Lesson preview: This lesson explains the difference between “normal wear and tear” and “damage” by a tenant or their guest, and who is responsible for the repairs of each kind. The difference between a major and a minor repair, and the timing allowed for each, is also reviewed.
Normal Wear and Tear vs. Damage of a Rental Property
There are two different kinds of damage that can happen to a rental property. Know the difference between them, so you’ll know which ones you’re responsible for and which ones you’re not.
- Normal Wear and Tear: Even the most conscientious tenant may cause minor damages over the course of a rental agreement. This is typically referred to as “normal wear and tear.” It might include, for instance, small scratches on the walls or paint, worn or slightly stained carpeting, broken hinges, or other insignificant damage. A landlord is expected to have to repaint the property, clean the carpets, and repair a few scuffs or nail holes on the walls after each tenant moves. The landlord cannot charge tenants to repair normal wear and tear to the property. Leases often require the carpets to be cleaned professionally at the end of the lease.
- Damage:This refers to actual damage to a property that goes beyond normal wear and tear. For example, instead of small scuffs or nail holes on the wall, large holes would definitely be considered damage. Further, ripped, permanently stained or otherwise ruined carpet is also considered damage. Other examples are excessive garbage scattered throughout the house or property, furniture, or personal items left behind after move out, which may also be considered damage. This includes any damages inflicted by the tenant, their guests, or their pets. Landlords can use your damage deposit to cover the costs of repairing this kind of damage.
It is Your Duty to Report Damages: As the tenant, you must advise your landlord of minor problems that occur that could later result in bigger problems. If, for instance, you neglect to advise the landlord of a leaky pipe that later deteriorates the floors, meaning this damage could have been prevented, then you can be held financially liable for the damages. Therefore, tenants should always report any damages immediately.
Who is Responsible for Repairing Damages
- Landlords pay for the repair of normal wear and tear to the property. Therefore, they must know the differences between normal wear and tear and damages to the property not covered by normal everyday use. Landlords and property managers must protect their investments, but they must also know the law to avoid breaking state laws by unlawfully seizing a security deposit. A landlord cannot charge a tenant for expected maintenance after you move out, such as having to repaint walls, clean the carpet, or repair a few scuffs or nail holes on the walls after each tenant moves out.
- As the tenant, you are responsible for any damages that you or your guests cause to a rental property that are not the result of normal wear and tear. Under general rental laws, tenants must take reasonable care of the property and pay for repairs that occur as a result of their neglect or abuse beyond normal wear and tear to the property. Tenants are also responsible for alerting the landlord quickly of any problems or damages or malfunctioning of systems in the property.
When tenants acknowledge they have caused damage to the rental property, handling repairs is fairly straightforward. Most landlords will repair tenant-caused damages and then bill the tenants or add charges to their monthly rent. Additionally, landlords can use tenant security deposits to cover the repair of damages that don’t result from normal wear and tear.
Recovery that Extends Past Tenancy (End of the Rental Period). It must be noted, even after the rental period comes to an end, the tenant is responsible for damages that occurred while they were living at the property. For example, if trash needs to be picked up after the tenant has moved on, as a result of the tenant’s inaction, the tenant will be held responsible for the cost of the trash removal.
Repairs are Either Major or Minor
Classifying the damage as needing as major a minor repair determines how quickly a problem should be fixed. Delayed repairs can often create a conflict between tenants and landlords. You can help the landlord fix the problem by communicating the problem and impact clearly and quickly. You may also have an agreement with the landlord that you are authorized to make small emergency repairs. Check your lease.
A major repair (also called a defect) means that the problem is serious, could make the property unsafe, and could lead to the property not being habitable. A minor repair is not something that threatens the safety or habitability of the property and is not critical to the way a tenant uses the property.
Timing of Repairs
- for Major repairs:Landlords must fix major problems in a timely fashion. Tenants must give proper notice of the problem as soon as possible. Tenants causing the major problem may have to pay for or contribute to the cost of the repair – vermin infestation due to poor housekeeping (mice due to excess food left out) or bringing pests into the property (bedbugs), or breaking windows.
- for Minor repairs: The requirement for the landlord to fix the problem depends upon a number of factors, beginning with the nature of the problem. Purely cosmetic repairs are not legally required because it does not significantly impact on the safety or use of the property.