Normal Wear And Tear
A hole in a plaster wall, a broken window, crayon marks on the ceiling, cabinet doors torn off their hinges Ė those are obviously above and beyond normal wear and tear. But how about a worn place in the carpet, what about tiles on the kitchen floor cracked or missing? That is where the tenant can claim that he doesnít owe a dime of the security deposit, because that was just normal wear and tear and you canít charge him for that.
What follows is a list of common things you will find around the house that a tenant might have some affect on and a range of life expectancy. For vinyl and wall-to-wall carpets you should get a pretty good idea of the life expectancy when you buy it, but for other times you may not.
A rule of thumb to follow, whenever there is a question about who should pay for damage, is that the landlord should pay. In this article, however, I will attempt to remove some of the question and possibly enable you to get a better idea of when you should deduct money from the security or cleaning deposits.
The first step in determining wear and tear is good record keeping. You need records, as complete as possible, of when you purchased items and/or when you installed them If you donít have a starting point, you certainly will have no way of knowing with any accuracy how long they should be expected to last.
If the fixtures or appliance were in place when you bought the property, try to find out form the seller their history. Many times the previous owner will have all the warranty and product information, including manuals.
The other vitally important thing to have is the tenant move-in checklist, signed by the tenant. Without that, the tenant can claim, often successfully, that whatever the damage was, it was there when he or she moved in.
In addition to that, some damage is the fault of the landlord for not checking the property regularly. As you well know, you cannot expect a tenant to take care of a property the way the owner does. Tenants just donít notice things that can do major damage to a building.
Fro example, few tenants would think anything about earth to wood contact. They will shove dirt up against the side of a house and not even notice when the wood on the side of the house starts to rot. That is the fault of the landlords. A tenant will probably not notice a bad roof until it leaks, despite the fact that it shows all the signs of being on its last legs.
There is simply no way you could collect damages from a tenant for dry rot due to earth-to-wood contact: you should have seen it. Once you have noticed that a tenant is piling dirt against a building, though, it is up to you to tell him not to do it anymore. Once you do, and you have left a paper trail proving that you have, then the tenant would have some responsibility. Even so, it is up to the landlord to take care of his investments.
When a tenant moves in, make it clear to him or her that you want to be notified of damage and that you donít want to let things go.
HOW TENANTS DAMAGE THINGS
Dishwashers: They use the dial to run them through their cycle. This will strip the timing mechanism. Dishwashers should be allowed to run through their cycles fully, not set to rinse again or dry again. Since a dishwasher should last between five and twelve years, if the control knob breaks before that, it is above and beyond ordinary wear and tear.
Water heaters: do not wrap them in an insulating blanket, no matter what the environmentalists claim. Doing so voids their warranties and the Underwriterís Laboratory certification. The insulating blanket makes them too hot and can overheat the working. If a tenant wraps a water heater, thinking they are saving energy, and the water heater goes out, that is beyond ordinary ear and tear. Tenants will sometimes drain an electric water heater without turning the electricity off. That will burn out the elements.
Water heaters last form eight to twelve years. Burnt out wiring or elements are beyond ordinary wear and tear.
Ranges: gas ranges will last indefinitely. About the only thing a tenant can do to damage one is break a knob, and it happens. But accidents happen, and it is probably ordinary ear and tear.
Electric ranges, on the other hand, do not last as long, about 15-20 years. Tenants will remove elements to clean and not put them back in properly, shorting out either the element or the entire wiring on the stove.
Furnaces: It is important to change the furnace filter once a month. Leave a dirty filter in and risk ruining the fan motor. If necessary, get the tenant a supply of filters either the instructions to change it the first of every month, whether he thinks it needs it or not.
Storm doors: tenants remove the wind spring and the door flies open, breaking the glass, springing the hinges, or whatever. With no mistreatment, storm doors will last until they are too ugly to leave up. If a tenant breaks one, it is above and beyond ordinary wear and tear.
Driveways: Concrete is damaged by something known as "point loading". This happens when a heavy vehicle is parked on the same spot for a long period of time or over and over. Eventually that weakens the concrete in that spot and it cracks. The cracks radiate out form the spot of the point load. If your tenant has a heavy vehicle, ask that he park it in different places on the driveway. Point load damage could be considered above and beyond ordinary wear and tear.
Cabinets: most tenants will not pick p a screwdriver and tighten a screw that is coming loose. Many tenants donít even know what a screw driver is. Then, when the door comes loose from one hinge, they will let it hang from the other one. Cabinets should last for 20 to 30 years. If they are damaged from tenant neglect such as that, it is above and beyond ordinary wear and tear. It doesnít cost a tenant anything to tighten a screw. At the same time, though, a periodic inspection would probably have discovered a loose cabinet door.
Floors, hardwood, tile, vinyl: You know what the life expectancy is when you buy the flooring and it varies by quality. If you buy cheap vinyl, and a tenantís high heel pokes a hole in it, you got what you paid for. But if a tenant drags something sharp across the floor and scratches or cuts the flooring that is above and beyond ordinary wear and tear.
Doors (hinged): tenants have been compared to teenagers; if something doesnít work the first time, force it. Things get caught indoors, such as broom handles on the hinge side of the door, and then the door gets sprung. Screw holes are stripped and hinges get bent. Doors last indefinitely, if used properly. Damage to them is above and beyond ordinary wear and tear.
You canít be there all the time to watch to see that a tenant doesnít do anything stupid or destructive. Previous landlords can often give you some insight on how well a tenant took care of a property. Some tenants are simply unconscious; they donít mean to do any harm, they just have no way to connect what they have done with the damage. One of the mysteries of life.
Deciding whether damage is beyond ordinary ear and tear often boils down to a landlord basic, deciding if something was used in a way it wasnít designed for. If it wasnít , it is damage which should be paid by the tenant.