But should landlords always pay for replacing ruined carpets? Can they ever charge tenants to replace them?
Here’s what landlords need to know about carpets, security deposits, and charging tenants.
Damage vs. Normal Wear and Tear
Over time, carpets inevitably suffer from “normal wear and tear.” This includes discoloration and thinning in areas that see the most foot traffic.
By law, landlords may not charge tenants for normal wear and tear. If the carpet is just dirty then you as the landlord must pay for it to be cleaned.
Damage, however, is typically caused by a single action or incident, or repeated misuse. Examples include stains and rips. With serious damage or stains, the landlord has the right to charge the tenant for replacement or cleaning costs. Should a tenant refuse to pay, you can withhold part of his/her security equivalent to the amount needed to replace or clean the carpet.
When Landlords Should Pay for Carpets
Under normal circumstances, the landlord should pay for regular carpet cleaning services. These costs are part of the standard turnover expenses. Landlords should budget for these when calculating rental cash flow, to avoid surprises. In many cases where security deposit disputes move to court, landlords end up losing. Landlord-tenant laws prohibit rental property owners from withholding security deposits to cover standard carpet cleaning.
If the carpet isn’t permanently damaged the tenant shouldn’t bear the cost of replacing it. Therefore, any carpet cleaning/replacement cost due to normal wear and tear is the responsibility of the landlord and not the tenant.
When to Charge Tenants for Carpets
If the carpet is stained or otherwise damaged beyond normal wear and tear, the tenant should pay for cleaning or replacement. In this case, the landlord has the right to deduct the cost from the tenant’s security deposit.
Damage resulting from pet urine, deep stains, paint, or oil requires extra hours and resources to clean. The cleaning cost, in this case, often exceeds the standard cost of a routine carpet cleaning. Thus, the landlord is justified to withhold part of the security deposit to cover the additional cost. However, the landlord must prove that the tenant caused the damage.
Some landlords include clauses specifically addressing carpet cleaning or replacement on the lease agreement to avoid security deposit disputes when the tenant is moving out. This ensures that the tenant is fully aware of what is expected of them before signing the lease. However, if the tenant gets the carpets cleaned professionally before vacating the premises the landlord shouldn’t deduct the basic cleaning fee from the security deposit.
Note that the rules on security deposit deductions differ from one state to another. As a landlord, you should familiarize yourself with the laws touching on this in your state to avoid close with the law. Alternatively, you can hire a property manager to take the burden off your shoulders.
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What If the Tenant Objects?
When tenants move out, the landlord must either return their security deposit in full or provide them a written breakdown of all deductions. Landlords must do this within a certain number of days, which varies by state.
If a tenant objects to a deduction from their security deposit, they must file in small claims court. There a judge will decide whether to uphold the security deposit deduction or force the landlord to refund it, perhaps with penalties or covering the tenant’s legal fees.
So, pick and choose your battles carefully, when deducting from a security deposit.
How to Calculate Security Deposit Deductions for Carpets
Since a security deposit isn’t part of the rent, you need to follow the right protocol in justifying the reason you withheld it. Follow these steps when you deduct carpet damages from the security deposit.
1. Take Photos at Move-In & Move-Out
Before a new tenant moves in, you should document the condition of the property. That includes both taking photos (with time stamps!) and filling out a Move-In/Move-Out Condition Statement (which we include in our lease agreements).
Provide copies of these photos to the tenant, to demonstrate transparency.
Upon move-out, repeat the process, with the same condition statement and taking new photos. These pictures are compared to the state of the house when the tenant is moving out to determine the extent of the damage caused by the renters, if any.
2. Document the Carpet’s Life Expectancy
The life expectancy of many carpets is about ten years. You ought to keep tabs on the carpet’s life expectancy to know when it is due for replacement. The tenant is not responsible for replacement of the carpet if it has outlived its life expectancy. Be honest about this when drafting the lease agreement to avoid disputes in the future.
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3. Calculate the Total Security Deposit Deduction
If irreparable damage was caused by the tenant then he or she has to pay for a replacement. However, they don’t bear all the costs. You must factor in the age of the carpet and its remaining useful years during the calculations. The tenant only pays an amount equal to the value of the carpet for the remaining useful years. Also, this is based on the amount you had spent purchasing the carpet.
In short, if the tenant lived in the property for nine years, you can’t charge them the entire price for replacing all the carpets in the unit just because of a coffee stain.
4. Send the Security Deposit Deduction Breakdown
If you deduct part of the tenant’s security deposit to pay for damages to the carpet you must send a written notification, before the expiration of the agreed period to refund the deposit.
This notification should specify the amount being withheld, the damages, pro-rata calculation breakdown, and the remaining balance to be refunded (if any).
Whether a landlord can charge tenants for carpet replacement or cleaning depends on the cause of the problem and the condition of the carpet at the start of the rental agreement. Include carpet damage explicitly in your lease terms to prevent disputes.
Remember, “normal wear and tear” is gradual. Damage is caused from a single incident or misuse.
If your tenant threatens to take you to court over a security deposit deduction, consider mediation or negotiating a compromise. Settling the matter fast allows the tenant to move on and the landlord to focus on fixing the property in readiness for another tenant.♦
Have you ever charged a tenant for carpets? What happened?