We’ve all been there: standing at the front door of our property just moments after our tenants have collected the last of their things and moved out for good, and are mentally preparing ourselves for what we will find when we enter. Knowing when to charge for damages depends on whether the damages classify as “normal wear-and-tear” or intentional.
No two situations are exactly alike, since normal wear and tear in a home with two toddlers, a dog and a dad who works construction is going to look a lot different than the “normal wear and tear” in an upscale studio apartment owned by a single woman who considers herself a neat freak and is out of town 75% of the time.
So how do we define “normal wear and tear” ourselves, and how to we articulate it to our tenants so everyone is on the same page?
Normal Wear and Tear
Normal wear and tear occurs when a property has been used in the way a property is supposed to be used. Carpets are meant to be walked on, so if carpets are faded or worn, especially in high traffic areas, this is to be expected and is considered normal wear and tear. One function of a wall is to hang pictures or other decorations, and small holes in the wall from nails and screws are expected and considered normal wear and tear. Wall paint fades, wood floors get scuffed, the enamel in toilets and sinks gets scratched, and plumbing fixtures get rusty. All of these things happen when a house is being used as a house. These are things that you would not be overly surprised with if they happened in your own home, and as a homeowner, you would expect them and fix them at the appropriate time.
Holes in the wall, doors off of hinges, excessive food stains on carpets, broken windows, moldy showers or damage done by a pet are all caused by a tenant being negligent or irresponsible, and you should not have to foot the bill for their carelessness. Accidents happen, and if something major was damaged during their stay they should have let you know immediately so you could work out a way to fix it. If they simply left obvious damage for you to find without any acknowledgment, you can use their security deposit to help pay for the repairs.
Damage to hardwood floors because of excessive water exposure, cracked kitchen counters, and damaged smoke detectors are all examples of damage that is not normal wear and tear. Kitchen counters don’t just crack all of the sudden when you’re carefully making lunch for your family. Hardwood floors don’t pucker and swell because of a small spill. These things are a result of misuse over time and don’t fall under the “normal wear and tear” category.
When to Use the Damage Deposit
If the house looks like it has been lived in, but the tenants did their best to keep it clean and put together, consider yourself lucky and send back their security deposit. You can not use their security deposit to cover the cost of cleaning, but if the cleaning company charges you extra to get all of the pet stains out of the living room carpet, you can use some (or all, depending on the price) of the security deposit to cover the extra charge. If the walls are a little faded or wallpaper is starting to come off, this should not be charged to the tenant, but, if they let their children use the walls as an art studio, or they decided to paint the living room lime green without getting the OK from you, the cost to repaint the walls could be covered by their security deposit.
Before and after photos are a great way to compare what the property currently looks like vs. what it looked like when the tenants moved in. If there is damage done to the house and the tenants claim that it was “like that” when they moved in, your photos can show otherwise and clear up any misunderstandings. Make sure the pictures are both printed and saved on your computer and organized by property and by date. If things escalate and you end up in court, photos will prove that the home was one way when they moved in and a very different way when they left. You can use our digital inspections platform to help document this, as well as receive digitally signed copies of your inspection report from the tenant.
You can learn more about move-in/move-out inspection best practices by reading our Inspections Guide.
Although defining normal wear and tear varies from situation to situation, having a clear understanding of the difference between what is normal and what is damage will help you set clear boundaries for your tenants, and will help them help you keep the property in tip-top shape.
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