What Repair Costs Can be Deducted from a Security Deposit?

security deposit damaged blindsCalifornia law allows landlords to deduct portions of the security deposit to cover the cost of damages caused by a tenant. However, landlords cannot deduct to repair normal wear and tear, or the normal depreciation of a property. It’s hard to determine what is considered damage versus normal wear and tear, but wise landlords soon learn the difference to avoid tenant disputes while receiving fair compensation for actual damages.

In short, your reputation and time aren’t worth the frustration or money it costs you to edge into the “gray area” of tenants deposits. Take out the minimum you can, and let tenants leave happy. Trust us, you’ll make more end in the end. Small minded owners, itemize to the penny, and tenants spread bad press about you. Next time you need a tenant, you better hope they don’t do their research on your companies policies.

What is Wear and Tear?
All rental properties are going to suffer some deterioration, even with the best of tenants. Wear and tear is the inevitable decline of a property’s overall condition due to time and usage.

Here are 10 examples of normal wear and tear:

  • Scuff marks or worn patches on linoleum
  • Wear patterns on carpet
  • Carpet seams unglued or unravel
  • Warping of doors and windows
  • Wall dents from door handles
  • Broken strings on blinds or curtains to t
  • Cracked light switch plates
  • Cracks in walls or ceiling from settling
  • Sun-faded or heat blistered blinds or doors
  • Wobbly toilet

These and similar conditions should never be deducted from the tenant’s security deposit because they represent common wear and tear issues. Instead, landlords should plan on covering these costs involved in refurbishing the rental unit for the next tenant.

What is Damage?
Damage to a rental property occurs as a result of unreasonable use, abuse or accidents. This can also include intentional alterations that the tenant made without approval. Even if the damage wasn’t made by the tenant, but rather one of their guests, the tenant is still responsible for the cost of repairs.

Here are 10 examples of damage:

  • Holes or tears in linoleum
  • Burns or oil stains on carpet
  • Pet urine stains on walls and carpet
  • Holes in walls not from doorknobs
  • Torn or missing curtains
  • Broken window or missing screens
  • Watermarks from overflowed sink or bathtub
  • Cuts or burns on countertops
  • Unauthorized painting
  • Broken toilet seat, tank or handle

While the specifics differ state to state, in general, a landlord must include a list of deductions along with any refunded portion of the security deposit. If the landlord has done a thorough move-in and move-out inspection with the tenant, there should be few surprises on either side.

Security Deposit Disputes
Unfortunately, disputes often arise when a tenant defines a deduction as wear and tear while a landlord considered it damage. A tenant may have a strong case if he or she can show that a landlord took a deduction for damages on something that is actually normal wear and tear.

As long as the landlord can give reasons for a reasonable interpretation of the differences between basic and normal wear and tear versus accidental or intentional damages, and outline the damages to the tenant during the move-out inspection, disputes can be minimized.

Other examples of normal wear and tear include:

  • Dirty carpets. Carpets that are dirty are not subject to withholding a portion of a security deposit. Dirty carpets are considered normal. However, removing urine stains from a pet is not considered normal and the costs can be covered by the security deposit.
  • Faded drapes. Fading is a normal occurrence. Rips in drapes, however, are not considered normal and thus any repairs or replacements can be covered by a security deposit.
  • Water-stained tiles on a bathroom floor are normal wear and tear whereas broken tiles are not.

Let us handle the management of your Chico property and we do deposit refunds in accordance with all the laws and best practices.