If you charge a tenant a security deposit at the start of their lease agreement, you may use that money to pay for damages caused to your property. However, you may not deduct portions of the deposit to cover the costs of normal wear and tear.
It’s often difficult to determine what constitutes as damage and what doesn’t. By making note of the subtle differences, you’ll be able to identify damages much easier. This will avoid potential disputes with tenants and ensure that you are compensated accordingly.
What is Considered Wear and Tear?
Over time, all properties are going to experience some wear and tear. Wear and tear is the unavoidable deterioration of a dwelling and its fixtures as a result of time and usage. As tenants occupy units, certain features will eventually suffer physical decline. Wear and tear does not include deterioration that results from negligence, carelessness, accident, or abuse of the property.
Here are some common examples of normal wear and tear:
- Small nail holes, chips, smudges, dents, cracks, or scrapes on/in the walls
- Faded paint or slightly peeling/torn wallpaper
- Faded or thinning carpet
- Scuffed varnish on wood
- Dark patches on hardwood flooring
- Dirty or faded window shades
- Doors sticking from humidity
- Cabinet doors that won’t close all the way
- Mold in the shower caused by lack of ventilation
- Loose grouting and bathroom tiles
- Black spots on mirrors from “de-silvering”
- Smelly garbage disposal
- Burnt-out light bulbs
What is Considered Damage?
Damage is the responsibility of the tenant. It occurs when a dwelling or its features are abused and/or altered without the landlord’s consent. Even if the damage was not caused by the tenant (i.e. one of their guests), the tenant is still responsible for covering the costs. Examples of excessive damage that go beyond “normal” wear and tear standards are:
- Large holes in the walls, nail holes everywhere that need patching and repainting
- Unapproved paint colors or sloppy paint jobs
- Drawings or crayon marks on the walls
- Chipped, gouged, or dented wood floors
- Cracked or missing tiles
- Holes, stains, or burns in the carpet
- Pet urine stains
- Dirty mirrors covered in makeup smudges and fingerprints
- Broken doors or ripped off hinges
- Broken or cracked windows
- Clogged sinks or drains due to improper use or excess hair, diapers, food, etc.
- Broken, torn, or missing curtains/blinds
- Broken plumbing
- Damaged garbage disposal due to metal or glass being put in it
Another important detail to keep in mind is the “useful life” of appliances and amenities. All products have a set life expectancy (usually specified by the manufacturer), otherwise known as useful life. That being said, it would be unjust for a landlord to charge a tenant for the replacement or damages of an item that is past its useful life range.
To help with this, the HUD listed (Appendix 5D) common items and their life expectancies:
Prevent Potential Problems
Wear and tear and damage can often be difficult to distinguish, which is why you should consider taking some preventative measures to avoid any disputes in the future.
- Require a walk-through or move-in checklist. When new tenants move in, you should have them inspect the unit thoroughly and make note of the condition of all items. This is can easily be done by providing all new tenants with a move-in checklist. You can send this to the new tenant along with a welcome letter.
- Require in the lease that tenants promptly notify you of needed repairs. It’s imperative that you encourage tenants to be proactive and keep you up to date. You should make it clear that if tenants do not notify you of a maintenance issue in a timely manner, they may be responsible for the cost of repair or replacement. You should also specify the difference between wear and tear and damage.
- Require a move-out checklist. Tenants who are moving out should also be required to note the condition of the unit upon their departure. You can use the same kind of checklist as you would for move-in. Once you receive this form filled out, walk through the unit and verify that the information is correct. After inspecting the property, you may proceed to charge for damages, if necessary.