If you have a garbage disposal, you know how handy it can be.
It breaks up larger food particles into very small pieces, so there is less likelihood of food clogging up your drains. It’s also environmentally friendly because it reduces the amount of food waste that gets sent off to landfills.
But garbage disposals can break from time to time and you may be wondering who is responsible for fixing them when they do.
In this article, I am going to answer whether your landlord has to fix your garbage disposal. I will cover the contractual and legal landscape around this question and will also provide a step by step guide on how you can determine the answer for your situation.
I will also discuss the key causes for a broken garbage disposal and some easy tips on what you can do if you need to fix it yourself.
If you don’t have the time to read through it all, here’s a short answer to the question:
Most garbage disposals are provided by landlords and included as one of the appliances covered by the lease, so they are usually obligated to fix it when it breaks. However, if the lease does not cover garbage disposal repairs or you caused the issue, then the landlord will generally not be obligated to fix it.
The information contained in this post is for informational purposes only. It is not legal advice. You should seek the advice of a qualified legal professional before making any decisions relating to the topics covered by this article.
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Step 1: Check Your Lease
As with most landlord-tenant issues, you should check your lease agreement to determine if it covers this scenario.
In many circumstances, the lease will include provisions for repairing appliances that are covered by the lease.
For example, my lease states that the landlord must maintain the premises in good repair and tenantable condition and shall be responsible for repairs not due to the fault or negligence of the Tenant.
However it carves out from that general repair obligation any fixtures or appliances that are listed in the lease as provided in “as is” condition.
Because garbage disposals are not included in the “as is” appliance list under my lease, the landlord would be required to fix it so long as the repair is not due to the tenant’s fault or negligence.
Of course, your lease may be different from mine, so it makes sense to read it carefully to find out what it says on the issue.
If the lease is silent on the matter or it is unclear who is responsible for fixing a garbage disposal, you will need to look at whether there are any applicable laws that would govern the issue. Let’s turn to that.
Step 2: Check The Law
The Implied Warranty of Habitability
There is a legal principle known as the implied warranty of habitability. It essentially states that landlords must provide a safe and livable dwelling for their tenants, even if the lease agreement does not explicitly require it.
Compliance with local housing codes is typically an important aspect in determining habitability, although not every state adopts this standard. Source.
Now most housing codes will not require a working garbage disposal as it is often considered an amenity, not a necessary component of habitability.
But most housing codes will require working plumbing systems. So if the broken garbage disposal impacts the operability of the plumbing system, that could be deemed a violation of the implied warranty of habitability.
In addition, persistent leaks arising from a broken garbage disposal could result in mold, which in turn could pose a health hazard.
Important Note: It’s worth noting that under many state laws, a landlord’s responsibilities under the implied warranty of habitability will often be excused if the tenant caused the malfunction or defective condition.
States Interpret the Implied Warranty Differently
On that note, I want to highlight that while many states have adopted the implied warranty of habitability in their landlord tenant laws, they often interpret it differently.
So if you want a definitive answer to the question of whether a landlord must fix a broken garbage disposal under law, you will need to research the rules and regulations applicable to you (or hire a lawyer to assist you.)
For your convenience, here’s our 50 state reference table (including D.C.) that will link you to the official landlord tenant laws of your state.
If you prefer to have a lawyer assist you, I would try JustAnswer. They boast access to thousands of highly-rated, verified real estate lawyers whom you can connect with via their unlimited chat service.
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Step 3: Contact Your Landlord Using Proper Notification Methods
Ok, so you’ve looked at your lease and appliable law to determine who is responsible for the repair. If it turns out that the landlord is obligated to fix the broken garbage disposal, you need to make sure you notify them properly and promptly.
Read your lease and check out applicable laws to see what they say about the proper method for notification. In most cases, a formal letter sent via certified mail is appropriate, but other methods may work as well.
Make sure you include a description of the problem, a clear request to fix it and your availability. Include pictures or other evidence that can support your request.
Step 4: Escalate If the Landlord is Unresponsive
If your landlord is not responsive or is unreasonably delaying a repair they are responsible for, there are some steps you can take to prompt them to action.
Contact Your Local Tenants Rights Organization
Contacting your local renters’ rights organization is an excellent first step. They are likely to have heard similar types of complaints from other tenants and will be well-versed in how to get your landlord to act.
Contact Your Local Housing Authority
If the condition rises to the level of a violation of the housing code or a similar infraction of the law, you can notify your local housing authority.
Use Legal Self-Help Remedies
You can also look into your state and local laws to determine if you have any legal options, such as paying for the repair and deducting the cost from your rent, or withholding money until the landlord fixes the garbage disposal.
It is important to note that some states ban these remedies, and if you employ them when they are not permitted, you may face eviction for nonpayment of rent. Before applying these remedies, make sure you are confident in your jurisdiction’s rules.
How Can I Tell if the Broken Garbage Disposal is My Fault and How Can I Fix it?
Ok, so we’ve operated under the assumption that you were not at fault in causing the broken garbage disposal, but in many cases, the issue does reside with the tenant.
They may have put in excessive food, bones, glass, utensils or other inappropriate items into the garbage disposal.
If you suspect that this is the case, you may want to check the garbage disposal to find out what is causing the issue. In many cases, the garbage disposal simply stops grinding – in other words, the motor does not turn the blades.
Sometimes you will hear a humming sound when you turn it on but no movement. Other times you will hear nothing when you flip the switch.
These conditions can be caused by many things, but they are often due to something blocking the spinning blades.
The first thing you want to do is turn off the garbage disposal – to be extra safe, unplug the unit, turn off the switch and break the circuit. Then get a flashlight and look inside the area where the blades are (usually right below the sink opening) and see if there is anything in there that shouldn’t be.
If there is, carefully remove it using tongs or pliers (never stick your hand in there!).
Then check underneath your sink at the actual garbage disposal and see if you can find a little red button on the bottom. If it is popped out, press it in. That is an internal circuit breaker and pressing it in resets it.
You will also see a small hole in the center of the unit (at the bottom). If you have an allen wrench, you can insert it into that hole and spin with the allen wrench (make sure your allen wrench is the right size).
If you meet some resistance, that usually means there is something still blocking the blades. Twisting the allen wrench around will often dislodge whatever’s blocking the blades from moving.
Once you have removed the blockage and reset the internal circuit breaker (red button), the garbage disposal will often start to work again. If not, you will likely need to replace it or hire a handyman to fix it.
So there you have it – a thorough examination of whether landlords are compelled to repair your broken garbage disposal, as well as some advice on how to handle the matter. I hope this was useful and happy renting!