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  • Scott Westfall

What is Considered a Maintenance Emergency? (And What You Should Do)

Updated: Jun 12


No matter if you own a home, rent an apartment, or are staying in a short-term or long-term rental property, stuff happens. Maintenance issues can occur anywhere that require professional attention. Know when to call your property manager – and when it’s not an emergency.

When to call your property management’s emergency maintenance

Though your first thought when something is wrong with the property you are renting may be to call your property manager, you’ll first want to classify what kind of issue it is. Maintenance problems usually fall into one of three categories: emergency, critical, or non-emergency maintenance.

If you are facing a maintenance emergency, call 911 as soon as possible. A maintenance emergency is something that threatens the health and safety of you or others. After you have communicated with the emergency department, let your property manager know what’s going on as soon as safely possible.

If you have a critical maintenance issue that needs quick attention to prevent damage to the home or property, you’ll want to get in touch with your property manager right away. If they have provided a 24-hour phone number, call it as soon as you’ve identified the problem.

If your issue won’t cause immediate damage to the property or anyone on it, you may have a non-emergency maintenance concern. These are still important to communicate to your property manager, but they tend not to be as time-sensitive. Often, an email or text message (with photos of the issue) are a great way to alert management.

Certain smaller maintenance tasks can be often managed on your own, such as unclogging a toilet or replacing a smoke detector’s batteries. But before you go any further than that, you may want to connect with your property manager to make sure you won’t be liable for potential damages if your efforts violate something in your lease or rental agreement.

What constitutes a maintenance emergency in an apartment or rental?

A maintenance emergency is considered anything that poses a threat to health and life safety. Flooding in your home, fire or active electrical issues, broken windows, and sewage backup are examples of potential maintenance emergencies with your apartment or rental property.

Again, if you have a life- or safety-threatening emergency, contact 911 right away.

What is considered critical maintenance in an apartment or rental home?

A critical maintenance issue is any situation that, if left untreated, could cause structural damage to the dwelling or unit. Critical maintenance problems may or may not be a cause for concern for the health and safety of those living in the apartment or rental home. Either way, you’ll want to send out an alert so you don’t risk the value of your rental property.

Contact your property manager before critical maintenance issues get any worse. Examples of critical maintenance might include a blown fuse, utilities shutting off, appliances not working properly, or a clogged toilet.

What is considered non-emergency maintenance in an apartment or rental home?

Maintenance problems are considered non-emergency when they don’t cause damage to the rental property and won’t cause illness or injury to anyone. If you’re faced with an issue like this, it’s helpful to snap some photos of the problem and send them to property management so they can determine the best response.

Repairing Washer

Examples of a non-emergency maintenance issue include a minor appliance not working (such as a microwave or dishwasher), a clogged toilet (when there are multiple toilets in the home), or a lightbulb out.

How long does emergency maintenance take to resolve an issue?

Legally, your landlord is required to provide a habitable living space to his or her tenants. Definitions and Landlord-Tenant laws vary by state, so it’s a good idea to see what the regulations are in the state where you are renting.

No matter where you are living, critical maintenance issues generally affect the habitability of a unit. Usually, a landlord has 3-7 days to have the critical issue resolved. For non-critical repairs, they tend to have more time to correct the issue so long as they are actively taking steps to make the necessary repairs. .

In Virginia, for example, major critical maintenance must be attended to immediately – such as no water or the heat going out in winter – when the issue makes the home uninhabitable. Non-emergency maintenance should be resolved in 10-30 days. 

If you are a landlord looking for the best property management solution, consider the company or manager’s standards for turnaround time on maintenance requests. It’s also important to know how well they communicate with both you, the owner, and the tenants in critical and non-emergency maintenance situations.

Emergency maintenance examples and list

Here are some examples of maintenance emergencies that require immediate attention:

  • Flooding

  • Electrical spark

  • Fire

  • Active water leak

  • Break-in

  • Broken windows

  • Broken door or lock

  • Gas leak

  • Sewage backup

  • Carbon monoxide

  • HVAC issues (during extreme weather)

This is a list of critical maintenance examples you should immediately notify your property manager about:

  • Utilities shut off

  • Refrigerator not working

  • Blown fuse

  • Toilet clog 

  • Small plumbing leaks

  • HVAC issues

  • Pest infestations

  • Broken smoke or carbon monoxide detectors

This list of examples is considered non-emergency maintenance:

  • Dripping faucet

  • Dishwasher not working

  • Stove burner not heating up

  • Washer or dryer not working

  • Lightbulb out

  • Window screen tears

  • Broken ceiling fan

  • Microwave not working


Not every maintenance issue is an emergency or legally requires immediate attention. But when in doubt, let your landlord or property manager know what’s going on with the house. It’s best to communicate about issues rather than risk further damage to the property.

Consult the maintenance emergency list above to determine whether you have a maintenance emergency, critical maintenance issue, or a non-emergency and take the appropriate action as soon as you can.

Want to manage your own Virginia Beach short-term rental but don't want to hassle of being on-call for maintenance emergencies? Check out hybrid property management with Koti.


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