What is normal wear and tear? 6 techniques to reduce down issues with tenants

by jay.raman@ashokalion.com 15, March 2011 11:28

I came across a article on the AshokaLion Twitter account, and it got me thinking about "wear and tear" clauses in leases. Every lease has a "wear and tear" clause in it, but it always remains a vague concept. I decided to research what other investors and real estate sights came across, and I found most had the vague notion of the wear and tear clause. I did find one article by Rental Housing Online (http://bit.ly/gklzFl) and they had a pretty good list. It definitely was not exhaustive, but either is our addendum that we provide to tenants at their walk through with our property managers upon moving in.  We have tried to provide a list of common types of damages, explainations what we consider to be "normal", and we try to explain to them what potential charges may be upon them moving out (at least some minimums that we have come across). We know this is not a complete list, but it is impossible to have a complete list due to all the circumstances at the property (including condition of the property at the time of  tenant moving in and age of the items).

I know it is impossible, but we do try to explain that "normal" is based on reasonable standards. For example, we state that scuffing a wall and it needing to be repainted is not "normal".  However, it is "normal" to have a rug steam cleaned with a rug doctor machine. However, if I have to get a commercial cleaner to take out damages to a carpet, then this should be considered "excess" of normal wear and tear".  As a kid growing up in the Houston area, my family lived in a home for over 10 years as kids, and when we moved from that home; our family was able to cleaned our carpet  to make it presentable.  It is not a huge leap of faith to think that our care was not extraoridinary, and this is why our property managers in Houston or Dallas do not understand tenant's claims that it is normal to have punch stains in the floor or bleach on the floor. 

Typical things that we would deduct from the security deposit for include:

  1. Scuff Marks on walls requiring us to paint
  2. Nail Holes in Walls
  3. Damages to windows
  4. Broken Knobs on ovens or stoves
  5. Unreported leaks that cause damage to cabinets or floors
  6. Carpets requiring commercial carpet cleaning
  7. Smoking in the house and it sticking to walls and carpet (we request all tenants if they smoke to smoke outside the house).
  8. Pet Urine requires us to get  a professional cleaning
  9. Lost Keys
  10. Unreturned Garage Remotes
  11. Food left in the refridgerator (if mold is in the refridgerator, then we may just replace refridgerator)
  12. Broken door knobs
  13. Missing Smoke Detectors after it was installed
  14. Blinds damaged
  15. Carpet that burn marks or bleach stains (replacing room carpet)

I know that there are horror stories for tenants about items being charged that they would not consider normal wear and tear. To reduce these confrontations between tenants and landlords or tenants and property management companies in the Houston and Dallas area, I would suggest doing the following:

  1. Fill out the Inventory and Condition Form within the requested time and keeping a copy. Many real estate agents and property managers will give you this form to fill out, so I would strongly urge you to do.
  2. Take Pictures and/or Video.  You, your property manager  and/or real estate agent should take pictures and/or video of the property at the time of the move in. I would make sure to have the correct time stamp on videos and pictures, so you can demonstrate what condition the property is at move in.  As you usually are given a few days to finish documenting this form, it is not hard for tenants to document with video and cameras damages.   I would suggest sharing this with landlords and managers as soon as possible to make them aware of these damages that you find subsequent to the move in walk through, if you want to claim it on your inventory and condition form.
  3. Report damages quickly. Landlords can charge tenants for damages that they fail to report on a timely manner that get worse. For example, if you see a leaking pipe under a kitchen report it, as it may lead to damaging the wood in the cabinets.
  4. Know how to shutoff toliets and cut off water at the main water cutoff. If you see water flowing, know how to cutoff the water at the main water cutoff. This will reduce down damages that remain that could have been prevented.
  5. Do not use items that you know are possibly damaged. If your AC is having problem, shut the AC off to prevent further damage because you used it after it was having problem. The same could go for appliance, disposals, and anything else that you fear may not be working. You should report these items and take the appropriate precautions. These kinds of damages could be grounds to deduct part or all of a repair cost for the matter.
  6. Keep up your preventitive maintenance. If your home has a AC unit, then I would suggest changing the filters to avoid damaging the system. Unpaid repair costs in our leases can be deducted from the security deposit.

I know that some of our real estate investors probably have more examples, so if you do not mind sharing on our Facebook page (http://on.fb.me/dQDvrM) that would be great. We will post a discussion under that tab to collect feedback and input regarding example of what is and is not considered "normal wear and tear", and while you are there; please do not hesitate to "Like" our facebook page.

If anyone has dealt with court cases that involve these issues, then feel free to share this as well in our discussion section. We would love to see how any of our Houston, Dallas, Texas, or any courts around the United States for that matter adjudicate these standards.