If you took a poll of landlords and property managers and asked them what their greatest challenges are, they would tell you that dealing with security deposit issues and wear and tear are the greatest challenges.
That’s because the definition of wear and tear is not always clear and people have different interpretations. When someone moves out and work needs to be done on the property, someone has to pay for it.
The tenant will have one perspective about what they are responsible for and the owner will have a very different perspective.
We can start with the textbook definition of wear and tear, which is: The physical deterioration which occurs in the normal course of the use for which a property is intended, without negligence, carelessness, accident or abuse of the premises by the occupant, members of the household or guests.
So, there is some guidance on the issue. If large holes are left in the walls after a tenant moves out or a carpet has been burned or ripped, you can argue that negligence has taken place.
Some issues are vague. For example, if there are scuff marks on the walls, holes from hanging pictures or the carpet is worn in some places, are these things the owner or the tenant is responsible for?
We recommend two specific things:
First, define and write down what your local ordinances or courts say is normal wear and tear. If judges in your area have ruled that carpets have a seven year life, write that down. If they have ruled that holes more than ¼ of an inch would be a tenant’s responsibility, write that down. Use those documented practices when distributing security deposits. Write down all of your criteria so that if you ever find yourself in court, you can produce your documents and hopefully work something out.
We also recommend communication.
All of your requirements and definitions of wear and tear must be communicated to your tenants. If you want all the carpets steam cleaned before the tenant moves out, put that in the lease. If you expect the tenant to hire a professional cleaning crew to clean at the end of the tenancy, put that in the lease too.
When notice is given by the tenants, it’s a good opportunity to remind them what they agreed to do. You can re-introduce them to the requirements in the lease.
If tenants know you have reasonable expectations and you communicate those expectations at the beginning and end of the lease, those tenants will abide by your rules and do what they need to do because they’ll want their security deposit back.
Challenges are inevitable, but they will diminish when you have good policies written down.
If you have any questions about wear and tear or anything pertaining to property management, please don’t hesitate to contact us at T&H Realty Services.