Defining and identifying normal wear and tear is something that even the most experienced property manager can struggle with, but it’s important to understand the difference between wear and tear on a property and tenant damage. In California, you are permitted to charge a tenant’s security deposit for any damage when they move out, but it’s not permissible for you to charge the deposit for wear and tear.
One of the best ways to help yourself is with a detailed inspection process at the time of move in and the time of move out. When you complete a thorough move in inspection report and take a lot of pictures, you’ll have an accurate and documented sense of how the property looks before the tenant moves in. After the tenant moves out, you can use the same report and take the same pictures to determine how the condition of the property has changed. Damage will be easy to see in the pictures, and you’ll be able to charge the security deposit accordingly.
Here are a few examples of normal wear and tear: small nail holes in the walls from where pictures were hung, sofa marks on the wall from pieces of furniture rubbing up against it, or small scratches in wood floors that are hard to see. These are things that happen to a home no matter who is living in it, and you cannot hold a tenant financially responsible for such items. On the other hand, large holes in the walls or huge gashes in floors can be considered damage, and you can require the tenant to pay for replacement.
Determining normal wear and tear is a matter of experience. We have done this for a long time, so we can usually identify when something is simple wear and tear and when it’s a reason to make a claim against the security deposit. You also need to employ reasonable standards that rely on common sense.
In addition to completing inspection reports and taking pictures, you should also communicate with your tenant. Explain what you consider to be wear and tear before the tenant moves in. If there are particular things you expect at the time of move out, let the tenant know what those things are. For example, if you want the carpets to be professionally cleaned, write that into the lease and let the tenant know that it has to be done before move out; otherwise the security deposit will be charged.
We would be more than happy to help you establish guidelines for normal wear and tear versus tenant damage. Please contact us at Action Properties, and we’ll tell you more.