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.