When it’s time for your current tenant to move out, it’s important to assess any damages that may have occurred during their occupancy. Once you’ve noted what needs repairing, you may have questions regarding which is minor wear-and-tear versus legitimate property damage. Knowing the difference between the two will be beneficial in understanding what you will spend out of pocket versus what the tenant is responsible for, potentially saving more of your profits.
What is normal wear and tear?
Normal “wear and tear” is expected in any rental agreement, but can vary due to the length of the tenant’s lease. Landlords should always consult their state and local laws regarding the legal classifications of wear and tear that apply directly to their properties. When reviewing the necessary repairs for a property, you should consider the life expectancy of an item and how long that fixture has been in use prior to the current tenant’s lease. For example, carpeting in high traffic areas have a typical life expectancy of three to five years when properly maintained.
More examples of wear and tear are:
- Fading in color almost anywhere due to sun exposure
- Several small nail holes per wall
- Small staining on carpets (not due to pets) that can be cleaned with a steamer
- A few small dents or scratches on hard flooring
- Dust and dirt buildup on surfaces
- Loose doorknobs
- dead smoke detector batteries
- broken lightbulbs
- stripped finish on hardware and plumbing fixtures
What is property damage?
When you find something that needs to be repaired beyond the normal expectation, it may be considered property damage. If the destruction appears to be intentional or from misuse, this classification likely applies. An example of property damage is a hole in an interior door. This kind of destruction is not common, and not something that occurs from proper use of the door.
More examples of property damage are:
- Large holes in drywall
- Unauthorized painting or remodeling
- Smashed mirrors or windows
- Destruction from pets chewing, scratching, or urination and defecation
- Pest infestations beyond normal expectations for the area
- High level of dirtiness requiring professional cleaning or replacement
- Burns in carpeting along with nicotine buildup on walls from unauthorized smoking
- Broken or malfunctioning appliances due to misuse
- Any missing items that were in the home at the start of the tenant’s occupancy (i.e.: lightbulbs, doorknobs, blinds, etc.)
What to do when property damage is discovered
When there is clear evidence of property damage, you should document it through photographs or video that is time stamped. You should also document the cost to make the repair through professional estimates, or notate current pricing for a replacement (or closest alternative). Having this information readily available will be helpful in a situation where the tenant disputes the damages, which can lead to small claims court.
How to prevent disputes
Before renting to a prospective tenant, always perform a credit and background check. You should get a thorough history from previous landlords, when applicable, to see if the tenants were responsible in maintaining their prior residence. You should also require a security deposit to cover any property damage or lost rental income as part of your move-in conditions, and be clear in your lease agreement about how these funds may be applied. Prior to the move-in you should perform a walkthrough where all conditions of the dwelling are documented in writing and photographed. This move-in inspection form should be signed by both parties. During the term of the lease, perform regular inspections to ensure the tenants are doing their part in maintaining the residence.
For more guidance on damage prevention in your rental properties, check out 6 Ways to Damage Proof Your Rental.