Q: The lease for our single-family house specifies that we will do "routine maintenance." The landlord claims that this includes fixing the roof and doing exterior painting. We had no idea that he saw it this way; we were thinking drain repair and so on. When we refused to re-roof the garage, he told us he’d sue us for the water damage that will result from a leaky roof. Can he? –Mark and Linda
A: Your question illustrates the dangers of handing over maintenance duties to tenants without a clear understanding of what those duties involve. Fortunately, the problem is relatively rare, because most states do not allow landlords to contract away their duty to maintain a fit and habitable rental. Of those that do, the statutes limit the practice to single-family homes, and typically require that the duties be spelled out in writing and that the arrangement be a fair bargain (in other words, the tenant must be paid for the labor or get a good deal on rent).