What Damages Can a Landlord Make You Pay?

You pay the rent, and so you expect your home to be reasonably maintained. Don’t forget you signed a lease, so you too, have obligations as a tenant. Keeping your home safe and livable are your landlord’s responsibilities, but issues will inevitably arise between you and a landlord, especially if you are a long-time renter, about damages.

Your lease states you must give the rental unit back in the same or better condition than you received it, normal wear and tear excepted. So, make sure you’re thorough during your MoveIn walk-through, take notes and pics for documentation. You cannot be charged for a previous tenant’s damage or structural issues that are the fault of poor construction. But your security deposit is there to cover damages you cause and don’t be surprised if even simple repairs exceed it.

When Your Landlord Can Make You Pay (A Very Short List)

1) If you break your lease, you will be on the hook for any rent payment through the end of your lease contract. Your landlord may choose to seek additional damages for expenditures associated with finding a replacement tenant.

2)  Normal wear and tear, like worn carpeting and nail holes in the drywall are exempt, so your landlord is responsible for bringing the property up to par between tenants. Significant damages are what your landlord will use your security deposit for and may seek to recoup extra expenses over and above. Large holes in the carpeting or wall (be careful removing your wall-mounted big screen TV), deeply-scratched flooring, broken windows or a cracked countertop will become your responsibility.

3) If the repairs can’t be covered by your security deposit, your landlord has a couple of options. First, they will send you an itemized bill showing the work that was completed which you are responsible for. If you contest the charges and/or cannot reach an agreement, the second option is suing you in court to recoup repair costs.

4) Appliances wear with age and eventually die. If that’s the case, that’s on your landlord. But if you break it, render it unusable or never clean it thus making it unusable, you can be held responsible for fixing/replacing it.

5) Your lease states that you MUST leave the property in as good or better condition than you received it, which includes taking all your stuff with you when you leave. If you leave behind a lot of junk or furniture expect to be hit with a bill from your landlord. Be aware that companies like GOT JUNK? charge by the hour plus a fee for the amount of space it takes up in their truck. That loveseat and dresser you didn’t feel like taking with you will cost around $150 to have removed.

6) Some landlords are fine with you repainting as long they get it back the way you got it. If you painted the wall in funky colors to match your trendy personality, you’d be required to repaint them to their original color before leaving. Failing to do so will result in a charge. Intense colors like reds, oranges and greens, will require primers or extra coats to cover.

7) If your landlord allows pets, know that you will be held accountable for their behavior. Pets may stain, scratch, and produce other natural odors that you need to be aware of. Non-pet people can find it disgusting, your landlord will have to replace and/or professionally deep clean to prepare the space for the next tenant.

Just Pay for Damages, It’s the Right Thing to Do

If the cost of repairs is reasonable, it’s better to just pay for them. You will not likely end up in court over $100-$200 because it just wouldn’t be worth the effort for your landlord. But if the estimate for repairs is several hundred dollars or more, be ready for a subpoena.

Can My Landlord Really Sue Me?

In a word, Abso-stinking-lutely! There’s a laundry list of reasons why your landlord can take you to court to recoup damages. While nobody likes going to court, if more civil tactics don’t work, lawsuits are effective. Especially if the amount of money you owe is large enough, it’s definitely worth their effort.

Court-Worthy Violations (A Very, Very Short List)

1) Rent Owed – If you’ve stopped paying your rent, you should expect problems from management. It starts with a reminder letter. Then an eviction notice. All the while, you may still end up in court for back payments.

2) Severe Property Damage – Contractors are expensive and repair bills skyrocket quickly. Don’t expect your security deposit to cover it.

3) Damages Caused by Your Pet – So your Alaskan Husky tried to claw and chew its way through the door because it was mad you left it home all day. No matter whether you’ve paid a pet deposit or snuck in a furry friend because of the no pet policy, they are your responsibility. As such, you’re responsible for any damages they may have caused. Chances are if the repair exceeds your deposit by a relatively small amount the landlord might just suck it up as a cost of doing business. Most problems will arise when you’ve really irked them or showed a total disregard for their property, especially when there are multiple costly repairs to attend to.

4) Random Damages caused by Others – A neighbor kid broke a window, so why do you have to pay? Well, remember that legal requirement about giving the property back to the landlord in the same or better condition blah, blah, blah…? It doesn’t matter who caused the damage, you are responsible.

When it comes to damages, if you’re in the wrong or your case is weak, it’s best to settle up with your landlord and avoid losing and also owing court costs. Avoid being bull-headed over something to make a point. Chances are that you will lose and your name will be placed in the official court record, which may affect your ability to rent in the future.

So the next time you see a cracked tile in the kitchen or bathroom, report it as quickly as possible before it has time to spread. If you’ve failed to keep to a routine cleaning schedule, perform a solid deep clean or hire some professionals after you’ve removed your stuff but before turning in your key. It’s best to avoid any uncomfortable situations that will put your landlord in a position that forces them to exercise their legal rights as a property owner.

Posted in: 2. Tenant Blog Posts, Maintenance, Repairs

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