Ask Lucas 010: How Much Can a Landlord Charge for Carpet Damage?
Pete, a tenant from Portland, says his landlord is trying to charge him for the entire cost to replace the carpet. However, the carpet wasn’t new when he moved in. How much can the landlord charge Pete, and isn’t carpet damage considered “normal wear and tear”? If not, what is the best way to calculate Pete’s responsibility?
Lucas: Hey, what’s up everyone? This is Lucas Hall from Landlordology and Cozy. Welcome to the tenth episode of Ask Lucas. It’s a bite-sized Q&A show where I answer your questions about landlording and property management. The way this works is if you have a question that you want answered just leave that question in a voicemail recorded on Landlordology.com and I’ll answer it in this podcast. Our next question is from Pete in Oregon. Let’s hear what he has to say.
Pete: Hi this is Pete from Portland. I am moving out of an apartment, I’ve lived there for about four years, it has carpet and my landlord wants me to pay for replacing the carpet but the carpet itself was pretty gross when I moved in, and I wanted to know if that’s legal, how much I am required to pay for it, etc. Thanks.
Lucas: Hey Pete, happy Labor Day and thank you so much for your question. That’s an awesome one that I think a lot of people are dealing with, especially around this time of year. September first is a huge move-in / move-out time for tenants across the country. School systems start up again and vacations are stopping and so there’s a lot of movement around this time. The carpet is always an issue that comes up between landlords and tenants. I’m going to give you my opinion. Each county or state might have their own law on it, but to be honest I’ve never seen a law or statute that actually regulates how much a landlord can charge a tenant for carpet, and how often the landlord must change the carpet. With that said, a carpet is really just another asset in a rental property, just like a fridge, microwave, or dishwasher. All of those assets, appliances, or things that they go through normal wear and tear. Anything that goes through normal wear and tear will eventually break down. A tenant can never, ever, ever, ever be held responsible for normal wear and tear.
It doesn’t mean that you aren’t responsible for some, but you can not be held responsible if you just used it in the same way that an average person used it and didn’t cause any excessive damage beyond normal wear and tear. When it comes to carpets, what that looks like is, there’s general padding on the carpet, matted down areas where there’s high traffic walking or just general dirt even though you might have vacuumed it, lets say every week which would be a normal maintenance, and there’s no stains, no mess stains, then that would just be normal wear and tear and the landlord shouldn’t charge you for anything. If there are bigger stains, lets say they spilled coffee, soup, or maybe a kid might’ve dumped Hershey’s syrup on the carpet and it didn’t come up, if there’s soiled stains that were beyond normal wear and tear, beyond common sense then the landlord can actually charge you to clean that section, or if it’s bad enough, actually replace that section of the carpet at their expense.
However, … It does get complicated. However, that bit of carpet can only be charged to you for the amount that you stole from the landlord. When I say stole I don’t mean you actually stole something, robbed him, but you really did cut the life of that carpet short if he had to replace it because of a massive stain that you had on it. Again, this is not a law or statute, this is just what I’ve seen typically how most courts tend to look at this situation. Let’s use some examples. Let’s say you moved in, you said you’d been there for four years, and the carpet was disgusting when you moved in, well okay, that means it’s had some tenant use beforehand and it wasn’t really kept up. Let’s assume the carpet has a life expectancy of maybe ten years. Let’s assume it’s a really great carpet. High quality carpet is able to last ten years, according to the manufacturer, under normal maintenance.
Let’s say there was a tenant in there for four years before you and a tenant … and you were in there for four years so that means the carpet’s eight years old. Generally speaking, that’s usually how long a carpet lasts, especially in a rental, but let’s assume, just to give the landlord some credit, that it had two more years of life left on it because that was the manufacturer’s life expectancy. If you damaged it beyond what … it won’t last another two years then you would be responsible for those two years that you took from the landlord because you soiled the carpet. If he were to buy another carpet that was of equal stature, equal quality, equal make, equal design, a very similar carpet with a ten year life expectancy, then you would be responsible for two-tenths of that carpet’s price because you stole two years of the ten years that it was expected to live. I hope that makes sense, basically one fifth in your situation.
If the carpet costs a thousand dollars, the new carpet, then you would be responsible for two hundred dollars of that. I think that’s the most fair way to calculate it and the most common way that I see courts and judges calculate it as well. Because the carpet wasn’t new when you first moved in you could also argue that the tenants before you took off two of those years, or maybe they took off one of the years because it wasn’t in great shape when you got there. You could probably argue that a little bit more. That’s the way I would approach it with your own landlord, and give him a proposal and just say, “I’d like to offer to pay a hundred dollars or two hundred dollars” or you could even use the fraction and say, “One fifth of the cost” and then tell him how you calculated it.
Anyway, good luck man and be sure to take lots of pictures of your new apartment when you move in so that you can document exactly how the carpets look and where the stains are so that when you move out you can actually prove to your landlord that, “Hey, listen, that giant stain in the corner, that was already there when I moved in. Look, here are the pictures.” Good luck, take care, and hit me up next time if you have another question. Thanks.
Ask Lucas is brought to you by Cozy which provides end-to-end property management software for landlords. I use Cozy personally in my own life to accept rental applications, screen the tenants, and then automatically collect the rent online. I automate my rental properties with Cozy, and I love it. It’s really changed the way I do my business. Check it out at Cozy.co.