A security deposit is often used as a protective measure in a lease agreement to cover unpaid rent, damages that exceed normal wear and tear, and other factors.
However, some landlords tend to make the wrong security deposit deduction list, which exposes them to legal problems once the tenant moves out.
Knowing what to deduct from security deposits can be tricky at first, especially if you're dealing with your first rental property. Thankfully, we're here to help.
What can a landlord deduct from a security deposit? This article will answer this question and provide you with all the information you need about the topic.
About Wear and Tear and Damage
Ideally, a landlord's goal should be to return the full security deposit to their tenant. Returning the entire amount means there wasn't further damage to the property besides normal wear and tear.
Deducting from a security deposit often means having to deal with repairs, which take both time and money.
Considering that, it's still important to note that there are a few factors that a landlord can deduct from the deposit once the tenant moves out of the rental property. In order to avoid any misunderstandings, you should be able to identify what those factors are.
Now, there are two primary terms when it comes to making a security deposit deductions list: wear/tear and damage. Understanding the difference between the two will help landlords deduct from a deposit more efficiently.
What's Considered Wear and Tear?
Wear and tear are considered any small damages that come as a result of using the property as usual. In other words, the tenant typically isn't responsible for the damages.
Normal wear and tear can include:
- Scuffed floors
- Worn carpets
- Chipped paint
- Loose taps
- Cracked doorframes
- Dirt in the windows
What's Considered Damage?
On the other hand, "damage" represents anything that damaged the property severely. In these cases, the tenant could be responsible for paying for the repairs through security deposit deductions.
Some common instances of "damage" include:
- Burns on counters
- Deep stains on carpets
- Scratches on the floor or windows
- Broken blinds
- Large holes and cracks in walls
- Broken appliances
- Broken doors
Why Are Disputes So Common?
Unfortunately, tenants and landlords don't always agree on what's considered damage or regular wear and tear. In severe cases, both parties may even take the case to a small claims court, which will take more time and money from everyone.
The best way to approach the situation is to communicate with your tenant before signing the lease to define what's considered deductible damage regarding the rental unit. That way, you're less likely to have a dispute once the tenant moves out.
It's important to note that landlords can also deduct from a security deposit if the tenant fails to send every rent payment owed, which can also create a dispute. However, these cases tend to be more straightforward than those involving damages to the property.
What Can You Deduct from a Tenant's Security Deposit?
You, as a landlord, are free to establish your expectations when renting your property. Once the tenant signs the agreement, it means they agree with your terms, making them less likely to argue when you want to make a deduction from the security deposit.
Generally speaking, you can make deductions for any project required to make your unit look like it was before the tenancy started, as long as the damages exceed normal wear and tear.
On the other hand, if the tenant made any paint or lighting upgrades without your permission, you can also make a deduction from the security deposit.
Let's take a look at some examples of what can be considered damage/wear and tear. You can use this guide to make your security deposit deductions list.
Before jumping into the list, remember: Damage is supposed to be the tenant's responsibility, whereas regular wear and tear is supposed to be the landlord's.
In some special cases like replacing carbon monoxide detector batteries/smoke detector batteries, for example, both parties would need to address whether these batteries need replacement because of their age or because of an external factor, although it typically is because of their age.
Here are some examples of what can be considered damage or excessive filth in a rental unit:
- Broken tiles in a bathroom
- Large holes in a wall
- Broken door hinges
- Deep rug stains
- Water damage on walls, ceilings, or floors
- Sticky interiors or cabinets
- Missing or broken mini blinds
- Stained mirrors
- Over-loaded/damaged dryer
- Clogged toilet because of the tenant's negligence (i.e., flushing a diaper)
- Excessive dirt or filth in the shower, sink, or toilet
- Excessive mold or mildew growth
- Clogged drains because of negligence
Ordinary Wear and Tear
Now, here's a list of damages that can be considered "normal:"
- Faded paint or wallpapers
- Dirty curtains, blinds, or windows
- Broken plumbing due to regular use
- Furniture marks on the carpet
- Rug wear
- Wall dents from door handles
- Faded curtains
- Broken appliances because of old age or internal problems
- Warped doors because of moisture, temperature, or age
- Warped windows because of natural glass flow
- Broken lightbulbs
- Replacement batteries for a carbon monoxide detector or smoke detector
- Clogged toilets because of mineral deposits in the jets
- Faulty dryer because of a worn thermostat
- Worn gaskets in the refrigerator doors
- Nail holes in a wall
Can Tenants Sue If They Don't Get Their Security Deposits Back?
It depends on the reason why the landlord is withholding part of the security deposit. Landlords often send an itemized statement with all the damages they're deducting, and if the statement is listing damages that exceed wear and tear, they may be legally entitled to keep the deposit.
On the contrary, if the tenant finds the landlord is withholding the security deposit unreasonably, they may seek legal advice. This is why it's so important to learn more about all the rental laws for each state.
What Can Tenants Do?
There are many things the tenant can do to try to get their full deposit besides keeping the property in pristine condition. Those include:
- Sending proper notice before leaving.
- Conducting a pre-move-out inspection to ensure there are no hidden damages to the property.
Still, it's important to communicate with the landlord to ensure there aren't any misunderstandings after they inspect the property themselves.
Bottom Line - Learn More About Rental Laws
The key to having a healthy lease term is to educate yourself on the rental laws for your state; that way, you will have a better idea of what you can deduct from the deposit once the lease ends.
Moreover, you must do your best to create appropriate and detailed lease agreement documents so that the tenant understands all your terms before signing. If you're looking for help drafting your legal forms, DoorLoop is the right place to start.