The term wear and tear for the property market has been a difficult term to define, as it’s a matter of perspective. What seems like reasonable wear and tear to one might be excessive to another. It is essential that landlords realise the difference between what is considered normal wear and tear as opposed to actual damages.

A loose definition for wear and tear:

Deterioration that results from the intended use of a dwelling…but term does not include deterioration that results from negligence, carelessness, accident or abuse of the premises, equipment or personal property by the tenant, by a member of the tenant’s household or by a guest of the tenant.

Duplicitous landlord – tenants matters

There are always a few areas of concern when it comes to the landlord – tenant relationship.  

  1. Cleaning and Carpet care.

It has become somewhat common to charge for an initial cleaning service once the tenants has moved out (noted that the tenants knew about it).  This is even considered understandable from most tenant perspectives. The matter of question here is the amount that landlords deduct, where most tenants believe it often to be excessive.  The reality is that many landlords use the cleaning issue as a means to keep more back than actually allowed.

Landlords needs to be reasonable by only charging a day cleaning fee and for the carpets a receipt is to be given to the tenants as proof of the actual cost.

However, if you intended to get a cleaning lady and wash the carpets in between every tenant, then technically you aren’t allowed to charge for this.  This will be seen as normal expenses of your property business –  for these expenses there are other tax deductions that might be more appropriate.

  1. Painting  

Painting is another matter that many landlords and tenants can’t ever seem to agree upon.  It is for this reason that you need to ensure you and your tenants are on the same page, ensure this in the contract as well.  

Should your tenants paint, why yes sir, we discuss the matter of painting in more detail here

You need to remember that as a landlord every item has a life expectancy.  You can’t charge your tenant the full price to replace an item if the item was already half way through it life expectancy.  You can only charge for the percentage that the tenant has shorten the items life.

Let’s say your rental property is pet friendly and your tenants pet caused damages to the carpet.  As a landlord you are allowed to keep deposit money back to replace the carpet, but only the percentage that the carpets life has been shorten.  If the carpet was suppose to last 10 years and the dog has shorten it by 2 years, then you are only allowed to ask 20% of the replacement cost, not the entire item, seeing as the carpet was already 8 years old.

This principle works the same for all wear and tear matters, including painting.

Normal vs. Excessive Damage

Normal Wear & Tear:

Landlord’s Responsibility

Excessive Tenant Damage:

Resident’s Responsibility

A few small nail holes, chips, smudges, dents, scrapes, or cracks in the walls Gaping holes in walls from abuse, accidents, or neglect. Unapproved paint colors or unprofessional paint jobs. Excessive nail holes which need patching and repainting.
Faded paint Water damage on wall from hanging plants or constant rubbing of furniture
Slightly torn or faded wallpaper Unapproved wall paper, drawings, or crayon markings on walls
Carpet faded or worn thin from walking Holes, stains, or burns in carpet. Food stains, urine stains
Dirty or faded lamp or window shades Torn, stained, or missing lamp and window shades
Scuffed varnish on wood floors from regular use Chipped or gouged wood floors, or excessive scraps from pet nails
Dark patches on hardwood floors that have lost their finish over many years Water stains on wood floors and windowsills caused by windows being left open during rainstorms
Doors sticking from humidity Doors broken, or ripped off hinges
Warped cabinet doors that won’t close Sticky cabinets and interiors
Cracked window pane from faulty foundation or building settling Broken windows from action of the tenant or guests
Shower mold due to lack of proper ventilation Shower mold due to lack of regular cleanings
Loose grouting and bathroom tiles Missing or cracked bathroom tiles
Worn or scratched enamel in old bathtubs, sinks, or toilets Chipped and broken enamel in bathtubs and sinks
Rusty shower rod or worn varnish on plumbing fixtures Missing or bent shower rod or plumbing fixtures
Partially clogged sinks or drains caused by aging pipes Clogged sinks or drains due to any stoppage (hair, diapers, food, etc.), or improper use
Moderately dirty mini-blinds or curtains Missing or broken mini-blinds or curtain
Bathroom mirror beginning to “de-silver” (black spots) Mirrors caked with lipstick and makeup
Broken clothes dryer because the thermostat has given out Dryer that won’t turn at all because it’s been overloaded, or the lint trap was never cleaned out.
Worn gaskets on refrigerator doors Broken refrigerator shelf or dented front panels
Smelly garbage disposal Damaged disposal due to metal, glass, or stones being placed inside
Replacement of fluorescent lamps – or any light bulb designed to last for years of continuous use Replacement of most common light bulbs

Don’t gamble with your security deposit, know what you as landlord are and aren’t allowed.  Ensure that there is clear lines of communication and don’t ever keep information back because it might cause some immediate conflict.  It is always best the make sure that the landlord and tenants are on the same page of communication.

Written by Lizl Brink, Lizl is copywriter and designer based in Johannesburg, she is also a frequent contributor to the Mafadi blog, and as an Urban investor and rejuvenation shares a passion for urban regeneration, go check out her personal portfolio here
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