What is Normal Wear & Tear with a Rental Property?

Renting has been a growing trend in recent years. In the wake of the Great Recession of the late 2000s, many families found themselves underwater with their mortgages, leading to record numbers of foreclosures. This created an increasing demand for rentals as previous homeowners were no longer able to qualify for a mortgage. The strong rental market has prompted a lot of homeowners to rent their properties rather than sell them.

While renting has its advantages, there are some drawbacks to becoming a landlord. The responsibility of maintaining the property, making repairs, and other headaches can create a lot of stress for property owners. And when a tenant decides to move out, the landlord has to clean the home and make sure it is in condition to rent again. This creates a dilemma for landlords: “what is considered normal wear and tear, and when should I deduct for repairs from the security deposit?”

What is “Normal Wear & Tear?”

Wear & tear refers to the deterioration of the property that occurs over time under normal conditions. Some examples of normal wear & tear may include:

  • Paint that gets faded over time;
  • Carpet that gets faded or worn thin, especially in high-traffic areas of the home or apartment;
  • Wallpaper that is faded or slightly torn;
  • A few minor chips, dents, smudges, scrapes, cracks, or nail holes in the walls;
  • Lamps or window shades that are dirty or faded;
  • Curtains or blinds that are moderately dirty;
  • Scuffed varnish on wood floors through regular use;
  • Dark patches that may develop on hardwood floors after they have lost their finish;
  • Doors that become sticky due to humidity;
  • Cabinets that become warped over time (usually due to humidity) that no longer close;
  • Window panes that become cracked due to a faulty foundation or the building settling;
  • Mold that develops due to lack of proper ventilation;
  • Loose grouting and loose bathroom tiles;
  • Malfunctioning appliances due to normal use or faulty equipment;
  • Clogged sinks or drains due to aging pipes;
  • Warn varnish on plumbing fixtures.

Essentially, normal and reasonable wear & tear refers to anything that occurs due to property or appliance defects or what would be expected to occur over time when someone is living in the home or apartment.

What is Considered “Excessive Tenant Damage”?

In Alabama, landlords are allowed to charge a security deposit of up to one month’s rent. There some exceptions, however. If the tenant has pets, there are changes made to the unit, or other there are other circumstances that create an additional liability for landlords, a higher security deposit can be required. Landlords can withhold a tenant’s security deposit (or a portion of it) for:

  • Unpaid Rent
  • Damage that exceeds normal wear & tear

Excessive tenant damage is damage that impacts the value, functionality, or usefulness of the property that does not occur naturally and is committed on purpose or because of neglect. Examples may include:

  • Damage cause by pets (e.g., torn carpeting or carpet stains);
  • Holes, stains, or burns on the carpet;
  • Ripped screens, broken windows, and broken window hardware caused by tenants;
  • Unapproved paint, wallpaper, drawings, or crayon markings on the wall;
  • Large holes in the wall caused by accidents, neglect, or abuse;
  • Water stains on wood floors;
  • Broken appliances caused by accidents, abuse or neglect;
  • Broken doors or doors with torn off hinges;
  • Cracked hardwood floors or cracked or missing floor tiles;
  • Broken toilet seats or broken bathtubs;
  • Cracked or broken mirrors.

Landlords in Alabama must return a tenant’s security deposit by first-class mail within 35 days after the tenant moves out. If a landlord deducts all or part of the security deposit, they must include an itemized written statement giving the exact reasons why part or all of the security deposit was withheld. If the deposit is being withheld for tenant damage, the statement should outline the damage that occurred and the approximate cost to repair it.

What to Do if you Have a Security Deposit Dispute

If you have a tenant that just moved out and there is a dispute about your security deposit, or you are not sure how much to withhold, it is best to speak with a skilled Alabama landlord-tenant attorney. An experienced attorney can thoroughly assess your circumstances and advise you of your legal options.

How Technology Has Changed the Mortgage Experience

In today’s increasingly digitized world, technology is rapidly changing the way we do business. This is especially true with the home-buying process. In the early days of the internet, real estate companies began posting their listings online. This gave buyers the ability to find and compare several properties from their computer, so they could identify the homes that fit their criteria before seeing them in person.

This technology has evolved over the years, with many listings now including detailed information, dozens of photos, and virtual tours. Today, over 90% of buyers go online to compare real estate listings as the starting point in their search for a new home.

The mortgage experience has also changed dramatically since the dawning of the internet. Traditionally, obtaining a mortgage has been a slow moving and paperwork-driven process. Technological changes have transformed the industry and provided a far more pleasant experience for home buyers looking to obtain a mortgage.

There are several ways that technology is changing the mortgage experience, here are some of the most significant:

Borrowers have More Choices

In the old days, there were very few options for obtaining a mortgage when someone wanted to buy a home. Usually, borrowers would go down to their community bank to apply. Today, the options are nearly endless. In addition to the banks, there are numerous mortgage brokers you can go to. Brokers typically work with multiple lenders, so they can shop around to find the right lender for their client. There are also countless internet-based lenders you can go to. All these choices have vastly increased competition, which is highly beneficial to consumers.

The Process is More Streamlined

Obtaining a mortgage is a complex process with mountains of paperwork and documents that need to be reviewed. Not to mention credit checks, employment verifications, and numerous other tasks. It used to take several weeks or longer to get a mortgage approved. With many of these tasks now done electronically, the process is much more efficient and streamlined. Today, borrowers can often get approved for a mortgage in a matter of days, allowing them to close on their purchase much sooner. Borrowers can also get preapproved. This gives buyers and sellers the assurance that, once an offer is accepted and everything else checks out, the buyer will have the financing to complete the purchase.

The Streamlined Process Reduces Costs

More than two-thirds of the mortgage process is now automated. This not only makes the process faster and more efficient, it reduces the costs associated with completing these tasks manually. Lenders can pass these savings along to borrowers in the form of lower closing costs.

Borrowers have more Convenient Signing Options

Traditionally, closings have occurred at the office of the title company, and many are still done this way. However, with the advent of electronic signings and remote notarization technology, signings can now be done wherever is most convenient for the borrower. This also makes it easier for borrowers and their attorneys to review the documents before signing them to help ensure that everything is in order.  

Reduced Errors and Greater Transparency throughout the Process

The combination of humans and mountains of paper documents creates numerous opportunities for missed signatures and other errors during the mortgage process. Electronic files are far easier to track, audit, and record. This makes it easier to check for missing files, missing signatures, and other mistakes. It also makes it easier to locate and review documents to make sure they haven’t been altered or tampered with in any way. These electronic files can be checked and reviewed at any time, providing far greater transparency during the entire process.

The Role of a Real Estate Attorney in the Mortgage Process

In Alabama, a licensed real estate attorney drafts and prepares all legal documents for a real estate transaction. If you are purchasing a home in Alabama and your offer is accepted by the seller, a real estate lawyer will handle all the closing documentation. In some states, closing paperwork can be handled by settlement agents or escrow agents. In Alabama, however, the law requires that this process be handled by a real estate closing attorney.