The identification of normal wear and tear in rental property can be highly subjective, and it does not help that the Landlord-Tenant Act neglects to define it. As a landlord in Seattle, you need to use common sense when deciding what constitutes normal wear and tear and what constitutes damage. You should also pay attention to the courts and how they are ruling on this issue. If your idea of wear and tear is consistent with a judge’s idea of wear and tear, you’ll be okay.
Normal wear and tear is the natural deterioration of something due to continued use. There are certain things that would happen to your property regardless of its inhabitants. A tenant you have had for five years might wear down the carpeting, especially in high traffic areas. However, if you had lived in the property yourself, you would probably wear down the carpet in those areas as well. Small holes in the walls from pictures that were hung and marks on the paint from where a sofa rubbed up against the wall are also examples of normal wear and tear which you will need to expect and pay to fix.
Damage is something different. If there are scratches on your floors from pets, broken windows, missing doors or marker on the walls, the tenant will be responsible for paying for those things. You can charge the security deposit for anything you believe is tenant-caused damage.
The best way to protect yourself is to do thorough and detailed inspections at the time of move in and the time of move out. This will enable you to compare the condition of the property before the tenant moved in to the way the place looks when that same tenant moves out. Take pictures and videos and make notes of everything you see. This way, if you and your tenant have conflicting opinions on what is wear and tear versus damage, you can look at the documentation. It will also help if you find yourself in court. A judge can look at your evidence and easily determine that the holes in the carpet left by the tenant are well beyond normal wear and tear.
When you and your tenant get together to sign the lease, make sure you communicate what you expect at the time of move out. For example, you can require that the carpets be professionally cleaned. If the tenant does not clean those carpets before moving out, you can charge the security deposit for that cost.
A good way to avoid the confusion over what constitutes normal wear and tear is to work with a professional property manager. We deal with these questions on a daily basis and we know how to determine the difference between wear and tear and damage. If you have any questions about this, please contact us at Dave Poletti & Associates.