Do you remember wandering through “grown up” stores as a kid, scared to touch anything? We all knew the rule that guided (or was supposed to guide) our every movement: “You break it, you buy it!”
But does that rule still apply? For rental properties, yes!
You just have to know the difference between normal wear and tear, and actual damage. Because that difference determines who pays for it.
What Is "Normal" Wear and Tear?
The owner pays for normal wear and tear in their rentals. And, in Texas, the ordinary wear and tear definition is very specific. So what is normal wear and tear for a rental property in Texas?
The Texas Property Code defines wear and tear as “deterioration that results from the intended use of a dwelling, including… breakage or malfunction due to age or deteriorated condition.”
Damage, however, should be covered by the tenant.
The Texas Property Code specifically eliminates “deterioration that results from negligence, carelessness, accident, or abuse of the premises, equipment, or chattels by the tenant, by a member of the tenant's household, or by a guest or invitee of the tenant” from their definition of “wear and tear”.
So, as a landlord, if you know the difference between wear and tear, and damage, you can make sure the right person is paying the repair bill. Here are some of the most common differences between them.
Wear and Tear
Wear and Tear
Cracks in wall
Holes and dents in wall
Faded, blistered, or scuffed paint
Drawing, painting, or scrapes on wall
Garbage disposal motor quits
Utensils jammed in garbage disposal
Laminate countertops that separate from cabinets
Burns, scrapes, or chips in the countertop
Loose door handle
Missing door handles
The most common disputes are over carpet and walls. So keep in mind those distinctions as you decide how to proceed.
How Much Should the Landlord Keep for Repairs?
We always recommend keeping 1% of the home value in reserve. So, if the home is worth 200K, set aside 2K for repairs.
Who Should Pay for the Repair?
The best way to know who should pay for the repairs is with documentation. First, document the condition of the house before the tenant moves in. Then document how it looks when they leave. Document it all with date-stamped photographs. But expect disputes — and have the proof to back your charges.
You can’t deduct normal wear and tear from a security deposit, but with the right proof, you can deduct damages.
Who Documents the Property Condition?
Here’s how disputes usually happen with a property management company. We prepare the list of charges based on the before/after photos. If we don’t have proof, we don’t charge the tenants for the damage. Then, if a tenant contests the charge, we refer back to the pictures.
If we can prove that it was a legitimate charge, we show the pictures to the tenant, saying, “Hey, see here where the wall wasn’t dented before you moved in. Then here’s the picture of after you moved out.” When you’re well documented, it’s an easy conversation. When you’re not, the tenant should never have been charged.
Without a property manager, you’ll need to take care of all your documentation. But too often, DIY landlords don’t take pictures. Instead, they rely on remembering the condition, or on the fact that the house was newly built when the tenant moved in.
But that’s not enough. There’s no physical proof of the prior condition in these cases. And, if the landlord keeps a portion of the security deposit without proof, the charge won’t hold up in court.
For more on security deposits, check out The Landlord’s Guide to Returning Tenant Security Deposits Property
See, it’s not up to the tenant to prove they shouldn’t have been charged — it’s up to the landlord to prove the charge is fair. I’ve been to court over this before and it comes down to a technicality. Judges don’t just rule in favor of who they believe, but who can show proof of the charges listed on the itemization.
For our clients, we take care of all documentation for security deposit itemization if we place the tenant. But if we take over a property where we don’t have those documents, then there’s no way we can determine the charges without knowing the condition prior to the tenant moving.
So with rental properties in Texas, the “You break it…” rule still applies — you just need to have the documentation to prove it.