Typically, landlords may use a tenant's security deposit for any cleaning or repairs necessary to restore the rental unit to its condition at the beginning of the tenancy. Landlords may not, however, use the deposit to cover the costs of ordinary wear and tear.
Pinning down exactly what normal wear and tear is can be difficult. When you have a long-term tenant, it's likely that more of the damage to the rental will qualify as normal wear and tear—in other words, even everyday use over a long period of time will have a detrimental effect on the unit. But just because there's damage doesn't mean that you can charge a tenant to repair it. The longer a tenant has lived in a place, the more wear and tear you can expect.
For example, if you put in new carpeting at the beginning of a tenancy, and you renew the tenant's lease every year for four years, when the tenant moves out you should expect that the "new" carpeting won't look new anymore—in fact, you might even have to replace it. But in order to hold the tenant responsible for the cost of replacing it, you'd have to show that the carpeting is in a condition that is far worse than could be expected after four years of use.
The best way to understand the idea of normal wear and tear is to look at some examples. The following chart outlines some common situations where damage is the landlord's responsibility versus situations where the damage is the tenant's responsibility.
Ordinary Wear and Tear: Landlord's Responsibility
|Damage or Excessive Filth: Tenant's Responsibility|
|Curtains faded by the sun||Cigarette burns in curtains or carpets|
|Linoleum stains caused by shower spray||Broken tiles in bathroom|
|Minor marks on or nicks in wall||Large marks on or holes in wall|
|Dents in the wall where a door handle bumped it||Door off its hinges|
|Moderate dirt or spotting on carpet||Rips in carpet or urine stains from pets|
|A few small tack or nail holes in wall||Lots of picture holes or gouges in walls that require patching as well as repainting|
|A rug worn thin by normal use||Stains in rug caused by a leaking fish tank|
|Worn gaskets on refrigerator doors||Broken refrigerator shelf|
|Faded paint on bedroom wall||Water damage on wall from hanging plants|
|Dark patches of ingrained soil on hardwood floors that have lost their finish and have been worn down to bare wood||Water stains on wood floors and windowsills caused by windows being left open during rainstorms|
|Warped cabinet doors that won't close||Sticky cabinets and interiors|
|Stains on old porcelain fixtures that have lost their protective coating||Grime-coated bathtub and toilet|
|Moderately dirty mini-blinds||Missing mini-blinds|
|Bathroom mirror beginning to "de-silver" (black spots)||Mirrors caked with lipstick and makeup|
|Clothes dryer that delivers cold air because the thermostat has given out||Dryer that won't turn at all because it's been over-loaded|
|Toilet flushes inadequately because mineral deposits have clogged the jets||Toilet won't flush properly because it's stopped up with a diaper|
For a comprehensive guide to landlords' (and tenants') responsibilities for cleaning and repairs, see Every Landlord's Legal Guide or Every Tenant's Legal Guide.
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