When your tenant moves out of your property, you can expect turnover repairs touch ups. You may want to paint the walls, clean the carpets, and maybe even replace the appliances that are looking old and worn. These are the expected responsibilities and associated costs that are required before a new tenant can move into your home.
As the property owner, you’ll be responsible for any of those costs that are due to normal wear and tear.
Damage, however, is paid for with your tenant’s security deposit. You can hold your tenants accountable for damage. But, how do you know the difference?
Mistaking wear and tear for damage is not something most rental property owners want to do. The penalties for unlawfully charging a security deposit can be steep, especially in California.
Sometimes, as you’re evaluating the condition of your property after a tenant has moved out, it’s not always clear whether you’re looking at wear and tear or damage.
This often feels subjective, but with experience comes a bit more certainty. We’re sharing some of the things to look for when you’re deciding what you’re responsible for at the end of a lease term.
Take a look at how we manage to separate and identify normal wear and tear. If you’re a landlord or an investor in San Diego, it’s crucial that you know the difference between damage and wear and tear.
Here’s what we can tell you.
Inspection Reports are Everything
Conducting move-in and move-out inspections will help you determine what wear and tear actually looks like in your property. The tension usually comes in identifying what’s wear and tear and what looks like damage. With a solid and detailed move-in condition report, you’ll easily see damage. It will stand out.
Wear and tear is everything else.
Before a new tenant someone moves in, do a thorough inspection and document everything with photographs and video. You’ll want to capture how the floors look, the walls, the ceilings, and the appliances. You’ll note the wear and tear when you’re comparing the home’s condition at move-out.
What is Normal Wear and Tear in San Diego Rental Homes?
When you see scuff marks on walls and floors, you’re looking at normal wear and tear.
Generally, the agreed-upon definition of normal wear and tear is the basic deterioration in a property. Every system, function, and detail, whether we’re talking about appliances, paint, water heaters, or outlets, has a shelf life. Nothing will last forever, and that’s due in part to normal wear and tear. When people live in a house, it begins to wear.
Additional examples of normal wear and tear might include the following situations you detect at your San Diego rental property during a move-out inspection:
- You might find small nail holes in the walls, especially in the living room or bedrooms, indicating pictures had been hung there.
- Grout may be loose or dirty between tiles on floors and in showers.
- Doors and cabinets might close funny or warp if humidity levels are high.
- Faded paint from sunlight and age.
- Faded, dented, or dusty blinds in the windows.
- Scuffs or dents in walls behind doors (from door handles).
- Carpets with some furniture marks.
- Slight scrapes or marks on a hard floor.
- Finishes wearing away, staining, or rusting.
These are not things you would normally charge for when a tenant moves out and you’re preparing the property for a new resident. This inevitable physical decline occurs during the course of a tenant’s occupancy.
You also have to think about variable factors unique to you. Property age counts; an older home is likely to have more wear and tear than a new construction condo. There’s also tenant longevity. The longer a tenant occupies your property, the more wear and tear can be expected. If a tenant has been in place for 10 years and the walls have not been painted in that entire decade, you’re going to expect that you’ll have to repaint before a new tenant moves in.
How Long Will Systems and Appliances Last?
You have to consider life expectancy when you’re thinking about wear and tear in your rental home. Things are going to break and deteriorate. This happens regardless of who is living in the home and how they’re treating the property.
If you’ve had the same refrigerator for 20 years, you should consider replacing it instead of repairing it over and over again. Water heaters will be good for about ten years, but then you’ll want to replace them before there is rusting and leaking. Carpet will need to be torn out every five or seven years.
These are all wear and tear items unless there has been abuse and neglect that’s led to the damage of your property.
Damage is Different
When is it not normal wear and tear?
Damage, while not wear and tear, is also defined as something that’s worn down or deteriorated. It may be broken. If it cannot be repaired, it will need to be replaced.
The difference is that the tenant caused it because of negligence, abuse, or carelessness. Something like a broken dishwasher door could be accidental, but if the dishwasher broke because a tenant’s child was using the dishwasher door as a springboard, that’s damage. Unlike general wear and tear, damage will harm the value, usefulness, or normal functioning of your rental property and its systems.
It’s not something you should reasonably expect when renting to tenants.
You wouldn’t expect broken windows or doors ripped off their hinges. This is not the result of normal, everyday use.
In the case of damage, you’ll be able to hold tenants accountable. You can withhold money from the security deposit to pay for the damage. Just make sure it’s documented. You need to provide an itemized list of what you’re spending and why. You’ll need to provide an itemized list to your tenant that explains why they aren’t getting the full deposit back – or any deposit at all.
Complying with California Security Deposit Laws
There are specific reasons for which you can withhold all or some of that security deposit. These are:
- Unpaid Rent
- Damage in Excess of Normal Wear and Tear
- Cleaning Bills
Those damage deductions need to be well-documented.
If you have withheld any portion of your tenant’s security deposit, you’ll have to provide a written itemized statement along with the portion of the security deposit that the tenant is getting back. This statement must specifically list each reason for deduction along with the amount deducted. If you’re deducting for damage, we recommend you include invoices that will reflect detailed and accurate costs.
Send the security deposit and/or the itemized written list to the tenant’s last known address. Part of your move-out process should be collecting the forwarding address. In California, you have to return the deposit and any itemized accounting within 21 days of move-out.
How to Minimize Wear and Tear and Prevent Damage
Wear and tear will happen. But, when you have a great tenant living in your property, and you’re getting inside the home from time to time to take care of preventative maintenance, the wear and tear that occurs should not be anything outside of the ordinary.
To protect the condition and value of your investment over the long term, you’ll want to prioritize those preventive and routine repairs. This will help you slow down the deterioration.
Routine inspections can also help you keep an eye on your property, which may not prevent the wear and tear but will at least alert you to it. When you can respond to it right away, you’ll protect the condition and the value of your property. You won’t put your investment at risk of deferred maintenance, which is always more expensive and difficult to manage.
Once you’ve placed a qualified San Diego tenant, it’s a good idea to inspect the home once a year. This is not easy. Tenants have a lot of rights in California, and one of those rights is to the quiet enjoyment of their home. You cannot simply walk up to the property and expect to be able to take a look around. Conducting a preventative maintenance walk through, however, can be reasonably expected once during the course of a lease. This is your opportunity to identify any wear and tear and mitigate any damage.
You’ll be able to look for deferred or unreported maintenance, and you can talk to your tenant about how things are going at the property. There’s less of a chance you’ll be surprised by the amount of wear and tear that’s occurred during the tenancy.
A good tenant relationship will also help you manage wear and tear. You’ll find that tenants who feel supported and respected are more likely to pay rent on time, take care of the home they’re living in, and work with you to maintain it.
Questions about wear and tear? We can answer them. Please contact us at Chase Pacific Property Management & Real Estate Services.