In most jurisdictions, landlords can remove the cost of damage that ensues during your tenancy period from your security deposit. However, most jurisdictions have rules that prevent landlords from deducting those damages that are “normal wear and tear.”
Rental Unit Wear and Tear Lawyers
Removal of the Tenant
Several issues may arise during the removal of a tenant. Therefore, landlords must abide by the eviction or unlawful detainer laws in their state, or they can be held responsible for the illegal removal of a tenant.
Some problems that can ensue when removing a tenant after a court rules in favor of a landlord may include:
- Ejecting a tenant by changing the locks (i.e., a self-help eviction);
- Removing all of a tenant’s personal property from a rental unit without their consent and putting it on the street; or
- Physically getting rid of a tenant instead of calling the local sheriff’s department to remove the tenant.
A landlord must adhere to specific legal rights and duties when choosing a tenant to rent the property. For instance, a landlord cannot discriminate against a prospective tenant because of their race, religious belief, or sex. A landlord also cannot harass a tenant for any reason. If a landlord has a problem with a tenant, they must go through the appropriate legal channels to settle it.
In addition, a landlord cannot require a prospective tenant to submit a copy of their marriage certificate, a medical report, or a photo of themselves to start the rental process. A landlord cannot use discriminatory ads to list a rental property or hire a broker to do so on their behalf. Such actions are deemed to be unlawful under the federal Fair Housing Act.
A federal law known as the federal Fair Housing Act stops landlords and brokers hired on their behalf from discriminating against tenants who possess traits that are shielded by civil rights laws. Each state may also have its own fair housing laws that ban discrimination against tenants and prospective tenants.
Some additional examples of acts that constitute discrimination under the law can include:
- Refusing to rent property to an interracial couple;
- Refusing to rent property to an unmarried person;
- Refusing to rent property to married individuals who identify as the same sex; or
- Refusing to rent property to a prospective tenant because they wear religious garments.
Residential leases generally provide more rights to tenants than their commercial counterparts. In contrast, commercial leases offer little to no privileges to their tenants since they are usually signed by businesses, which the law views as being savvier than individual residential tenants.
Tenants with residential leases also tend to be more challenging to evict than commercial tenants.
In addition, residential lease terms are often shorter than those assigned under a commercial lease agreement. Lastly, the goal of a residential lease is to provide temporary housing for an individual. In contrast, the goal of a commercial lease is to rent the property for business-related objectives (e.g., office space).
Duties of the Landlord: Repairs and Maintenance
Landlords of residential rental units have a general duty to fix and preserve the premises for tenants. Under the implied warranty of habitability, a landlord must fix problems with hot water, electricity, heat, and vermin or rodent infestations.
A landlord may not have to repair minor property damage depending on the circumstances. This is particularly true if the tenant or one of their guests deliberately caused the damage.
For example, if a tenant punched a wall and created a hole, it would most likely be the tenant’s duty to fix it. If a tenant fails to make minor repairs before they move out, then the landlord may be able to keep their security deposit or sue for any subsequent damages caused by the initial harm.
Tenants’ Right to Have a Habitable Home
The most significant right afforded to a tenant when renting property is a tenant’s right to a habitable home. This right is formally known as the implied warranty of habitability. It refers to a tenant’s privilege to live in a secure, habitable home equipped with essential utilities like heat, hot water, and electricity. The privilege may also apply if a rental property has poor wiring, exposed electrical wires, holes in the floor, or is infested with bugs or rodents.
If a home is uninhabitable or an essential utility is broken, the landlord will be required to make restorations until the rental unit is repaired to reasonable living conditions. If the landlord refuses to fix any issues covered by this right, the tenant can lawfully refuse to pay rent or move out without liability.
Tenants’ Right to Privacy
Despite not being the property’s true owner, a tenant still has some basic privacy rights when renting a property from a landlord. For example, a landlord cannot enter the rental property without getting consent from the tenant first. Nevertheless, there are two exceptions to this rule. The first is if there is an emergency, such as if a pipe bursts. The second is if law enforcement has a warrant to enter and search the premises.
If a landlord needs to enter a tenant’s rental property for any other reason, they must deliver advance notice and get approval from the tenant first. For instance, if a landlord has to make restorations on the rental property, the tenant must consent and be notified when such repairs happen. A landlord must also get a tenant’s permission to enter the premises to show the rental unit to a prospective tenant.
You can locate all other privacy rights and conditions for tenants in the state-specific and local tenancy laws in a particular jurisdiction. Therefore, to learn more about a tenant’s right to privacy, the tenant should inspect the relevant laws in their location or consult a local real estate lawyer for further legal guidance.
What Are Some Examples of Acts That May Constitute a Wrongful Eviction?
A claim for wrongful eviction may occur if a landlord does not observe the correct legal procedures set out in their jurisdiction when evicting a tenant. This is also sometimes referred to as an unfair or a self-help eviction.
Some examples of actions that may constitute a wrongful eviction include when:
- A landlord endangers or threatens the health and safety of a tenant;
- A landlord shuts off a tenant’s utilities (e.g., gas, heat, electricity, water, etc.);
- A landlord nags or discriminates against a tenant;
- A landlord changes the locks on a tenant’s rental property without their consent;
- A landlord removes all of a tenant’s personal belongings from a rental property without their consent and places them on the curb; or
- Any other act considered to be prohibited under state law or local housing ordinances.
What Is the Difference between Normal Wear and Tear and Deductible Damage?
The following are some examples of normal wear and tear and deductible damages:
- Faded paint
- Old carpet that is either worn from age or has visible furniture marks
- Broken plumbing pipes
- Dirty blinds
- Faded curtains
- Bulbs that have gone out
- Pinholes, if they are not excessive
- Excessive holes in walls from hanging pictures
- Removal of decals or paint from the wall
- Tears in carpets
- Animal stains on the carpet
- Damaged windows
- Broken or cracked doors
- Clogged drains caused by misuse or negligent attendance
- Broken or missing blinds
- Flea elimination
- Excessive bathroom mildew
- Broken shelves or compartments in the refrigerator
- Excessive dirt or filth in the oven or stove
Should I Contact an Attorney about Security Deposit Deductions?
Suppose you are a landlord who is being challenged on security deposit deductions or are a tenant who feels your landlord has unfairly charged them. In that case, the advice of a landlord-tenant attorney can be beneficial. An experienced landlord-tenant lawyer can explain how the laws in your area affect your rights and duties.
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