Tenant Damage: is a condition caused by the tenant that must be corrected immediately because it poses a safety or health hazard; or a condition that must be corrected to restore the unit back to its original condition (less normal wear and tear) or marketability.
In the 19 years that I have been inspecting properties, I have seen a lot of tenant damage- real tenant damage!. I have also seen a lot of dirt that landlords wanted to call damage and deduct money from the security deposit for.
Although there were times when I really sympathized with the landlord’s task at hand, I found myself explaining the difference between dirt and damage, and what is an allowable expense. Quite often, the main problem was that the landlord expected the tenant to live up to his or her expectations of good housekeeping.
Expecting a tenant to live up to your standards is not practical or legally enforceable. What clean means to you doesn’t necessasarily mean clean to your tenant. And, vice versa. What you see as dirt might just be seen as a “comfortable” home to them. A lot of people are comfortable living in their own dirt. As a landlord, you have to understand that everyone is not “just like you”.
As a landlord you have to accept the fact that people are different and if you’re in the business of being a landlord, you have to expect differences in lifestyles and personalities. Every business has its positives and negatives. Tenant damage and dirt (or filth) that leads to damage is one of the negatives that is a part of this business.
One of the most important things you can do is to be clear about your expectations before the tenant moves in. Lay out your expectations in the lease, the lease addendum, or the security deposit agreement, such as the one we have on our site. Make sure that you are not asking for anything unreasonable or legally unenforceable.
If the prospective tenant is still interested at this point, chances are they are accustomed to keeping a decent place.
Do the pre-move-in inspection with the tenant present and have them sign off on the condition of the property on the inspection checklist.
Take photos of every room and every appliance.
Typically, landlords may charge tenants for any repairs and/or cleaning that is necessary to restore the unit back to the condition it was in at the beginning of the lease. But landlords cannot deduct the costs of normal wear and tear repairs from a security deposit.
Below is a link to a chart that will help you to understand what is typically considered tenant damageas opposed to normal wear and tear on a property.
The left side reflects the most common landlord complaints that I have heard and the right side reflects the tenant damage that I have seen and treated as such in my reports.
This chart is only meant to be a guide.
Remember: The most effective way to prove tenant damage is to do the pre-move in inspection and document the condition of the property at the time of move-in with photos.