Wear and Tear vs. Damage – What Every Landlord Needs to Know

When it comes to maintaining a home, property owners who want to rent their homes to tenants face a different set of challenges. How do you keep the property in good shape if someone else is living in it, and who is responsible if something happens to the property? In this article, we will discuss the differences between wear and tear vs. damage and cover the most important things that every landlord needs to know when assessing these issues.

 

Hole in the wall caused by tenant damage.

Hole in the wall caused by tenant damage.

Let’s begin by clarifying a few things and accurately defining what constitutes normal wear and tear vs. actual property damage. Although they may seem similar to a layperson, we can differentiate between them by how they occur and by who should foot the bill.

 

You can’t expect your property to be in pristine condition forever.

You can’t expect your property to be in pristine condition forever.

What is wear and tear?

Normal wear and tear can be looked at as the small changes which are going to occur to a property no matter what. Of course, wear and tear can be accelerated if someone is living in the residence. And it can happen even in vacant homes due to natural decay.

A good example of natural decay would be the fading or discoloration of wooden surfaces after prolonged exposure to sunlight. Paint will also fade and crack over time. As you can see with these examples, neither are the result of anything tenants may have done so it would be inappropriate to blame them for the wear. On the other hand, reasonable wear and tear can easily become unreasonable wear and tear if there are a large number of residents in the home. This is especially true in homes with hardwood floors where the tenants have a greater than 60 pound pet. However, you can always expect reasonable wear and tear no matter how careful your tenants may be.

Wooden surfaces will deteriorate over time, but not using a coaster will make it happen faster.

To summarize, normal wear and tear can occur without any negligence or misuse on the part of the tenant.

Addressing normal wear and tear will always be the responsibility of the homeowner and under normal circumstances, tenants cannot be charged the cost of remediation. Accelerated or unreasonable wear and tear however may have been the result of tenant irresponsible usage or neglect and the cost to repair should be borne by the tenant. Keep in mind that it is the responsibility of the tenant to report maintenance issues before they escalate and become something that can be considered damage to the property.

 

Wooden surfaces will deteriorate over time, but not using a coaster will make it happen faster.

Wooden surfaces will deteriorate over time, but not using a coaster will make it happen faster.

To summarize, normal wear and tear can occur without any negligence or misuse on the part of the tenant.

Repairing normal wear and tear is the responsibility of the landlord. Under normal circumstances, they cannot charge the tenants for those repairs, nor can they deduct them from the tenant’s security deposit. However, if wear and tear occurred in an unusually fast period, it may have come from irresponsible use or neglect. It is the responsibility of the tenant to report wear and tear before the effects escalate and grow into something that can be considered damage to the property.

What is damage?

Here we have every other change to the property that shouldn’t naturally occur. If we look at our above examples, their opposites would be wooden floors scratched or warped from water damage and tenants making scuffs, scratches or gouges on the walls.

Anything preventable which depreciates the property can also fall under the purview of damage. If left unattended and neglected long enough however, even something that could be categorized as normal wear and tear can eventually be considered damage. A good example of this would be water intrusion in the bathroom caused by a preventable but unreported leak. If left untreated, it could cause stains as well as the buildup of mold and mildew which would definitely be considered damage.

 

Although the tenants didn’t cause the hail damage, they should report it.

Although the tenants didn’t cause the hail damage, they should report it.

Damage is property deterioration which has resulted from neglect, misuse, accident, or negligence. If you are still struggling with the difference between normal wear and tear and damage, we have a handy outline in our Tenant Handbook which features multiple side-by-side examples.

What to do when wear and tear or damage occur?

As we’ve outlined above, repairs for property damage can typically be charged to tenants or deducted from their security deposit. We do understand that not every owner wants to confront their tenants about damage they have caused which is why we’ve highly recommended hiring a property manager to do this for you.

However, as a landlord, you should understand that taking care of the effects of ordinary wear and tear is your responsibility. To handle the cost of these repairs, you should plan your budget in advance. Be sure to take into account the average lifespan of the property’s fixtures, systems and appliances so that you have a good idea of when they’ll need replacing.

 

Sometimes, it feels like your whole property is upside down from the damage it has suffered.

Sometimes, it feels like your whole property is upside down from the damage it has suffered.

How to avoid damage to your property

Although tenants must be held responsible for any damage they have caused, below are some useful suggestions which should help you minimize harm to your most valuable asset.

1. Have a home inspection.

Traditionally home inspections are performed for both move-ins and move-outs. This will let both you and your tenant examine the property and determine if the current state matches the initial condition.

2. Use a checklist.

While performing the inspection, it’s best if you use a checklist so that you don’t forget to go over every part of the property.

3. Support tenants in maintaining the property.

Incentivize your tenants and give them benefits if they keep the property in good condition. Good tenants are something to hang onto.

4. Encourage tenants to report any maintenance issues.

Foster good communication so that problems can be dealt with before they escalate and cause actual damage.

5. Walkthrough inspections.

You don’t need to surprise your tenants. It’s okay to let your tenants know in advance and schedule your visits.

6. Avoid deferred maintenance.

Come to terms with the fact that nothing will last forever and don’t wait until the last minute to fix or replace something that is broken or damaged. Be present when the tenants move in and when they are moving out.

Although some tenants may do the moving themselves, the majority will use a moving company. Regardless of how careful tenants or professional movers might be, they may cause the occasional scratch, scuff, dent or other damage while moving in or out. It’s important for you to be there to document this.

7. Encourage tenants to use care when moving in/out

By hiring a professional moving company, tenants can avoid unnecessary damage during the move. Keep your property safe by leaving the heavy lifting to the pros.

The bottom line

We hope that you can now tell the difference between wear and tear vs. damage since every landlord needs to be able to differentiate between the two. It is very important to stay calm and to know what to do when damage does take place. Talk to your tenants about their responsibilities and help them understand what they can do to prevent damage from occurring. This will save you both a lot of time and stress.

If you would like to learn more about WJD Management, please review our comprehensive Management Program guide. If you are ready to rent your home, feel free to take advantage of our exclusive FREE Rental Market Analysis. Also, check out other relevant reads like How to Keep Tenants From Damaging Your Home. Finally, don’t forget to connect with us on social media! Follow us on FacebookTwitterLinkedInInstagram, and Pinterest for tips, ideas and updates.

Tenants: 18 Ways to Get Your Security Deposit Back

Tenants, are you looking for 18 ways to get your security deposit back? When everything is ready and a tenant can get 100 percent of that deposit back, it’s a big win for everyone. We want to see every tenant get their full security deposit back–and it’s important to note that WJD has no financial incentive to withhold any part of tenants’ deposit money.

For us, it’s a matter of making sure the homeowner is protected against surprise out-of-pocket maintenance expenses, repairs, or cleaning costs, and it helps guard against delays in getting the property back on the rental market.

To help make sure things go smoothly, and to help you get your deposit back, here’s our ultimate advice guide for getting every cent of your deposit back.

Please note that these are only suggestions. The process of returning a deposit is individual to each tenant, and following all of the below steps will not necessarily result in a full refund.

Immediately After You Move In

1. Review Your Property Condition Report (PCR), sign it, and return it to the WJD office within 10 days of move-in. The report states that your home is in the same condition we want it to be in at the end of your lease and will be used as a point of reference when you move out. Be sure to make detailed remarks on the form should you note any problems with the home, such as malfunctioning appliances, carpet stains, paint blemishes, etc., so that you are not charged for these issues when your security deposit is refunded.

Pro Tip: Always keep a copy of your Property Condition Report on file.

Throughout Your Tenancy:

Do yourself a favor by making sure your required maintenance is up to date. That way, when you move out, you won’t be facing a massive list of “to-do’s” that have resulted from a year of neglect. See below for suggested maintenance tips. You can also check out our  maintenance guide here, which can be found in your Tenant Handbook as well.

2. Ensure all maintenance is requested online. If something breaks, you must immediately submit a Maintenance Request from our website as we cannot take this information over the phone. Be as detailed as possible about the problem so that we can determine who to send to fix it. Do not try to fix it yourself!

3. Keep up to date on your fireplace cleaning and inspection. This must be done even if you never use the fireplace. Also remember that you are responsible for cleaning the ashes that result from burning wood, as the fire inspection company does not usually do this.

Tips to Get Your Deposit Back

4. Make sure to keep your gutters clean throughout the year. The cost of a gutter cleaning usually ranges between $50 and $200 depending on the size of your home and the amount of guttering it has. Be sure to use one of our recommended gutter cleaners for best results!

Pro Tip: At the beginning of your lease, immediately add a calendar reminder to get your gutters cleaned periodically. Try to schedule a final gutter clean about a two weeks before you move out, just to make sure they’re clear and you’ve left yourself plenty of time.

5. Replace light bulbs. We recommend getting LED lights at the beginning of your lease. LEDs have plummeted in price recently (three of them cost about $10), so you’ll definitely get your money’s worth by reducing electric bills. Also they should still be going strong at lease’s end!

6. Regularly replace furnace filters. If you change filters monthly as recommended you’ll reduce your heating bills, make the home more comfortable during the cold weather, and avoid add-on charges for replacement at move-out.

Pro tip: Write down sizes, or take pictures of your filters so you can easily reference them (sizes are included in the PCR). Also, you might want to consider buying in bulk through Amazon.

7. Keep your HVAC system clean and well-maintained. Check to see that all supply and return air vents are clean and unobstructed and make sure the condensation drain is not clogged or obstructed. If the property has a radiant heat system, make sure there are no leaking valves or radiators.

8. Test your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. Battery-operated models will begin making an intermittent chirping sound when the battery runs low, and you can easily replace the battery. Hard-wired models will do the same but have no bettery–so when one of these units goes bad you must submit a maintenance request to have it replaced. In either case, test the units periodically to make sure they are in working order.

When You Move Out:

By following the steps below, you’ll make our job easier, which makes everything go much more smoothly.

9. Schedule carpet cleaning. If you have a pet, be sure to order a tick and flea treatment. Our lease requires this at move-out, even if you have no carpets in your home. Be sure to use an approved vendor to clean your carpets. Should you use an outside vendor and their work is determined to be sub-standard, we will have to have your carpets cleaned again by one of our approved vendors, at your expense. Avoid paying for this service twice!

10. Clean! And clean thoroughly. thoroughly.​Remember that when you move out, the property should be left in the same condition as it was when you moved in. This is why it is imperative that you return your PCR right after you move in noting any discrepancies, otherwise you might be charged for pre­existing problems! Common cleaning items that are missed include:

  • Under the refrigerator
  • On top of the refrigerator
  • Inside the oven, oven drawer and underneath the oven
  • Under stove burners
  • Sides of toilets
  • Range hood and exhaust fan filters (Note that you can put them in the dishwasher to make things much easier!)
  • Crumbs in cabinets/drawers
  • Washer and dryer lint.

Pro Tip: Remember to clean the gutters one last time and have the fireplaces cleaned and inspected. Make sure to provide a copy of your receipt for each service.

11. If you hire a cleaning service, make sure you ask for “detail cleaning.” To make sure your money is well spent (and to get all of your security deposit back), be sure to use a recommended WJD vendor. Also, remember to ask for detail cleaning and not surface cleaning.

12. Double-check to make sure you’ve replaced all light-bulbs and furnace filters one last time. Even if you forget to replace just one light bulb that was working when you moved in, we will have to send a contractor to replace it. So, even though the actual light bulb may just cost a couple of dollars, your cost is going to be a minimum $75 trip charge plus the cost of the bulb. The same holds true for furnace filters.

13. Take out the trash. It’s such a simple step, and it would be silly to forget and cause a minimum service fee

14. Perform all necessary lawn care. This is going to differ for each tenant, so check your lease for specifics of what to include (i.e. mowing, pruning, weeding, raking, etc.) Again, if you want to hire someone to take care of this for you, please use one of our recommended vendors for best results.

Tips to Get Your Deposit Back

15. Make the final inspection an easy process by preparing beforehand. Once inspection begins, tenants are not allowed to clean, add finishing touches, etc. Leave all keys, fobs, placards, remotes, and receipts on your kitchen counter; and have the property ready for inspection when the inspectors arrive. It will make everything go much more smoothly.

16. Stagger the work being done, beginning two weeks out from your move-out date. This will keep you from becoming overwhelmed, and will allow you to do one last cleaning spree before inspection. By getting everything done beforehand, we can come and do our job and help you check out quickly and smoothly.

17. Schedule services before the day of check-out. If you’re hiring professional cleaners, don’t have them come the same day as your check-out inspection. Remember that carpets should be dried from carpet cleaning prior to inspection. Essentially, you want to ensure the home is in the exact same condition it was when you moved in. This is most easily accomplished by getting the big stuff out of the way in advance.

Pro Tip: To keep track of everything, we suggest you print off our Move-Out Checklist and post it on your refrigerator or counter. This checklist can also be found in your Tenant Handbook.

18. Ask questions. Ask questions. Ask questions. Communicate ahead of time if there are any issues you have questions about. For example, if you aren’t sure how to clean a fixture or appliance that you’re responsible for or if you are having difficulty accessing light fixtures in high-ceilinged homes, let us know! We can probably recommend just the right tool or cleaning tips.

Concluding:

Moving out is a time-consuming process, but there’s no need for it to be expensive as well. By following the above guidelines, you will dramatically reduce the possibility of having to lose some of your security deposit. And by making it easier for us to do our job, you’ll probably speed up the refund process. Thank you, and we hope you find these tips helpful.