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Landlord/tenant disputes: The security deposit

On Behalf of | Aug 19, 2021 | Landlord Rights

The relationship between a landlord and tenant can be a tenuous, evolving thing. Some relationships run smoothly with the individuals only crossing paths and the beginning and end of the lease while some relationships are rocky from the outset. Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for a landlord/tenant relationship to turn sour and lead to heated disagreements.

The security deposit is one common source of friction. At the end of the lease, the landlord will assess the property and determine how much of the deposit will be used to fix problems and how much will be returned to the tenant.

How much damage is too much?

For many properties, the central factor in how much security deposit the landlord returns to a tenant is whether there is damage to the unit. While the landlord expects a certain degree of harm, he or she must thoroughly examine the condition of the unit and determine if the property is truly damaged, or the condition is simply normal wear and tear.

  • Normal wear and tear: Essentially, wear and tear is expected damage. The condition of the property will deteriorate due to the normal course of habitation. For example, flooring, fixtures or cabinets might begin to fade due to sun exposure. The finish on bathroom and kitchen fixtures might begin to wear away from years of use. Carpeting, hardwood, tile or vinyl flooring might show signs of use from small stains, scrapes or dents. In general, the landlord expects normal wear and tear due to the unit’s “lived in” status and does not attribute the harm to intentional abuse or neglect.
  • Damage: When the unit has experienced harm that will negatively impact the value of the property or the deterioration hurts the normal function of certain elements, the landlord often considers it to be damage. Harm that is abusive, neglectful or intentional goes beyond the scope of normal wear and tear. A broken mirror, holes in the wall, doors ripped off their hinges, missing fixtures, a broken toilet, a cracked kitchen countertop – these are all examples of damage rather than harm that occurs naturally.

While the goals might seem at odds, they are strikingly similar. The tenant would like to get their security deposit back at the end of the lease term and the landlord would like to rent the unit again with as little expense put into it as possible. Unfortunately, landlord/tenant disputes are commonplace. If a disagreement over the return of funds becomes heated to the point of legal action, it is important to seek guidance as soon as possible.