Two of the most common items that tenants are charged for at move out are light bulbs and air filters. These items are considered “consumable” as they wear out with use and are effectively “consumed” by the tenant during their tenancy.
Due to the fact that both items have lifespans that are affected by use, tenants are often responsible for the replacement of these items during their tenancy, even if this fact is not directly spelled out in their lease. However, much like all things rental related, there are a few caveats and grey areas.
We have found it exceedingly common to complete an annual inspection or move-out inspection only to find that a considerable number of light bulbs are burnt out. When it comes to bulbs at a single-family residence, the tenant is responsible for both interior and exterior bulbs. This means, if a bathroom bulb goes out, the tenant is responsible to replace it. If an exterior light near the garage goes out, the tenant is responsible to replace it.
Now, there is some flexibility to this rule that is wholly dependent on the management company and/or the landlord. We believe that it is good policy that the landlord be responsible for light bulbs in light sockets that exceed a standard ten-foot ceiling height.
We believe this for two reasons: safety and reasonable expectations. Chiefly, we believe that the requirement to replace a bulb that is above a normal step ladder height poses a safety risk – especially if the occupant lives alone or is the sole adult in the home. Additionally, some homes have vaulted or very high ceilings where an extension or very large ladder is required to reach certain bulbs, which is something many people do not own. It is not reasonable to expect a tenant to borrow or purchase such a ladder.
Similar to single-family residences, tenants that reside in multi-family residences, such as a duplex, are responsible for light bulbs. However, since there are shared common areas, often outside the unit that are used by multiple tenants, the landlord is responsible for the replacement of exterior and common area lights. Those lights are used for the unit as a whole and not one specific tenant and are often used to light walkways between units or in parking structures.
Air filters are another common item we find at annual and move-out inspections that need replacement. Most air filters have a life of three to four months. We regularly find filters that have not been replaced all year! These filters are caked in dirt and dust, which is now being distributed throughout the home. This is bad for two reasons: it affects the air quality of the entire home, and it makes the air conditioning system work harder as it is harder to draw air through the dirty filter.
Tenants are generally responsible for air filter replacement. They are cheap and very easy to install. We highly recommend that tenants replace their filters every 90 to 120 days.
However, a prudent landlord would take on the responsibility of filter replacement for one very simple reason: it prevents excess wear on the air conditioning system. As air conditioning systems age, they lose efficiency and eventually have parts that wear out and need replacement. Dirty filters force the system to work harder and can expedite this wearing out process. However, since this wear is common and rarely if ever linked directly to a single dirty air filter, the tenant cannot be held liable for an air conditioning repair that stems from regular wear. So why not protect your investment and maintain the filters?
If you liked this article, you might be interested in our other article Who is Responsible for Smoke Detector Batteries?
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Please note: this is not a law firm and we are not lawyers. If you have a legal question, please seek professional legal advice. The information posted here is for informational purposes only.