When a tenant moves out, inspecting your property for damage — and assessing a cost for it — can be difficult and stressful for everyone involved. While a move-in checklist can help minimize disputes by documenting the condition of the unit before the tenant moves in, ultimately it’s up to you as the landlord to decide what’s normal wear and tear and what the renter needs to pay for.
Your renters aren’t responsible for normal wear and tear on the property, but that’s where things get murky: What exactly is normal wear and tear? It’s difficult to define, even more so because state and local regulations vary considerably (so be sure to research the statutes or exceptions for your area too).
These general guidelines will help you determine whether damages to your rental property are the result of everyday use.
Carpeting has a limited lifetime, especially if it’s a light color. Normal wear and tear for a rental property includes:
- Shoe markings in the halls and main walkways
- Light stains, which are expected over a period of a few years
Many landlords include a provision in the lease stating that carpets will be professionally cleaned at the tenant’s expense after move out, which can eliminate quibbling over minor dirt and stains. If tenants leave the carpets heavily damaged, you may need to deduct repairs or replacement costs from their security deposit. Heavy damage might include:
- Pet urine
- Paint stains
- New carpet that’s stained at the end of a one-year lease
Minor markings on the walls can be easily touched up or cleaned, but anything that changes the condition of the wall could be considered damage beyond normal wear and tear for a rental property, such as:
- Large nail holes
You might be able to specify in your lease agreement that tenants can’t insert screws or nails in your walls. Additionally, some jurisdictions require landlords to paint interior walls after a set number of years (at their own expense) regardless of their condition, so check the requirements in your area. Cracked tiles and broken hardware
Damages to these items can be a judgment call. One factor to consider is if they were old or new at the time of move in. If bathroom tiles showed signs of wear and age prior to your current tenant, the cracking could be natural, so it would be unfair to charge a tenant for age-related damage. But if many tiles have cracked in a year, or if they were newly installed before move in, your tenant is responsible for the damage. The same applies to doorknobs, drawer pulls and appliances. Damage from pets
When renting to tenants with pets, most landlords include a pet agreement in the lease and require a higher security deposit or a separate nonrefundable fee to cover any damages. If you’re creating a customizable online lease with Zillow Rental Manager, you have the option to charge a refundable pet deposit or a non-refundable fee, in addition to pet rent, another tactic you can use to offset potential damage. Note that some states prohibit non-refundable pet fees, so be sure to check local regulations before finalizing your lease agreement.
The following aren’t considered normal wear and tear for a rental property:
- Pet stains
- Dug-up yards
- Scratch or chew marks on any surfaces, including exterior ones the pet has access to
You can deduct from the security deposit for this kind of damage. Dirt, dust and grime
It’s reasonable to request that tenants clean the unit before they move out. Notify them of what’s expected so they have time to clean and make any necessary repairs before the inspection.
You can charge a cleaning fee if the home is left with:
- Dirty and smelly bathrooms
- Grimy countertops
- Expired food in the refrigerator
The bottom line: Know the condition of the unit before a tenant moves in. Take photos or videos of the unit before handing over the keys to your new tenant. When they move out, use the same checklist to assess repairs you need to make.