How to Provide Rental Property Appliances (No Good Deed Goes Unpunished)

This post is compliments of Amy aka “Yetisaurus”.

PunishedNever underestimate the amount of headaches you can have with rental property appliances.  When my boyfriend moved in with me about a year and a half ago, he decided to rent his place out for some extra rental income.  Because we were combining households, we had no need for his washer and dryer, BBQ, or refrigerator.  He figured that he’d be a nice guy and offer those items to potential renters for their use while they remained renters.

The washer and dryer were nice front-loader models, and had many years of useful life left.  The BBQ was just a little free-standing propane deal.  The fridge was an old battle-axe from many decades ago that just refused to quit.  It was ugly, and we considered hauling it out of the kitchen for property showings because it was so unattractive, but we figured we’d leave it there in the off-chance a tenant would want to use it.

I asked the boyfriend what he wanted to happen if those items broke.  Would he offer to replace them, or would he expect the tenant to replace them?  He said if they broke due to normal wear and tear, he would want the tenant to replace them, and then the tenant would own the replacement appliances.  Essentially, they weren’t supposed to be considered as part of the items he would agree to provide with the rental, they were just “bonus” items that the tenants could use so long as they were working.

My boyfriend has never been a landlord before, so he’s learning the ropes with this one.  I told him that when he showed the property, he should be careful to mention that the fridge, BBQ, and washer/dryer could be left behind for the tenant’s convenience, but that they were explicitly not part of the rental, so if they broke due to wear and tear, it would be up to the tenant to replace them.

Why Do You Need to Specify What’s Included in the Rental?

If you don’t specify what’s included in the rental and what isn’t included, then you could be setting yourself up for a problem.  The laws of your state may vary, but the general rule is that if you advertised your rental as coming with a fridge, or if the tenant saw the fridge during a walkthrough, or you told them that the fridge would be there when they moved in, then you are responsible for ensuring that a fridge would be available during the entire lease term, unless you and the tenant agree to a different arrangement.

So let’s say you’ve got a leftover fridge from a prior tenant, and you tell the next prospective tenant that the fridge was left behind, but that the new tenant can use it if she likes, or dispose of it.  Well, as soon as the refrigerator breaks, expect a call from the tenant insisting that you either repair or replace the refrigerator, or reduce the rent amount to account for the cost of renting a replacement refrigerator.

But you said it was left behind, and that you didn’t care if she used it or trashed it, right?  So obviously you weren’t taking any responsibility for the fridge, you were just trying to be the nice guy.  Surely the tenant would understand that you meant you weren’t going to replace it if it broke, right?  Not necessarily.  You need to protect yourself (and set clear expectations for the tenant) by clearly defining your responsibility for the appliances in writing.

Do I Really Need to Have It in Writing?  Can’t We Just Verbally Agree?

You’ve heard the saying: “Oral agreements aren’t worth the paper they’re written on.”  Some people forget, and other people lie, and either way, you’re probably going to be on the hook if you don’t have something in writing to protect you.  A really good rental agreement is worth its weight in gold.

Imagine this scenario: the fridge breaks, and your tenant says you have to replace it.  You remind the tenant that you were providing the fridge as a courtesy, and that you specifically discussed that it would be her responsibility to replace it if it broke.  She doesn’t remember that conversation.  Now she’s angry.

She pays her rent a few days late, minus $50, which is approximately the cost of renting a replacement fridge.  You demand that she pay the last $50, and she refuses.  A few months of this go on, and while it seems silly to evict over $150, you eventually decide that you have to evict her or she’s just going to continue to fall farther behind.

You file the eviction action, and she disputes it.  The two of you end up before the judge, and you tell the judge that you specifically told her at the beginning of the tenancy that the fridge was not included.  She says you never said any such thing.  She says she’s just a poor [insert occupation here,] and you’re a big, mean landlord, and she specifically rented your place because it included a fridge and she couldn’t afford one otherwise.  The judge asks to see your rental agreement, and asks why you didn’t specify that the fridge was not included as part of the rental.  Now you’re hosed.

You may get the rare judge who is biased toward landlords, but in most cases, you’re going to look like the person who is more sophisticated (you own rental property!) and more financially able to afford the cost of a fridge (you own rental property!) and more responsible for the failure to address this situation in the rental agreement (you wrote your rental agreement, not the tenant!).

Real Life Scenario

In my boyfriend’s case, I said he needed to explicitly tell prospective tenants that those items were not included in rent.  In addition, I insisted that we put it in the rental agreement.  We didn’t bury it in the middle of a paragraph, either.  We put it in a paragraph clearly titled “Appliances Included / Not Included.”

Guess what happened?  The fridge broke, and over a series of emails, the tenant said she expected a discount in the rent because now she was providing her own refrigerator.  I specifically remember talking to this tenant before she signed the rental agreement, and telling her myself that the fridge was not included as part of the rental.  She claimed not to remember that conversation.

I then politely pointed her to the provision in the rental agreement that discussed that the fridge was not included in the rental, and the replacement of the fridge was her responsibility.  Having it there in black and white resolved the situation immediately.  She might have been a bit upset at first, but after re-reading the agreement she signed, she got over it.

Have you ever been punished for being the good guy/gal?   What is your policy for your rental appliances, whether you are a landlord or a tenant?

10 Replies to “How to Provide Rental Property Appliances (No Good Deed Goes Unpunished)”

  1. As a tenant, I would go so far as to say that every listing of the unit should note which appliances are not included, especially listings that show pictures including the appliances. The norm, at least in every area I have lived in, is for appliances to be included, with the occasional exclusion of W/D (but “Washer/dryer hookups” covers that). I would even include window A/C units here, as I have been burned on those before.

    Otherwise, if a landlord doesn’t make this clear, I am going to feel (rightly or wrongly) that the ad is a bit of a bait and switch, and I am not going to trust the landlord.

    The same goes for cases where the landlord expects the tenant to mow the lawn or cover snow removal. Part of why I rent is to avoid the headaches of that, so if including them is the norm in your area, make it very clear if you expect the tenant to cover them.

    1. Thank you for reading and replying. You’re right, it is a really good idea from both the landlord’s and the tenant’s perspectives to specify which appliances are included and what the expectations are regarding landscaping maintenance. For my geographical area, apartments typically rent without a refrigerator or a microwave (unless either is a built-in). For my first tenant at my condo, I made the mistake of not specifying on the rental agreement or the listing that a fridge and microwave were not included. I showed the unit with those items, but only because I was living there at the time, so all of my furniture and other belongings were still there, too. It caused a bit of a wrinkle when my tenants moved in and were surprised that those items weren’t there. They moved here from out of the area, so they weren’t used to the traditional apartment rentals here. They adapted and things smoothed out afterward, but clearer expectations would have helped.

  2. How I handle it is supply the refrigerator, which I am responsible for. That said, I have had some past tenants leave a washer and dryer, which work fine, but I do NOT want the responsibility of servicing those.

    1. In my lease I specify the house comes with washer & dryer connections only.

    2. Upon move-in I give them a receipt for ownership for the washer & dryer (including hoses) were purchased from me for $0… that is used, as-is equipment with no warranty from me or the manufacture… that it was left behind by a prior tenant.

    3. In the contract I further elaborate that as these ARE their washer and dryer units now they can use them, discard them, sell them, take it with them when they move out, etc. They have ALL ownership rights… I further recommend renter’s insurance and warn that if a leak is caused by a burst hose etc. they will need to pay for it (or their insurance carrier will)… to also be aware that like anything (ceiling fans, thermostats, smoke alarms, etc… any improvements left behind at move-out eventually become landlord’s property).

    1. Thank you for reading and replying, Justin. That sounds like a great solution if you don’t really care what the tenant does with the items.

  3. This is a great pointer for those of us who are new at the landlord game. I’m gradually learning that basically everything needs to be in writing. I think my next tenant will get an agreement about 10 times longer than what the current tenant has! 🙂 Right now all of our appliances in our rental house are included, and we are in charge of fixing them, but I could see this advice coming in handy in the future. Thanks!

    1. Thank you for reading and responding! Getting everything in writing is a great idea, even though it does make for a long rental agreement. I hope you’ve had a chance to check out the other posts Eric has written on this blog. He’s got some great tips for new landlords.

  4. It is really smart that your boyfriend would rent his place out for extra cash. However, I think he is over estimating the tenant’s when thinking that they will replace a broken appliance. This is why making a contract and getting it writing is so important. As a rent myself, I would also advise letting the potential tenants know about the deal first.

    1. Thank you for reading, Callie! I can see where it might feel like too much for a tenant to replace an appliance, but for rentals in my area, things like refrigerators and washer/dryers are normally not provided by the landlord anyway. I think a lot of those things are regional. I’ve heard that there are some areas of the country where a refrigerator is provided by the landlord, by the tenant brings his or her own range/oven. Here, it’s generally the opposite. But you’re absolutely right about getting it in writing and making sure the tenant knows the deal first. The point of the writing is not to pull a fast one on the tenant, it’s to clarify the terms of the deal in advance and later, to remind everyone of what the agreement was, when most people have forgotten.

  5. My tenant gave me 3 days notice, and I charged them for 1/2 month rent deduct from their deposits. They demanded the whole thing, threaten to sue me and everything. Turned out on one of my email, I said if they want to move, we can work out a term. They didn’t read the whole email, assuming given me 3-days notice was enough. Anyhow, after that incident, I am more careful of letting people off the hook on the lease, I want to make sure the terms is clear.

    Anyhow, one have to learn from their mistakes, the best way to learn is experience the mistakes.

    1. Wow, you were nice to only charge them a 1/2 month rent! I would’ve charged 27 days’ worth. Did you let them off the hook with just three days’ notice based on that email?

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