Inspecting a property after your tenant has decided to move out can be nerve-wracking. Once all the furniture is gone and the art taken off the walls, a multitude of rental sins tend to become evident. You never really know what you’re going to find. Your rental could be near-pristine with only a few dings in the paint, or have huge chunks torn out of the plaster and stains on all the carpets. But what’s the difference between normal wear and tear and property damage? 

Most lease agreements have separate provisions for damage compared to wear. Identifying the difference can save you a lot of money on repairs. You don’t want to be on the hook for damage a negligent renter caused because you think it’s just regular wear and tear. On the other hand, if you accidentally charge your tenant for everyday wear and tear and they take it up in court, you could deal with hefty legal fees. So how do you know whether the issues in your rental are damage or wear and tear? 

Normal Wear and Tear

When considering how to define normal wear and tear, one thing to keep in mind is your state or city’s local legislation. Oregon law defines normal wear and tear as any deterioration resulting from normal use. This doesn’t include any damage that might have occurred due to an accident, carelessness, negligence, or abuse. 

Generally, normal wear and tear involves any of the following: 

  • Slight damage to the walls, including nail holes, chips, scratches, smudges, or dents. It can also encompass faded paint or slightly damaged wallpaper.
  • Carpet thinning or fading, or scuffed floors from normal walking. 
  • Doors that stick or don’t close as well as they used to. 
  • Warped cabinet doors.
  • Worn or scratched enamel in the bathroom. 
  • Normal appliance wear. 

This isn’t an all-encompassing list of normal wear and tear, but it’s a good start as to what it entails. If your unit feels “well-loved” with dings and scratches but no severe damage by the time your tenants move out, it’s considered normal wear and tear. 

Property Damage

While wear and tear can be difficult to classify, you’ll usually recognize outright damage when you see it. Damage involves in-your-face problems, usually as a result of careless action or negligence. This may include:

  • Water stains or other water damage caused by tenant action. 
  • Holes, stains, or burns on the carpet, or scratched/gouged wood floors.
  • Paint colors or wallpaper that you didn’t approve. 
  • Wide holes in the wall or an excessive number of nail holes. 
  • Doors or windows broken due to abuse. 
  • Cracked or damaged mirrors or tiles in the bathroom. 
  • Appliances damaged from misuse or neglect rather than everyday use. 

Damage is usually caused by your tenant using your property in a way not permitted in the lease. Whether or not it was caused by the tenant themselves or a guest, child, or pet, damage caused while they were renting your unit means that you may be able to deduct it from your tenant’s security deposit.

Know Your Way Around Oregon Property Law

Damage disputes are widespread when it comes to issues between landlords and tenants. If your tenant has damaged your property during their stay, you can usually subtract the cost of repairs from their security deposit. Oregon and Portland laws specify ways to handle your security deposit.

The Most Important Things to Remember:

  • As an Oregon landlord, you can legally deduct the following from your tenant’s security deposit, when relevant: unpaid rent, damage caused by a breach of lease, repairs other than those to correct normal wear and tear, and any other factors you may have included in your lease.
  • You may not retain your last month’s rent as part of the security deposit. It can only be used to cover any outstanding rent your tenant still owes you when they move out. 
  • Oregon law gives landlords 31 days to return a security deposit. If a government agency terminates your rental agreement due to unsafe living conditions, you must return the deposit in 14 days. 
  • When you return part of your tenant’s security deposit, you must also provide an itemized statement of deductions. 
  • While many aspects of carpet deterioration are considered normal wear and tear, you’re allowed to charge a carpet cleaning fee if cleaning the carpet of dirt or other stains requires more than a standard vacuum cleaner. However, you need to have specified cleaning fees in the rental agreement or the cleaning required to return your rental to its initial condition aside from normal wear and tear.

Also keep in mind that routine maintenance between tenants will include many standard cleaning and repair tasks that you’ll need to undertake between tenants, no matter how careful they were with your property. You should always expect to spackle and re-paint the walls, give the carpets a thorough vacuuming, and ensure the entire apartment is clean and ready for a new tenant. Other than a potential carpet cleaning fee, you cannot deduct the cost of routine maintenance from your tenant’s security deposit. 

Get A Helping Hand Between Tenants

A landlord scarcely ever has more work than when a tenant moves out. Inspecting your rental, taking care of routine maintenance, and getting it spruced up for a new tenant takes a lot of time (and money) on its own. That’s not even factoring in the additional expense of any major damage your rental might have incurred. On top of that, making sure you’re following both Oregon and Portland’s landlord-tenant laws can be a full-time job on its own. And of course, all of this stress and hassle is taking place on a strict time frame, since the longer it takes you to get your rental back in order, the longer you’ll go without collecting rental income. 

Facing down damage from a previous tenant can be overwhelming. In times like those, it helps to have a property management company on your side. Rent Portland Homes by Darla Andrew offers a comprehensive service package for landlords in the Portland area. We handle all the most stressful and annoying details of running a property: finding quality tenants, collecting rent, and of course, taking care of repairs and routine maintenance. From paint dings to serious water damage, our maintenance team and trusted contractors have your rental covered. If you’d like to learn more about how Rent Portland Homes by Darla Andrew can make your renting experience stress-free, give us a shout through the contact form on our website or call or text us at (503) 515-3170.