What is Normal Wear and Tear in a Rental?
Moving out of your apartment should be a joy, but with so many things to organize and so many potential problems waiting to rear their ugly heads it can quickly turn into a nightmare. It is important that you know your rights as a tenant in California when you are moving out.
One of the most common problems of moving out of a rental or apartment relates to your security deposit refund in California and understanding what is normal wear and tear in your rental. You can’t have your security deposit deducted for what is normal wear and tear in your rental so it is helpful to understand what things you can and can’t have deducted from your security deposit. Under California law your security deposit must be returned within 21 days of the end of your lease unless the landlord is going to deduct something from your deposit which he has to let you know what is being deducted and how much and give you an opportunity to respond back to him, but all too often the process doesn’t run as smoothly as it should. Landlords often try to deduct money from the deposit to pay for repairs and restoration of furnishings, but without a well-written, air tight lease agreement it can be difficult for tenants to know if these charges are legitimate.
One of the most common charges faced by departing renters is for the replacement or restoration of carpets. As these items will suffer wear and tear over the years they’re likely to suffer some level of damage during a tenancy. However, it may not always be legal for landlords to lay the cost of their replacement on the renter. Because both the landlord and tenant have rights in California, you need to know what is your right as a tenant so that you can’t be charged for things that are not your responsibility.
Normal Wear and Tear
A standard lease assumes that soft furnishings such as carpets, curtains and drapes will suffer a certain level of normal wear and tear throughout a tenancy. Carpets will become scuffed and worn, and may pick up small stains here and there. It isn’t legal for landlords to charge for the repair or replacement of carpets displaying what could be described as normal wear and tear to the carpet. Instead, the landlord will be financially responsible for the replacement or repair.
Leave It as You Found It
While normal wear and tear can be a tricky thing to measure, the best way to avoid a dispute is to clean the property as thoroughly as possible before moving out. Landlords are entitled to retain a portion of your deposit to restore the property to the condition it was in the day you moved in, so they may charge you for carpet cleaning or claim that a portion of your security deposit counts as a ‘cleaning deposit’. The cleaner you leave the property, the less likely it is for this to occur.
If you feel you are being wrongly charged, File a Complaint with the Rental Protection Agency.
Repair or Replacement Due to Damage
If you caused damage to the carpets that goes beyond normal wear and tear – cigarette burns or rips, for instance – you may be liable for a portion of the cost of replacement. If your carpet was damaged when you moved into the property, it’s important to document the damage during inventory to avoid losing part of your deposit when you move out.
The “Useful Life” Rule
While in some cases it may be perfectly legal for a landlord to withhold your security deposit refund to pay for replacement carpets, you’ll rarely be liable for the full amount.
Under California law items such as carpets are charged only for the remainder of their “useful life”. That is, if a carpet was new when you moved in five years ago and the useful life of the carpet was judged at ten years, then if the carpet must be replaced when you move out you’ll only be liable for 50% of the cost – the remaining five years of its useful life. If the carpet is already older than its useful life, you won’t be liable for the cost of replacement.
It’s common for unscrupulous landlords to attempt to retain as much of the security deposit as they can, but with the right guidance and knowledge of renters law it should be possible to combat a dishonest landlord and secure the refund that’s rightfully yours.