Why is My Manager/Landlord Charging me a Maintenance Fee?!
Well, to start, you're right on one thing: the Landlord IS responsible for repairs. HOWEVER, there are certain instances when a tenant can be held responsible for a maintenance fee. Here are some examples (though this list is NOT all inclusive! There may be more items which this list does not cover. For specific questions, contact your Landlord, Manager, or Attorney):
1.) Toilet, sink, or tub clogs. There are only a few instances when this would be covered:
a.) Tenant reports a clog at move-in.
b.) Utility company's end of the main line is malfunctioning; though technically this means the utility company will be handling it, not the home owner.
Otherwise, it is going to be a tenant caused reason. Even if a house has "old pipes", they should still be functional and draining. Often times tenants will flush wipes down the toilet (even the flushable kind really aren't flushable, and regular wipes should never go down the toilet), which over time will cause a clog. Tenants who have kids will sometimes experience the fun of finding a hairbrush or special toy when a line is snaked. In the kitchen food most often is the culprit. In tubs, it's hair going down the drain when a tenant could have just simply placed a hair catcher at the drain to prevent build up. Trust me hair build up is the worst. If you've never used that yellow drain clean-out tool at your tub, consider yourself fortunate!
2.) HVAC Repairs IF Vendor Indicates Tenant Responsibility. This can happen in a few different ways: HVAC not working properly due to dirty air filter, tenant set thermostat too low, causing unit to freeze over, tenant set thermostat too high, causing the unit to overwork and burn up the motor, tenant failure to turn on natural gas on a natural gas pack, or failed to obtain propane for a propane gas pack, etc. There are more than those examples, but the vendor would be reporting user error to the manager or landlord, initiating the bill to be tacked to the tenant.
3.) Electrical Issues which could have been resolved by flipping breakers or resetting GFCIs. If you ever have an electrical issue, try resetting the breakers, first. If that doesn't work, try resetting ALL GFCIs in the house (you know, the outlets with the "TEST" and "RESET" buttons in the middle). GFCIs are notorious for being located in one part of the house, and controlling power to another. This includes checking the garage, too, by the way! If you fail to do that, and the electrician sends the Landlord or Manager a bill for something you reasonably could have done yourself, guess who's ultimately going to have to pay on that invoice....
4.) Garbage Disposals which are "stuck". Most garbage disposals have a reset button on the bottom of the unit. Try that first. IF that doesn't work, cut the breaker to the disposal (either in garage, or sometimes near the unit itself). Use an Allan Wrench to turn the blades (from underneath the disposal) a few times. Cut on breakers. If still nothing, then call Manager or Landlord. Disposals get stuck for all sorts of reasons, even if there is no clog. They even get stuck if they haven't been used in awhile.
5.) Washer and Dryer. This one will be dependent on the owner of the units. IF your unit comes with a washer and/or dryer, then make sure you read the fine print. Here in Fayetteville, NC, if on advertising or the lease agreement you read the owner will neither repair nor replace those items should they break during the lease, then you're out of luck. Some home owners have a home warranty which has washer/dryer coverage. They may let you use it if your washer or dryer need service, but then you'll have to pay the trade call fee. Still, it's better than paying fully out of pocket for a repair. If the washer and dryer are yours, and your owner does not have a warranty, then the repair is up to you entirely.
6.) Landscaping/Lawn Care & Code Enforcement Violations. IN Fayetteville, NC (City Limits), there is an ordinance requiring home owners to keep their grass cut during the Spring into the Fall before the grass goes dormant. Additionally, shrubs are required to be cut (not perfect, but not taller than your house, etc.). The reason for this: to keep vermin, snakes, and bugs from having places to hide and breed, which is in the public's best interest. As such, if the City issues a warning, and the tenant fails to take care of the issue (assuming it's a tenant responsibility per the lease agreement), then any subsequent fines could be charged back to the tenant. Additionally, if the Landlord or Manager had to hire someone to come cut the shrubs or grass for you, that's another charge you will likely also face.
7.) Pest Control: If your Manager or Landlord do a home inspection and find an infestation of say roaches, they may hire an exterminator and charge it back to you.
Certainly there are additional circumstances and situations beyond this. Every incident should be weighted on a case-by-case basis as nothing is ever truly black and white. Should you ever be in receipt of this kind of invoice, and feel it was made in error, certainly reach out to your Landlord or Manager. Just remember they are operating on third party guidance and experience/recommendations. If your manager or landlord were technicians, they would handle the work themselves most likely. Since they are not likely to hold those credentials, they must rely on third party information to make their decisions.