situation isn’t corrected in a reasonable amount of time, renters in most states (including Pennsylvania), have the option to hire someone to make a repair and deduct the cost from future rent payments.
What if the renter deducts $300 from the rent for replacing an electrical socket? As a landlord, you should be aware that the cost of the repair needs to be reasonable. A court will most often not hold a landlord responsible for a repair that costs an excessive or unreasonable amount of money.
What if the renter deducts $100 for paint and brushes? Remember, too, that the repair must fix a serious defect that affects the tenant’s right to a safe, decent dwelling. A court will not require the landlord to pay for a cosmetic repair.
One other note: In Pennsylvania, the repairs need to cost less than the total amount of rent remaining on the lease.
Again, it’s best for the tenant to contact local officials for guidance before taking any action.
Before closing, let’s discuss a few other notions pertaining to a landlord’s responsibilities regarding electrical safety.
Does the landlord need to carry out electrical inspections?
As landlords, it’s their obligation to ensure that the electrical installations and equipment within their properties are maintained in a safe condition at all times. Of course, they can’t be expected to be on the premises every day checking for faults, but it’s best that he or she initiate a reporting system for tenants to help ensure that they apprise the landlord of any problems or damage they uncover.
A landlord should ask tenants to carry out regular visual checks and report:
- Broken casings or plugs.
- Signs of electrical scorching or burning.
- Damaged cables or wires.
- Loose parts or wires.
- Cracks, dents, or bent parts.
- Missing parts.
Can a landlord provide electrical appliances to tenants?
Some landlords opt to rent their properties completely unfurnished, making it the tenant’s responsibility to provide their own electrical appliances. Others elect to include a variety of electrical appliances as part of the lease agreement such as an electric oven, a washing machine, and dishwasher.
No matter how many pieces of equipment are supplied, and no matter the size, all landlords have the responsibility to ensure any electrical appliances made available for a tenant’s use remain safe throughout the period of use.
This means checking that the appliances are safe from the moment of purchase and kept in good repair should they become damaged or broken. It also means that tenants know how to use the equipment correctly, so as to avoid the dangers from misuse or due to faults.
If you have questions concerning electrical safety, you can contact the team of certified technicians at J&A South Park. Should you have need of a qualified electrician to perform routine maintenance, inspection, or repair of an electrical system, the same team is available to service your specific needs.
Disclaimer: The contents of this blog are intended to convey general information only and not to provide legal advice or opinions. The contents of this blog, and the posting and viewing of the information on this website, should not be construed as and should not be relied upon for legal advice in any particular circumstance or fact situation. The information presented on this blog may not reflect the most current legal developments. No action should be taken in reliance on the information contained on this blog. We disclaim all liability in respect to actions taken or not taken based on any or all of the contents of this blog to the fullest extent permitted by law. An attorney should be contacted for advice on specific legal issues.