When you rent out a condo or house to someone, there is an expectation of normal wear and tear, as well as the possibility of minor, accidental damage. It would be reasonable to expect that the likelihood of accidental damage, such as a spill over carpet or dropping something heavy on tile, is higher when someone is a longtime tenant simply due to the length of time they can call the property home.
However, every part of a home has an average useful life before it needs to be repaired or replaced, and thus every part of the home can have normal wear and tear. Regardless of the age and maintenance history of a property, it is crucial to be aware of the damage renters can potentially cause and what steps you need to take to protect yourself as a landlord.
More Renters = More Damages
Thanks in part to the housing crisis in 2008 and continually rising real estate prices, it’s no surprise that 36.6% of U.S. households are renting their homes. In fact, approximately 43 million residences in the United States last year were renter occupied. In a 2015 UK survey, participants reported that their privately rented properties had the following issues in the 12 months leading up to the survey:
- Mold or Dampness – 32%
- Plumbing Issues – 21%
- Hot Water Problems – 17%
- Heating Issues – 17%
- Electrical / Wiring Issues – 13%
- Broken or Damaged Kitchen Items – 13%
- Broken or Damaged Bathroom Items – 10%
- Structural Problems – 7%
While there is no annual study on the amount landlords spend repairing damages caused by renters, the likelihood of having damages is high. Considering the amount of renters in the U.S., even just 13% of broken or damaged kitchen items translates to 5,590,000 rental properties that someone will have to fix.
What is Normal Wear and Tear?
Normal wear and tear is the natural result of a home being lived in and occurs over time. For this reason, reasonable wear and tear is generally considered to be an unavoidable consequence of deterioration from normal use. In comparison, damage is considered to be something avoidable that resulted from negligence, carelessness, or intentional damage. For example, carpet wear over time due to regular traffic is considered normal wear and tear, whereas a drink stain, cigarette burn, or pet damage are avoidable and constitute damage.
The primary issue with normal wear and tear is that it leaves some area of interpretation for what is and is not damage. That being said, if a landlord and renter are not on the same page about normal wear and tear vs. damage, there will likely be a number of arguments following their move-out inspection about what the renter is or is not liable for.
How Long Does a Landlord Have to Fix Something?
Once a tenant leaves a Florida rental property, state laws require the landlord to return their security deposit between 15 and 60 days, dependent on the tenant disputing any deductions that were removed for damages. In Florida, landlords can only take previously disclosed deductions from a security deposit.
Why You Need a Home Inspection Before and After Renting
One recent rental trend has provided an increased awareness about security deposit laws. With it, an increased amount of tenants are asking their landlords for a move-out inspection, so they know what they need to fix before they move out in order to get their entire security deposit back. While this trend sounds like a good thing, it has some hidden negatives; similar to patching a vehicle tire that needs to be replaced, some renters have realized that they can save money on repairs by patching up the problems, and as long as their landlord accepts their work at the time, they can get their full security deposits back and move on.
In a more established rental scheme, some people who cause damage to a rental property will deny fault, blaming the previous tenants or even the landlord. Without documentation of the space’s status before they moved in, the person ultimately responsible for the damages becomes a matter of landlord vs. tenant.
Fortunately, there are only a few steps a current or future landlord needs to take to ensure that any damage is taken care of by the responsible party:
1. Rental Inspection Checklist
The easiest way to put together a reliable rental inspection checklist is to skip to step two and hire an experienced home inspector, especially because a professional home inspection can uncover things that the naked eye may miss. But if you’re not ready for an inspection, grab a notepad and walk around the entire inside and outside of the property. Analyze each room as if you were going to be the one paying a landlord for any “found” damages. Test any sinks, showers, toilets, kitchen appliances, and locks – including windows – that you encounter. Be sure to document your findings as you go.
2. Hire a Home Inspector
With a proper home inspection, you will receive a detailed list of the inspector’s findings, which will inform any repairs that should be taken care of to ensure the space is safe before renting out your home or condo. Make sure you keep the inspection results and any detailed repair receipts in a safe place; in the event of a premises liability claim or if the renter causes damage and refuses responsibility, these documents will help you prove that the space was in a particular condition before they moved in.
3. Schedule Repairs
Depending on the extent of necessary repairs, certain state laws about the status of a rental property may require you to have the repairs made before renting the home. To be safe and to provide your renter with a good experience from the start, have any issues with the property fixed before anyone moves in.
4. Photograph the Property
The last thing you want is to have a detailed written record that cannot end an argument about whether or not a door was already damaged. Take a few minutes to walk around the property and photograph every room. If it has blinds, curtains, or closet doors, be sure to take a photo of them open and closed. The extra seconds to take the second picture may be the difference between proving the tenant damaged them and getting stuck replacing them out of your pocket.