Property Management Blog

Security Deposits - Walls and Paint

Property Management Blog

You had tenants but now they’ve moved out. What can you charge them for any damage to the property? It’s not as straightforward as you might think. It’s not an exact science and there are a few things to consider. In this article, we’ll specifically address wall damage and painting.

Normal wear and tear are the landlord’s responsibility. The question is, what is normal wear and tear for walls and paint? Can tenants hang pictures or mount a TV without being charged for damage when they move out? Was the damage caused by negligence, misuse, or abuse specifically or did it happen through everyday normal living?

Minor scuff marks on walls are considered normal wear and tear. Most places consider an average of two nail holes per wall to be normal wear and tear. If a room has four walls, then eight nail holes might be considered normal and something that you would not charge a tenant to repair.

Larger holes like ones that are needed to mount TVs are generally considered damage and can be charged to tenants. Some landlords will have a wall mount already installed and provide for the tenants to use to avoid having each tenant install their own. Most tenants have TVs but occasionally someone comes along that does not want a wall mount because they don’t have a TV and it would be an eyesore. In this instance, you can remove the mount but instead of permanently patching and painting the hole just for the next tenant to want the wall mount again, sometimes you can put a photo to hide it while the tenant without a TV lives at the property.

Okay, you’ve determined that you need to paint because of tenant damage. Now you also need to consider how long the tenant lived in the property and how old the paint is. Some states spell out exactly how long paint is expected to last. For example, “the landlord is responsible for painting after two tenants or three years, whichever comes first.”

So, let’s say you have fresh paint, and a tenant moves in for a year. Then, without painting in between, you got another tenant for another year, and they just moved out. It’s been two tenants since the place was painted last, so the landlord is responsible for painting. It doesn’t say the landlord is required to but basically the tenant’s deposit cannot be charged for painting if it’s needed. Or you have a tenant for 5 years and the paint was new when they moved in. It’s been 5 years so you as the landlord are responsible for painting and not the tenant.

Some owners think that the tenant is living at the property, so “the tenants got the use of the paint, not me.” The landlord is getting use by leasing it to the tenant for a fee (rent), so even though the owner is not living in the home and enjoying the paint, they are getting use through renting it out.

When you do charge tenants for damage, you should remember that it should be prorated. For the length of time that you were expected but we’re unable to get use out of something is the percentage they should be charged. 

Let’s say paint is expected (estimated useful life) to last 3 years and you have a tenant that moves out and the place needs a new paint job and it’s only been two years. You had one year of remaining useful life left that you didn’t get because of the tenant. You must divide the remaining useful life into the expected useful life and that is the percentage that the tenant gets charged. In this example, the tenant should only be charged for a third of the cost of new paint. Say the cost is $1500, then the tenant charge would be $500 which is a third of the total cost. 

Not understanding what normal wear and tear is versus damage and landlords overcharging for damage because they don’t understand how remaining useful life gets factored into what the tenant owes are what get a lot of landlords sued when they overcharge their tenants for things that they shouldn’t be charged for by law.

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