Understanding what a tenant can be charged for at move out is imperative to staying out of legal trouble with your rental. This post will cover what is considered "Normal Wear and Tear" versus what can be considered "Tenant Damage."
Normal Wear and Tear
The term "normal wear and tear" is tossed around a lot when talking about tenants and property management. But it's difficult to create a single definition for it. The wear and tear on a house from a large family with 4 kids and 3 pets will be different than the wear and tear on a house from a single tenant. Normal wear and tear is a by-product of living in a home, so things like worn carpet, scratches in countertops, faded or discolored grout, and settling cracks in walls and ceilings would occur no matter who the tenant is. These damages are the result of the property aging, not the renters' behavior. As a landlord, you cannot use the tenant's security deposit to repair these things. The responsibility falls on the owner. Many things like paint and carpet have a limited life expectancy, so you should consider replacing carpet and repainting every few renters.
When a tenant is negligent or careless and causes damage to the property, the repair cost is the tenant's responsibility. Though worn down carpet is considered normal wear and tear, carpet that has been chewed through or ripped by a tenant's pet is considered damage. Other damages like burns on countertops, ripped window screens, holes in walls, and gouges into wood floors would often be the renter's responsibility to repair. Landlords can take the repair cost out of a security deposit to restore the damages back to the condition when the tenant moved in. You want to be careful not to use tenant funds to upgrade your property. For example, if your tenant burned your laminate countertop and you used the security deposit to pay for an upgrade to granite countertops, you could find yourself in hot water legally. To protect yourself, you should keep detailed records of inspections.
Avoiding Issues with Security Deposits
Missouri law is specific about how a landlord is supposed to handle a tenant's security deposit. The best way to avoid issues is to be detailed about the finances and fair in your judgments about renter's charges. One way to help with fairness is to use the "reasonable person test." Basically, imagine what 10 people would think about damage to your property. Would at least 9 of the 10 consider it tenant damage? Do the same test on what the tenant is charged. Would at least 9 out of 10 people consider that the repair fixed the problem, rather then upgrading the property? Asking yourself these questions can help to limit the issues you can get in with security deposits.
It is also import to keep financial records and itemize any deductions from the security deposit. Missouri law requires that landlords must send a letter to the tenant that itemizes all charges deducted from their security deposit. You will also want to protect yourself by using invoices from contractors instead of your judgment on what repairs will cost.
Identifying and charging for tenant damages can be difficult and sometimes stressful. The best way to get rid of that stress is to hire a quality property manager to take care of the repairs and security deposit for you. That way, you don't have to worry about how your tenants are taking care of your property and spend your time doing what you love.