When a tenant moves out, going through the inspection process can be stressful for everyone involved. To minimize disputes, document the condition of the unit just before the tenant takes occupancy using a move-in checklist, and use the same checklist at move-out to assess any repairs that need to be made. Supplement the checklist information by taking photos or videos of the unit prior to handing over the keys to your new tenant.
Your renters are responsible for damages that are out of the ordinary, which you can deduct from their security deposit, but they’re not held accountable for the normal wear and tear on the property. This is where things get murky: What exactly defines normal wear and tear?
The following are a few general guidelines to help you determine whether damages to your property are the result of everyday use.
Carpeting generally has a limited lifetime, especially if it’s a light color. Normal wear and tear consists of shoe markings in the halls and main walkways, or light stains, which are expected over a period of a few years. Tenants who return the unit to you with the carpets heavily damaged — stained with pet urine or paint, for example — would be responsible for those damages. If the carpeting was new when the tenant moved in and is stained at the end of a one-year lease, this could also be a reason to deduct from a security deposit.
Many landlords include a provision in the lease stating that carpets will be professionally cleaned after move-out at the tenant’s expense, with the cost automatically deducted from the deposit, which can eliminate quibbling over minor dirt and stains.
Minor markings on the walls can be easily touched up or cleaned, but something that changes the condition of the wall — such as large nail holes, gouges or pen marks — could be considered damage beyond normal wear and tear. You may be able to specify in your lease agreement that tenants are not permitted to insert screws or nails in your walls. Some jurisdictions require landlords to paint interior walls after a set number of years (at their own expense), regardless of their condition, so check the requirements in your area.
Cracked tiles and broken hardware
Damages to these items can be a judgment call. One factor to consider is if they were old or new at the time of move-in. If the bathroom tiles were showing signs of wear and age prior to your current tenant, the cracking may be natural with more usage. However, if the majority of the tiles have cracked in a year, or if they were newly installed before move-in, your tenant would be responsible for the damage. Apply a similar policy to doorknobs, drawer pulls and appliances. If the items were worn before move-in, it’s unfair to charge tenants for wear or breakage that was inevitable due to age.
Stains on the carpet from urine (or any other pet excretion), dug-up yards, and scratch or chew marks on any surfaces aren’t considered normal wear and tear. When renting to tenants with pets, most landlords include a pet agreement in the lease and require a higher security deposit or a separate nonrefundable fee to cover any damages, as well as charging an additional "pet rent."
Although you cannot charge these types of pet fees for disablity assistance animals, you can nevertheless charge for actual damages done by that animal.
Dirt, dust and grime
It’s reasonable to request that tenants return the unit to you in a clean condition. Make sure you give them prior notification of what’s expected before a move-out so they have time to clean and make any necessary repairs before the walk-through inspection. If the home is left with dirty and smelly bathrooms, grimy countertops and expired food in the refrigerator, it’s reasonable for you to charge a cleaning fee.