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Wear and tear in a rental property

Plan how to pay for tenant damage your landlord policy won't cover

While renters aren’t responsible to pay for wear and tear, they should compensate for any other damage not related to the property’s everyday use. As the landlord, you can typically deduct for damage above normal wear and tear from the renters’ security deposit. However, to ensure no disagreements happen, you can encourage renters to report and document minor problems ahead of time.

What is considered wear and tear in a rental?

Normal wear and tear is a property’s deterioration from normal, everyday use. It typically includes minor damage and any major damage that isn’t the renter’s fault. It does not include negligent, irresponsible or intentional actions that cause damage.

Normal wear and tear can include:

  • Furniture indentations in the carpet
  • Scuffed wooden floors
  • Frayed cords on blinds
  • Faded, cracked or chipped paint
  • Small marks or scuffs in a kitchen countertop
  • Worn sliding tracks, loose handles and hinges on windows or doors
  • Wall cracks caused by building movement
  • Water stains from a leaking roof or bad plumbing

What is tenant damage to a rental property?

Tenant damage is any damage that doesn’t happen from normal, everyday use. This can include damage caused by direct actions from the tenant, guests or pets. It can also include worsening damage because the renter didn’t report a minor problem.

Examples of tenant damage:

  • Altering or renovating without permission
  • Large holes in walls
  • Burns, tears or holes in the carpet
  • The smell of cigarette smoke
  • Pet urine stains on carpet
  • Scratched walls or doors caused by pets
  • Missing doorknobs or broken doors
  • Unreported water leaks that increased damage over time

Who pays for damage to the rental property?

Landlords typically can’t charge tenants for wear and tear to the property. However, the renter does pay for accidental or intentional damage beyond wear and tear.

In most cases, you can deduct the amount from the tenant’s security deposit after notifying them of the damage. However, many times disputes about whether the damage is considered wear and tear happen between renters and their landlord. For example, is a three-year-old carpet that needs to be replaced considered wear and tear or should tenants pay for it because they used it last?

You can check with your state laws for specific details about handling security deposits and charges for damage.

Does landlord insurance cover tenant damage?

Tenant damage isn’t covered by landlord insurance policies, although a few stray cases may get coverage like damage from a leaking roof. In most cases, the renter will pay from their security deposit or renters insurance policy.

Landlord insurance also doesn’t cover wear and tear or damage from lack of cleanliness. However, some policies let you purchase mechanical breakdown coverage for mechanical issues with major appliances.

What if my tenant disagrees about the damage?

If your renters disagree that they should pay for damage, try following these guidelines:

  1. Give renters an opportunity to prove they didn’t cause the damage.
  2. Review the walk-through inspection report to find the damage reported before the renter moved in.
  3. Read the rental agreement with your renters present.
  4. If possible, allow renters to fix minor problems themselves.
  5. If a renter still disagrees, you might need a mediator or small claims court to settle the dispute.

A good rule of thumb is to document the dispute. Try to keep communication in writing or include multiple staff members in personal conversations when possible.

How do I prevent excessive damage to my rental?

You can head off rental property damage by leasing to responsible renters and listening to their needs during the lease. Tips to keep in mind:

  • Vet your tenants. When a renter applies for a lease, make sure you use the application details to screen their history according to your state’s laws. That may include a background check, credit history and previous rental history.
  • Write a thorough rental agreement. Make sure renters know what’s considered wear and tear or tenant damage and what their responsibilities are.
  • Do an initial and final walkthrough. Give the tenant a worksheet and take pictures to report existing damage to the property, then do a final walkthrough together when they move out to note any additional damage. Having everything in writing will help avoid disputes.
  • Encourage maintenance requests. Both in the rental agreement and in everyday operations, let renters know they can report maintenance problems. Then, you can make sure those requests get taken care of in a timely manner.
  • Set an open door policy. Establish office hours or ways of communication that help renters voice even minor concerns, including situations that could lead to damage.

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Bottom line

As a landlord, you face many risks when renting out your property, including property damage the renter may cause. However, you should expect some minor damage from everyday use of that property, which is considered normal wear and tear. Even if you lose money on wear-and-tear damage, you can offset other risks through a robust landlord insurance policy.

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