"Wear and tear" is one of those landlord law phrases that is sometimes difficult to define. It is one of the leading causes of security deposit disputes in Utah simply because it is so vague.
A majority of states including Utah have individual versions of this landlord law, each with different wording. This is not an issue for you as a Utah landlord. Either way, the general idea remains the same from state to state. Tenant damage is set apart from normal wear and tear by stating that the property damage was a cause of mistreatment, or lack of care by the tenant(s).
Obviously, what defines these terms differs from person to person. An individual who is overly organized and tidy is more likely to have a different definition of mistreatment than an individual who is messy. The difference between wear and tear and damages beyond wear and tear is often blurred, and this can create a problem for your Utah rental property.
Thankfully with an experienced Utah property manager, it is possible to prevent these problems. So, how do you define wear and tear vs. tenant damages for your Utah rental property?
Defining Wear & Tear vs Tenant Damage
The Department of Housing and Urban Development has magnificent documentation for helping to define what is and is not normal wear and tear, which is not specific to Utah.
Normal Wear & Tear Examples
Following the definitions presented in the document, normal wear and tear include the following examples:
- Ripped or faded wallpaper.
- Peeling, faded, or cracked paint, including ceiling paint.
- Holes in the wall, including nail holes and pins.
- Cracks in the walls.
- Cabinet doors sticking.
- Hardwood floors in need of a coat of varnish.
- Cracked or loose tiles.
- Damaged window pane as a result of faulty foundations.
- Thin and faded carpet.
- Rusty shower rod.
- Lightly damaged enamel in the bathroom.
- Dirty or faded lamps and window shades.
- Clogged sinks resulting from old plumbing.
Excessive Wear & Tear Examples
When the tenant is the cause of the damages, the tenant is required to pay for the damages in contrast with normal wear and tear. Examples of mistreatment on the tenant's behalf include:
- Crayon markings, drawings, different paint colors, or wallpaper not approved by the landlord.
- Holes in the walls or plasterboard.
- Gouged or chipped hardwood flooring.
- Heavily damaged or ruined wallpaper.
- Broken windows.
- Doors ripped off of the hinges.
- Missing fixtures.
- Holes, stains, burns, or other damage to the carpets.
- Holes in the ceiling.
- Missing or cracked bathroom tiles.
- Clogged or damaged toilet from improper use.
- Damaged sink and bathtub, including chipped or broken enamel.
- Torn, stained, or missing lamps and window shades.
- Missing or bent shower rods.
Tenant Damage Repairs vs. Turnover Maintenance
As the property owner, you have a duty to oversee upkeep of the premises. This includes the standard turnover checklist when getting new tenants. You cannot bill the tenant for this in almost all instances.
All Utah landlords must have the property professionally cleaned when moving in new tenants. Professional cleaning should always involve subcontracting the job to a licensed cleaning company and should not be done by a landlord without the proper training and qualifications.
Subcontracting like this will make sure that the property is in top notch condition for the incoming tenant and will help you, as the landlord, more clearly define tenant damages.
As a Utah landlord, you are not allowed to charge the tenants for the cost of this cleaning. On the other hand, if the tenant did not clean the unit once during their time there, you could end up being charged more by the cleaners. This added bill is a result of the tenant's mistreatment and could be passed on to them.
If you expect your tenants to clean the property prior to their move-out, make sure to include that in the lease agreement.
Utah landlords do not need to subcontract their carpet cleaning to a certified company. Landlords are free to do it themselves. Tenants cannot be charged for a carpet cleaning unless the carpet is severely damaged.
Carpet damage is always a little bit of a gray area when it comes to property cleaning and property damage. The landlord will need to decide whether it's normal or excessive wear and tear, most often charging for the remaining life of the carpet if it cannot be cleaned out. Charging the tenant for a full carpet replacement is not possible unless there is proof brand new carpets were installed before move-in.
Carpets are often a returning issue for a majority of Utah landlords. It is relatively easy to damage carpet, and difficult to clean it. In the future, consider getting vinyl floors instead.
If you painted the unit shortly before the tenant moved in, and the walls are filthy, you may be able to charge for painting as this does not fall under regular wear and tear. This includes things like a large or thick build-up of dirt, craft paints, and drawings on the walls.
It is also important to note that if the tenant has been living at the property for 3+ years, you can't bill them for a repaint because at that point it is considered routine maintenance.
Every single light bulb should be working when a tenant moves into the property. On that note it is expected that every light is working when the tenants move out of the property. This means that the tenants bear the responsibility of replacing any light bulbs that go out during their lease.
Videos and Photographs
Capturing photos and videos of rental properties is considered standard by Utah landlords and renters alike. These photos and videos protect both the landlord and the tenants from fraud and are crucial in legal disputes.
Utah Landlords and tenants should always both take video and photographs of the rental property before anybody moves in. This gives both parties the opportunity to document any existing damage, test any appliances, and more.
For all Utah landlords and tenants the same process should be repeated by both the landlord and the tenants when the renters move out of the rental unit.
The tenants should take photos and videos right before they finish moving out. This gives them the chance to document the exact condition that they left the rental property in.
A Utah court judge will define normal wear and tear specifically for each dispute, and that ruling is final unless either party plans to appeal it.
As a finishing note on wear and tear vs. tenant damage, do your best to have a defined image in your head of the differences between the two.
Knowing the difference between wear & tear vs tenant damage is essential, but you also must recognize normal depreciation of a property. The value of appliances, carpet, and other items in the property decrease over time and their condition obviously worsen as well.
For example a broken ice machine in the refrigerator does not warrant a replacement cost taken out of the tenant's security deposit.
Understanding how to tell the difference between tenant damage and wear & tear is just the beginning of becoming successful for a Utah landlord. Accessing tenant damage is where property management companies excel in saving a property owner time and money time and time again.
We hope this information will be useful for you going forward when deciding how to manage your Utah rental property.