A broken fridge can be a source of stress and frustration for tenants. In addition to having to deal with the wastage brought about by food stored in the fridge rotting, you’ll need to figure out how to get it fixed as soon as possible. So, who is in charge of repairing or replacing an apartment fridge?
If you live in an apartment where a refrigerator is provided, you would naturally expect the landlord to fix it if it breaks down, but this is not always the case. Some landlords, trying to minimize expenses, add a clause in the lease stating that although the appliances in the apartment are there for the tenant’s use, they are not part of the rent. These clauses usually specify that if you use the appliances, you are responsible for maintenance and repairs of the appliances in case of issues. Be sure to check your lease if a clause makes you responsible for the appliances like the fridge.
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When the refrigerator is included in your lease agreement
You may assume that your landlord should repair and maintain the fridge because it came with the apartment. If that were the case (and in some situations, it is), it would mean that the responsibility of replacing a refrigerator would fall on the landlord. However, from a legal standpoint, fridges are not always considered part of the rental agreement. For the fridge to be regarded as part of the features in an apartment that a landlord is responsible for, it needs to be included in the lease agreement.
However, in some jurisdictions, the law stipulates that any item in a rental unit when the tenant moves in is automatically included in the lease agreement. The rationale behind this has to do with the tenant’s safety, well-being, and quality of life concerns.
Understanding the difference between appliances and household features
Many laws that state whether or not a landlord should replace a refrigerator distinguish between household features and appliances. Household features are things like electrical outlets, plumbing, sinks, toilets, and garbage disposals, whereas appliances are things like stoves, washing machines, microwaves, dryers, and refrigerators. In many cases, appliances are included among things a landlord is responsible for, but not always.
Before signing a lease, make sure you discuss with your landlord whether the appliances are included if it’s not clearly stated in the lease agreement.
Are landlords required to provide a fridge?
As previously mentioned, many cities and states do not mandate landlords/property managers to provide appliances such as a fridge. Appliances are often considered to be conveniences and comforts that don’t affect the habitability of a property.
However, a rental unit must have all the connection points, such as electrical systems and drainage pipes for appliances. HVAC systems are also necessary depending on the property’s location, but the appliances are not considered essential.
That said, most rental properties in the market today feature at least a couple of essential appliances. Refrigerators are almost always included in apartments because many tenants don’t move in with their appliances.
When habitability becomes an issue
Almost every state’s laws require landlords to provide tenants with safe and livable housing. Conditions for livable housing include:
- Sufficient hot water
- A roof that keeps out the elements
- Reliable heat
- Reasonable protection from intrusion
- Sturdy walls and floors
- No significant danger from hazards such as mold, asbestos, and lead
A tenant’s right to a livable rental unit is legally known as the implied warranty of habitability. All states (except for Arkansas) acknowledge the implied warranty of habitability, either by statute or decision from the highest court in the state. In most places, a landlord is responsible for the following:
- Keeping electrical, heating, air-conditioning, plumbing, sanitary, and ventilating systems operating safely
- Keeping basic structural features of the building, including walls, roofs, floors, and stairs intact
- Exterminating rodents and other vermin
- Supplying hot and cold water and heat reasonably
- Maintaining all shared areas, such as stairways and hallways, in a safe and sanitary condition.
- Keeping environmental hazards such as asbestos and lead paint dust from potentially causing harm to tenants
- Taking measures to prevent foreseeable security breaches to the property.
Under the implied warranty of habitability, if the fridge has broken down poses a significant danger to the tenant, the landlord has to replace it. In many cases, laws protecting the tenant’s well-being are more important than the landlord’s property rights.
While it’s rare for a broken fridge to pose a danger to a tenant, freon discharge, excessive water leakage, mold, and other complications could contribute to an uninhabitable situation. In such cases, the landlord must replace or repair the fridge within 1-2 weeks.
The repair and deduct system
To protect a tenant’s right to safe and livable housing, most states have laws that give tenants specific options if the landlord fails to repair major issues, such as a leaking fridge. These options include allowing the tenant to withhold rent or fix the issue and deducting the cost from a month’s rent. This is known as repair and deduct.
States typically specify which options are available to a tenant dealing with a landlord that fails to address major habitability issues build-up and the circumstances under which a particular option is applicable. For instance, in states where tenants are allowed to withhold rent, they can only do so if the landlord fails to take action after a certain number of days have passed after receiving notification from the tenant.
Be sure to read your state statute for the specific rules that apply in your state before investing your money in replacing the apartment refrigerator. You’ll also want to discuss this option with your landlord, even if you have the law on your side. In many cases, the landlord is open to finding a more accessible and more cost-effective solution to the problem.
When fridge repair is your responsibility
In cases where the responsibility of replacing the fridge falls onto your lap, you can either seek the help of a professional or take it upon yourself to carry out the repairs. Here are some of the simplest solutions to the most common refrigerator malfunctions. You’ll need a 4-in-1 screwdriver adjustable wrench, nut driver, level, vacuum, long brush, and hairdryer.
Refrigerator issue: ice maker isn’t working properly
When your ice maker produces only tiny cubes or stops working completely, it’s usually because the fridge’s water supply is entirely or partially blocked. Fix this issue with the following steps:
- Start by checking the water inlet tube for ice
- Take out the ice maker by removing the screws that hold it in place
- Unplug the wiring harness and slowly remove the ice maker to expose the water inlet tube
- Use a hair dryer to melt the ice accumulated in the water inlet tube
- Ice makers are usually connected to the water supply by the saddle valve, which tends to block easily. To unblock it, turn the saddle valve clockwise.
- Firmly tighten it to get rid of mineral deposits, and then re-open it.
- Sometimes the inlet valve might be what’s causing the ice maker to malfunction. To replace the inlet valve, unscrew the cover panel and take out the screws holding the valve in place.
- Unscrew the nuts and unplug the wiring connecting the water lines
- Install the new valve and turn the water back on to check if there are leaks
Refrigerator issue: the fridge produces puddles
All refrigerators produce water in the form of condensation and melting ice. As a result, when the fridge fails, you can end up with puddles of water inside and outside the refrigerator. Here is how you can deal with this issue:
- Check the water supply line
- If the fridge has a water dispenser or ice maker, look for the source of the leak
- If it’s leaking at the inlet valve, tighten the compression nuts
- If the copper or plastic tube is leaking, you’ll need to replace it.
- Water usually drains into a pan that is located under the fridge where it then evaporates. If your fridge is tilted, water can spill out of the pan and end up producing puddles. In this case, you’ll need to level your fridge. To do this, start by adjusting the fridge so that it’s level from side to side and tilted backward.
- Stack coins near the back of the fridge and set a two-foot level on them.
- When the bubble indicates level, it means that the tilt is correct.
- Pull off the fridge’s front cover grille and turn the adjustment screws to lower or raise its front corners.
- Another reason why your fridge may be producing puddles is because the drain tube in the freezer is plugged. To fix this, remove the back cover panel by removing the screws that hold it in place to allow access to the drain tube.
- Use a hair dryer to melt ice build up, and then wipe away the water with a sponge.
- To confirm if the drain tube is working properly, pour a cup of water into the tube before replacing the cover panel.
Refrigerator issue: fridge or freezer won’t cool
The loss of electricity in your fridge can affect its cooling effect. If your fridge is running, but it doesn’t get cold enough, try one of the following fixes:
- The first thing you should do is check the temperature control dial in the fridge to confirm that it hasn’t been turned all the way down by a curious child.
- You’ll also want to check if the vents in the fridge and freezer compartments are blocked by food containers. These vents supply the cold air flow in the fridge, and overloading the fridge can sometimes affect the cooling effect.
- Another reason why your fridge or freezer might not be cooling is because of dirty condenser coils. In older fridge designs, these coils are located on the backside, whereas in newer designs, the coils are underneath the fridge, where they can be easily clogged with dust and blocked by debris.
- To allow air to flow through them efficiently, clean your fridge coils using a long brush (which you can find at your local appliance store) at least once a year.
- Fridge models that feature coils underneath have a fan to circulate coils through them. Dust accumulation can slow the fan and debris can stop its movement completely.
- Vacuum the fan to clean it, then turn on the fridge to confirm that the fan works properly.
Refrigerator issue: a noisy fridge
The source of noise in a refrigerator is usually the compressor under the fridge, the evaporator fan motor found inside the refrigerator, or the condenser fan motor underneath the fridge. Here is how to deal with this problem:
- Open the freezer door while the fridge is on. If the noise doesn’t get louder, pull out the fridge.
- If your fridge has a condenser fan motor, unscrew the back cover and listen. If the noise is due to a loud fan motor, remove its mounting screws, unplug it, and install a new one.
- If the noise is louder when you open the freezer, the evaporator fan motor could be the issue and will therefore need replacement.
- To replace it, unscrew the evaporator fan from the freezer’s rear wall and unplug the wires. With some fridge models, you’ll need to use a nut driver or socket set for this step.
- Replace the fan refrigerator motor from its mounting bracket, and then fasten the new one to the mounting bracket before reconnecting the wires and screwing it into place.
Whatever the issue with your refrigerator that needs fixing, be sure to get the right fridge part. To do that, you’ll need the model number, which you can find stamped on a tag inside the fridge. If you can’t find it, check your owner’s manual.
No matter whose responsibility it is to fix or replace a broken fridge, the fastest solution might be to work out an agreement with your landlord. Often, you can find a middle ground that both parties are happy with.