What Damages Can a Landlord Make You Pay?

2019-08-02

What Damages Can a Landlord Make You Pay?

You pay the rent, and so you expect your home to be reasonably maintained. Don’t forget you signed a lease, so you too, have obligations as a tenant. Keeping your home safe and livable are your landlord’s responsibilities, but issues will inevitably arise between you and a landlord, especially if you are a long-time renter, about damages.

Your lease states you must give the rental unit back in the same or better condition than you received it, normal wear and tear excepted. So, make sure you’re thorough during your MoveIn walk-through, take notes and pics for documentation. You cannot be charged for a previous tenant’s damage or structural issues that are the fault of poor construction. But your security deposit is there to cover damages you cause and don’t be surprised if even simple repairs exceed it.

When Your Landlord Can Make You Pay (A Very Short List)

1) If you break your lease, you will be on the hook for any rent payment through the end of your lease contract. Your landlord may choose to seek additional damages for expenditures associated with finding a replacement tenant.

2)  Normal wear and tear, like worn carpeting and nail holes in the drywall are exempt, so your landlord is responsible for bringing the property up to par between tenants. Significant damages are what your landlord will use your security deposit for and may seek to recoup extra expenses over and above. Large holes in the carpeting or wall (be careful removing your wall-mounted big screen TV), deeply-scratched flooring, broken windows or a cracked countertop will become your responsibility.

3) If the repairs can’t be covered by your security deposit, your landlord has a couple of options. First, they will send you an itemized bill showing the work that was completed which you are responsible for. If you contest the charges and/or cannot reach an agreement, the second option is suing you in court to recoup repair costs.

4) Appliances wear with age and eventually die. If that’s the case, that’s on your landlord. But if you break it, render it unusable or never clean it thus making it unusable, you can be held responsible for fixing/replacing it.

5) Your lease states that you MUST leave the property in as good or better condition than you received it, which includes taking all your stuff with you when you leave. If you leave behind a lot of junk or furniture expect to be hit with a bill from your landlord. Be aware that companies like GOT JUNK? charge by the hour plus a fee for the amount of space it takes up in their truck. That loveseat and dresser you didn’t feel like taking with you will cost around $150 to have removed.

6) Some landlords are fine with you repainting as long they get it back the way you got it. If you painted the wall in funky colors to match your trendy personality, you’d be required to repaint them to their original color before leaving. Failing to do so will result in a charge. Intense colors like reds, oranges and greens, will require primers or extra coats to cover.

7) If your landlord allows pets, know that you will be held accountable for their behavior. Pets may stain, scratch, and produce other natural odors that you need to be aware of. Non-pet people can find it disgusting, your landlord will have to replace and/or professionally deep clean to prepare the space for the next tenant.

Just Pay for Damages, It’s the Right Thing to Do

If the cost of repairs is reasonable, it’s better to just pay for them. You will not likely end up in court over $100-$200 because it just wouldn’t be worth the effort for your landlord. But if the estimate for repairs is several hundred dollars or more, be ready for a subpoena.

Can My Landlord Really Sue Me?

In a word, Abso-stinking-lutely! There’s a laundry list of reasons why your landlord can take you to court to recoup damages. While nobody likes going to court, if more civil tactics don’t work, lawsuits are effective. Especially if the amount of money you owe is large enough, it’s definitely worth their effort.

Court-Worthy Violations (A Very, Very Short List)

1) Rent Owed – If you’ve stopped paying your rent, you should expect problems from management. It starts with a reminder letter. Then an eviction notice. All the while, you may still end up in court for back payments.

2) Severe Property Damage – Contractors are expensive and repair bills skyrocket quickly. Don’t expect your security deposit to cover it.

3) Damages Caused by Your Pet – So your Alaskan Husky tried to claw and chew its way through the door because it was mad you left it home all day. No matter whether you’ve paid a pet deposit or snuck in a furry friend because of the no pet policy, they are your responsibility. As such, you’re responsible for any damages they may have caused. Chances are if the repair exceeds your deposit by a relatively small amount the landlord might just suck it up as a cost of doing business. Most problems will arise when you’ve really irked them or showed a total disregard for their property, especially when there are multiple costly repairs to attend to.

4) Random Damages caused by Others – A neighbor kid broke a window, so why do you have to pay? Well, remember that legal requirement about giving the property back to the landlord in the same or better condition blah, blah, blah…? It doesn’t matter who caused the damage, you are responsible.

When it comes to damages, if you’re in the wrong or your case is weak, it’s best to settle up with your landlord and avoid losing and also owing court costs. Avoid being bull-headed over something to make a point. Chances are that you will lose and your name will be placed in the official court record, which may affect your ability to rent in the future.

So the next time you see a cracked tile in the kitchen or bathroom, report it as quickly as possible before it has time to spread. If you’ve failed to keep to a routine cleaning schedule, perform a solid deep clean or hire some professionals after you’ve removed your stuff but before turning in your key. It’s best to avoid any uncomfortable situations that will put your landlord in a position that forces them to exercise their legal rights as a property owner.

36 thoughts on “What Damages Can a Landlord Make You Pay?

  1. Can a landlord make me pay for small holes caused by nails and staples when I’m capable of fixing myself? Especially when there was no lease till now. In the state of texas.

    1. We’re not familar with landlord-tenant issues in Texas, but in general, most leases require tenants to maintain and return their homes in the condition they received it.

      We can’t give legal advice, but you may want to repair the issues in a professional manner to avoid being cahrged for them.

  2. After the landlord said that everything in the apartment looks good, she came back and said that there’s a crack in the granite counter in the kitchen near the sink. She told me that it was very expensive, I’m I required to replace the entire granite slab?

    1. A rental lease usually requires a tenant to return the property in the same condition they received it in, normal wear & tear excepted.

      It’s not eay to crack a granite counter top. How did it happen? Did you place a hot skillet or pot on it? Kneel or sit on it?

      Unless you can prove the counter top was installed incorrectly, you are responsible to repair it. If something cannot be acceptabbly repaired, then you would have to pay to replace it.

  3. (1) I moved into my mother’s apartment in 2007, got succession rights and my own lease in 2012. When she died, she left behind an apartment with issues. For example, one whole wall had been mirrored. She had papered virtually the whole apartment but I don’t know if this was approved–probably by the Super. I think she also had painted the front of the kitchen cabinets. All of the things she changed took place decades before I moved in. Now that I myself am moving out, I’m concerned my landlord is going to sue me for all this, even though I was living in Connecticut, Virginia and Washington DC at the time. Are there are any precedents showing that the landlord cannot sue me for stuff that was changed 20, 30, 40 years before I moved in with her?
    (2) As far as I’m concerned, when the lease became mine in 2012, the landlord should have addressed the kinds of things they normally do when a new tenant moves in, but she did not. I was and am a nonperson to her. Most areas cried out for paint, including in the closets. No one came to look at the apartment to see what did or didn’t need attention. So essentially she did not hand me an apartment that met with my leases’s standards, thereby violating it. I don’t want her to blame me for things that were due to her negligence in the first place. She is not normal and I’m a bit afraid of her.

    1. You should review your state laws and discuss with a real estate attorney.

      Both you and the landlord probably had legal requirements when you formally signed your lease, that don’t sound like they occurred.

  4. I got the building in illinois on low income housing and have to pay 2800 they broke it down in to gave me to month to pay but I don’t pay rent and they know I don’t have a job right now is it right for them to do this why couldnt they give me aleast 4 months

    1. We’re only hearing your side of the story, but everything is usually negotiable.

      If they are unwlling to negotiate, it’s usually a sign that there are reasons they want you out.

  5. The electric heater is not working, but I am not sure if it’s my fault. Could just be the socket or worst case secario the whole thing need to be replaced, because sometimes I used to put staff over the radiator.

    Which it’s responsible to pay me or the landlord? The electrician will come on Monday so I need to be prepared.

    1. Without more information, we can only convey that who pays depends on:
      1) Who broke it
      2) What the lease states

      We suggest you contact your landlord, with your lease at hand, to inquire what their opinion is.

  6. The rental house we are in now is a former model home. Recently the built in BBQ grill on the back patio completely collapsed in on itself. Our property management company has denied a repair request saying that we are responsible for fixing. With that being said, you can look at the construction and clearly tell that it was a construction issue and was absolutely going to fail. It was a simple piece of bathroom drywall holding up roughly 50 brings across a 4 foot span. Are we responsible for fixing construction issues that were there long before we moved in?

    1. With your PMC stating you are responsible for the repairs, you should look carefully at your lease to see what it states about repairs.

      If it does NOT clearly state you are responsible for repairs, then you may automatically have a legal issue with their response.

      If it DOES CLEARLY state you are responsible for repairs, it can be a bit trickier, but you may still have a “case”.

      You’ll need to read up on your state and local laws to figure out what your legal recourses are:
      -Can you escrow your rent to dispute the repair issue?
      -Can you send proper notification to your PMC and if they do not respond, are you allowed to pay for the repairs and deduct the from rent?
      -Can you report the issue to the local municipality, so they threaten the PMC or property owner with a ticket?

      Highly recommend consulting a real estate attorney before you do anything!

      1. Thanks. In the lease, this seems to be a gray area. It stats I need to repair things “whenever such damage or injury to the same shall have resulted from misuse, waste or neglect by any occupant” but then later on says that “any and all repairs, maintenance or replacement required to restore the premises to the same condition as when the tenant took possession, normal wear and tear accepted”. I feel that because this is due to clear construction issues that were present before we took possession, one could argue that we aren’t responsible for the repair.

  7. So, my landlord moved from a two bedroom on the second floor to the building next door to a two bedroom on the first floor. He never gave me the sheet to check off anything, and is charging me for damaging that were done by me but not on purpose. There were little holes in a couple of the wooden doors that I did not see at all because they were high up but he saw them. Can he charge me for all of them combined even though I was never given the check list? And is he allowed to evict me for those damages even though I’m no longer in that apartment? Thanks.

    1. This is a tough situation:(

      How can you prove the landlord never gave you a MoveIn Checklist? Is it required by the state or municipality you live in to supply you with one?

      Unless, you can prove the above, you may have no option other than to pay.

      The landlord can add the damage amount to your rental ledger and start eviction process if you do not pay.

      Check with a landlord-tenant attorney.

  8. Am I headed to small claim court? The adult tenants in my Cheektowaga NY Rental House did more damage than their two kids. Smoke damage to the aluminum siding caused from their gas grill and from fire pit fires located too close to the house. Painted two rooms without Landlord approval. Refrigerator, Stove, Microwave damage from negligence and abuse not from normal wear and tear. Unreported missing tile grout. Furnace filters unusually dirty, were never routinely changed and never reported as possible concern that needed a professional heating and cooling individual to determine the problem.

    1. We are not versed in NY landlord-tenant laws, but it does appear there are damages you can pursue against the tenants.

      Please check with a local real estae attorney.

  9. I have a double pane 1970 era patio door in poor condition from age that the lock is nearly impossible to use on. I discovered the outer pane of glass broken and my landlord claims they can make me pay to replace it because they put it in the lease I’m responsible for glass. They had a mowing crew right in front of my apartment shortly before the door was discovered. I live in Utah

    1. It should be relatively easy to prove a rock broke the window as there hsould be a “nick” in the glass at the center of the crack.

      Take pictures and send to your landlord disputing that you caused the break.

      Worst-case, you may have to go to small claims court over this and unless the landlord has solid evidence that you caused the break, the court won’t hold you 100% responsible.

      1. They agree I’m not the one the broke it. They just claim tenants pay for all broken glass regardless.

  10. I’m in Indiana and have been in my apartment for almost 5 years. Getting ready to move soon and I’m dreading getting some large repair bill. The complex was sold last year and I’m hoping they have records of maintenance claims and what was repairs over the years prior to the new ownership. The wall of my shower was repaired about 3 years ago but it wasn’t done very well and there are some holes in the grout, as well as they moved my thermostat from one wall to another and never painted over the patch to match the wall color, among ung other little things. Should I bring up these concerns before my lease is officially up?

    1. YES!

      You should try to arrange a pre-moveout inspection to find out what they may try to hold you accountable for.

      Get everything in writing to protect yourself. Also, do you have a copy of your MoveIn Checklist? You’ll want that to prove any issues that were there upon your MoveIn.

  11. My property manager is trying to charge me for gate repairs and stating my children interfered with the gate and deactivated remotes. First of a I don’t have children and second of all my remote stopped working and we brought it in to her and she handed us a new one. Three months later she’s charging us 270. Why is she doing this ? Can she do this? What can I do about this?

    1. It is difficult to give a full answer when only hearing one side of a story.

      You should check your lease and see what it states about maintenance and the remote specifically.

      If it’s not covered, then you can politely challenge your landlord to meet in the middle. Else you will end up in court to let a judge decide.

  12. This is an unusual issue. I’m in Arizona, and a few years ago we had a really bad heatwave and the cheap plastic draw shades melted on the west side of the house. I had to draw them up and leave them as is, brittle and unusable. They dip in the center where they melted from the sun. We informed them when it happened. Can they charge us for the draw curtains, we had no control of this issue? We ended up putting regular blackout curtains on that side during the worst of the sun during the day.

    1. You did the right thing my notifying them right away, but you should have politely demanded an answer in writing from them.

      Now, years later, you may be challenged by staff turnover and no one remembering you previously informed them.

      Suggest you “re-open” this topic with them and get it resolved in writing.

  13. Hi, we’re in AZ renting an apartment unit. I cleaned our bathroom sink using bleach, and now the brass drain has corroded beyond repair. It works fine but it looks hideous. Is this something we must fix ourselves, or am I right to inform the renter?
    They do routine maintenance, and we’ve had things that broke (from wear and tear) replaced in the past, but what about this case?

    1. Most leases state something along the lines of a tenant must return a rental in the same shape it was when they moved in, normal wear & tear excepted.

      Don’t really see how the damaged drain would be normal wear & tear, so you should probably address it before you move out and have it deducted from your security deposit.

  14. I’m in California, recently moved into a place.. Couple months ago, a bathroom towel rod fell out the wall.. couple weeks into the move… when we put a towel on it. Turns out it wasn’t installed properly, with drywall anchors, and by looking around the bathroom it’s not the first time, more like the 4th or 5th. They had to send 2 different repair people out to fix the damages to the wall from it since it took some drywall with it. The first guy threw some crap on it real quick n left..n then it fell within 24hrs leaving a bigger hole. So next guy fixed it.
    Now I’m being billed for the repair. Couple hundred dollars, we also saw the repair order, says they had to use 4 anchors n a new rod.

    We didn’t install the bar. Was clearly not installed properly to begin with. We opted out of having another put it to avoid the same issue anymore. Was there when we moved in and only being used as intended, to hold a towel.
    And they didn’t install a new rod. I have pictures of everything every step of the way and have provided them to the landlord, and relayed the facts out to them.

  15. I took over the lease from somebody and there was a little bit of damage done by the previous tenants the landlord kept their damage deposit after my lease was up I moved out cleaned up the place but she turned around and charged me for damages done by the previous tenants can she do that

    1. When you say you took over the lease from someone, do you mean you assumed their lease or they sublet to you?

      If so, then the landlord is entitled to charge you for damages caused by you or the previous tenant.

      Conversely, if you signed a new lease or some type of lease takeover document, gave the landlord your own security deposit and formally did a MoveIn Checklist that you gave to the landlord, then the landlord can only charge you for damages you caused.

      Please see an attorney about this though.

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