The most challenging part of the landlord and tenant relationship is the very end. In the beginning, both are eager to make a good impression. The tenant pays the security deposit and the landlord offers a clean unit.
The security deposit is for any necessary repairs when the tenancy or lease agreement comes to an end. However, what exactly does the deposit cover, and when should the tenant be charged a maintenance or repair fee?
The landlord must set exact parameters within the lease agreement of what repairs or maintenance the deposit shall cover. There are assets within the rental property that are subject to a certain amount of wear and tear. This should be the responsibility of the landlord. They include:
- Fittings and fixtures which include a fridge, dishwasher, microwave, and more
- Carpets and additional decorations
For carpeting, normal wear and tear may include some thinning of the carpet or dirt.
A landlord should budget for turnaround costs. As a landlord, it is worth knowing when you should not charge a tenant for cleaning carpets after they leave. A landlord can deep clean the carpets themselves, or hire a professional before a new tenant moves in. These costs should not be taken out of the security deposit and are relatively low if there is no damage done to the units or the items within the unit.
When the landlord can charge for carpet cleaning and damages
To assume that all tenants are the same and responsible would be naïve. Different tenants have different behavior, with some who will care for the unit, while others will run it down. If the carpet gets torn or has stubborn stains due to tenant use, the tenant is responsible for cleaning costs.
Stubborn stains may include coffee, wine, paint, urine or vomit from pets or children, and much more. If the only way that the landlord can get rid of the stains is by working with a professional carpet cleaner, deciding who pays for the cleaning can come into question. If the entire carpet needs to be replaced due to heavy stains or damage, the landlord is well within their rights to withhold the security deposit and use it for the replacement.
If you want to reduce the chances of cleaning or fighting with your tenants, you may want to consider installing vinyl flooring instead.
The burden of proof that the carpet needs to be cleaned or damaged is on the landlord. For a landlord to be able to charge the tenants for carpet cleaning and damages, the following must be done before the tenant moves in:
- Photographs – Both the landlord and the tenant should take pictures of the rental unit before the tenant moves in and after they move out. This is important so they can document any existing issues, especially excessive wear and tear, and damages. With the comparison of both, the landlord can find grounds to justify any charges they want to keep from the tenant’s security deposit.
- Age of the carpet - Ideally, a carpet's lifespan is ten years, partly covered with a warranty. At the end of the ten years, the landlord should explore the options available to get the carpet replaced. A landlord cannot charge a tenant for cleaning and damages if the carpet is nearing the end of these ten years or its estimated lifespan.
- Wear and tear – The landlord should stipulate what type of wear and tear is acceptable. Wear and tear are inevitable as the household heavily uses the carpet. By defining the parameters of wear and tear, it’s clear for all parties what to expect.
- Clear inventory – This is a written document that includes detailed descriptions and photographs of the carpet and other fixtures and fittings within the property. It describes the carpet state in all rooms, including even the most minor issues, for reference in the future. The tenant should review this inventory and agree in writing that all is in order before moving in.
- Purchase receipts – The receipts for the carpet's purchase should be scanned or saved as they indicate the carpet's value. If the landlord needs to charge the tenant to replace part or all of the carpet, this enforces how much can be charged and ensures that overcharging does not occur.
When the landlord cannot charge the tenant
Accountability is necessary when the landlord chooses to charge the tenant for carpet cleaning or damages. The landlord should share impeccable records with the tenant, including itemized deductions and receipts, especially if this requires the use of the security deposit.
To ensure that the landlord makes the right decision, they need to familiarize themselves with state laws' allowances. Each state will have laws and regulations that guide the landlords on rental practices. Where there is a lack of clarity, a property manager can be consulted.
In most states, the laws dictate that standard carpet cleaning is the responsibility of the landlord. Considerations also need to be made for normal wear and tear. Only in the cases that excess damage can be proven that the landlord can charge the tenant. Furthermore, the cost of cleaning the carpet or repairing the damage needs to be above the cost of standard cleaning services.
Suppose the tenant has already used a professional carpet cleaning company's services and can prove that they have done so. In that case, the landlord may have to face the costs of any additional carpet repairs since the tenant already hired a professional. This may indicate that it’s a good time to change the carpet as it may be nearing it’s end of life.
It is possible for the landlord to charge the tenant for cleaning a carpet or damages, though there needs to be evidence to support this. Record keeping is the best action that any landlord can take to ensure that charging the tenant is an option if need be.
After a tenant moves out, the landlord should follow their standard turnover checklist before a new tenant moves in.