How To Handle Tenant Emergencies? ( Repairs, Maintenance & Other )

  • By: Peter Parker
  • Time to read: 5 min.

Most landlords dread receiving that emergency maintenance call from their tenants. Tenant emergencies require immediate action as they affect the habitability of the property.

If the repair is not done immediately, it may lead to devastating consequences. 

It is not every day that one hears about tenant emergencies. What constitutes and what does not constitute a maintenance emergency is a topic of hot discussion.

To be clear on the issue, we must first understand what are tenant emergencies.

What is emergency maintenance? Types of Tenant  Emergencies

As the word suggests, emergencies require immediate attention. Issues that cause minor discomfort or inconvenience are not counted as emergencies.

One simple rule to classify emergency repairs is that if not attended immediately, these issues can cause property damage, pose safety risks or cause injury. 

An emergency maintenance problem occurs when the tenant does not have access to any one of the following :

  • Running Water
  • Electricity
  • Heat
  • Oven or stove
  • Bathroom
  • Hot water
  • Safety items such as locks to the front and back doors, missing window sills, etc. 

Other maintenance emergencies include

  • Fire
  • Gas leak
  • Carbon monoxide detection
  • Flooding
  • Clogged plumbing lines
  • No heat or air conditioning
  • Leaking roof
  • Intruders
  • Broken or frozen water pipes

What does not constitute emergency repairs?

When an issue does not result in a threat to health, safety, or property damage, it is not considered an emergency.

However, these issues can be reported to the landlord during office hours and the landlord has to undertake repairs within a reasonable time. 

Some examples of maintenance issues that are not emergency repairs are :

  • Burnt light bulbs
  • Malfunctioning appliances
  • Air conditioning not working during winters
  • The heating not working during the summers
  • Disputes with neighbors
  • Noisy neighbors
  • Leaking taps
  • Parking disputes

How to handle tenant emergencies?

The way you handle tenant emergencies determines your relationship with the tenant. The law mandates that landlords must handle emergencies immediately as soon as it comes to their notice. 

Here are some tips to handle tenant emergencies efficiently.

1. Be Reachable:

You must be easily reachable for tenants. Let your tenants know the quickest way to reach you for help during maintenance emergencies. Brief your tenants about what constitutes emergency maintenance and when to contact you. 

2. Hire emergency services:

Tenant emergencies can occur at any time. Attending a maintenance emergency at midnight can be difficult if you do not have 24/7 emergency services.

Apart from fire, utilities, and police, there are many types of emergency requests that need immediate attention.

Hire a good rental property emergency service provider to ensure the safety of your tenants and property. 

3. Create awareness:

Not every maintenance issue is an emergency. It is crucial to educate your tenants about what are tenant emergencies and how to respond in case of one.

Awareness can play a significant role in averting risks in case of an emergency. 

4. Have a professional mindset:

A midnight call from the tenant can be disturbing but remember that the tenant is also distressed and nervous. Be professional in your communication even if the issue is not an emergency. 

5. Ensure proper documentation:

In the case of normal maintenance requests, you have a written record as the tenant informs you in a formal channel. However, everything is frantic during emergencies and there may not be any records. 

To avoid disputes with tenants, maintaining proper records is essential. You can record the events and take photographs as evidence.

Have open communication with the tenants, keep a tab on the progress of work, record the type of work done, and take written confirmation from them after the repairs are done. 

6. Never put off emergency maintenance requests:

You should never put off or postpone emergency repairs. The housing laws state that landlords must resolve emergency repairs within a reasonable time.

Not taking action can result in fines, property damage, and tenants breaking the lease. 

What happens when you do not respond to tenant emergencies? 

Landlords have to swiftly respond to tenant emergencies. Though state laws vary on the reasonable time to attend to emergencies, most states require you to address them immediately.

The reasonable time to resolve the issue varies depending on the seriousness of the matter. Landlords generally have 7 days to complete the repairs. 

Options available for tenants if you fail to make emergency repairs

File a complaint:

If you do not complete the repairs within a reasonable time,  the tenant can file a complaint with the health and safety department or the building code department.

The concerned department will send an inspector to determine the building’s safety or health violations.

The inspector will assess the seriousness of the issue and serve a notice to complete repairs within a specified time. If you still fail to address the issue, the government can levy hefty fines.

Withhold rent:

The tenants can withhold rent until the repair is done.

Get the repairs done themselves:

Tenants can hire a professional to do the repairs and deduct the expenses from the rent. 

Break the lease:

Tenants can break the lease and vacate the property without any penalties. 

Emergency repairs pose a serious threat to the health and safety of the tenants or cause property damage. You have to respond immediately when you receive a complaint for emergency repairs.

Sometimes tenants can mistakenly report routine maintenance issues as emergency maintenance. In such cases, it is essential to have clear communication and professional behavior to avoid disputes. 


1. Is getting locked out of home an emergency? 

Getting locked out of your house is not an emergency. Your lease agreement will detail what to do in such situations.

Most landlords will ask you to contact a locksmith if you are locked out. If you live in an apartment, you can contact the office for a spare key.

To avoid getting locked out, you can keep a key with a trusted neighbor or friend. 

2. Is a broken AC a tenant emergency?

A broken Ac is treated as a tenant emergency only when the outside temperature is above 90 degrees. Before you report a broken AC to emergency services check why it is not working.

Check whether the electricity is shut off due to non-payment of bills or if there is a power outage due to bad weather.  

3. Is a gas leak a maintenance emergency?

A gas leak is a maintenance emergency. When you notice a gas leak, vacate the house immediately. Once you are in safe surroundings, call emergency services (911) before you call your landlord. 

4. Is a clogged toilet a tenant emergency?

A clogged toilet is an emergency if you have only one toilet. Try to unclog using a plunger. If that doesn’t work, call the landlord for emergency maintenance. 

5. Are pests a tenant emergency?

Pests not only affect the health of the residents but also damage the property, thereby impacting the habitability of the house.

Generally, it is the duty of the landlord to ensure the rental property is pest free. However, refer to your lease document to check information on whose responsibility is pest control. 

If pest control is the owner’s responsibility, report the issue to the owner as soon as you notice it.

If you do not report during the early stages, the landlord may charge you for negligence. If pest control is the tenant’s responsibility, contact an exterminator immediately for pest control.