Can I deduct bathroom water damage from security deposit?

9 Replies

My tenant just moved out recently and I discovered water damage under the floor of a bathroom. I don't have a "before" picture proving it wasn't there before hand. However, I do know that the tenant was caring for small children during her stay which would have resulted in a lot of baths for kids and lots of overflowing or splashing water from the tub.

I'm lucky the sub floor is two layers with a 3/8" top layer that I can tear off. The pic below is after I tore up the top layer and did a quick wash with bleach and water on the bottom. The lower layer is not as bad, and may clean up with some more bleach treatments but overall I'm going to have to replace part of the sub floor. 

I may just rip up the cheap laminate and tile the whole floor with a decent ceramic/porcelain tile to prevent this from happening in the future (plus it'll just look 100% better), but I realize that will be my cost and not the tenants.

It is damage caused by the tenant. I would charge them.

How did you discover the damage? Did the tenant ever mention there might be a water problem? I would be very careful deducting anything from their deposit that you can't prove they did negligently. Was she running an unofficial day care in the unit or were these her own children? There's really no limit to how many baths she would be allowed to give them.

The damage could have been occurring long before that particular tenant was there, unless she was there a long time.

As an example, we had a tenant's tub leak into the downstairs neighbor's ceiling. It occurred during a week that the tenant was on vacation and had a friend pet-sitting. The friend took baths, while the tenant only took showers. The leak occurred when the tub was filled - every day that week. The tenant had no idea what was going on, nor did her friend, but we were responsible for repairing the actual leak and the damage to the neighbor's ceiling. I don't think a judge would have looked favorably on deducting that from their security deposit.

I think you'd have a tough time proving/defending that claim in court if the tenant challenged it since the damage is below the surface of the floor, combined with the lack of any "before" photos showing the condition before the tenant moved in. 

I knew the lack of any before photo's would limit my options but it's not really possible to take a 'before' photo of a sub floor. The tiles do not show any wear-and-tear on them, even after about 8 years of being there.

I'm not sure if the tenant was running an unofficial day care or not. She had been in the house for almost 5 years. So that's more than enough time to damage the floor, IMHO.

I discovered the damage when I noticed one of the laminate tiles had shifted a little. I went to pry it up to replace it with a spare and the whole tile came up w/o any effort, that's when I noticed it was pure black underneath and the surrounding tiles all came up with very little effort too. The floor was still actually moist and I hadn't used any water in that bathroom yet.

No way.  Without some sort of proof that the tenant caused this (which is something basically impossible to prove), no way can you get away with with-holding SD money for a SUBFLOOR.

It's unfortunate that it happened, but your solution of a tile floor will definitely mitigate this problem in the future; it's definitely a property improvement. A good tile floor is preferable to a laminate/stick on tile floor from a tenant's perspective, and maybe you can get higher rent :) 

Amortizing the cost of this over the 5 year tenancy, if the tenant always paid on time and in full, isn't bad at all.

Thanks for the replies. I'll be eating this one (5 years of on time rent was a big payoff) and putting down a tiled floor (I'm a DIY'er so I know fully how to do it myself and it won't really cost that much).

Good advice from others here, I would also add....

Use white vinegar to clean up the wood, as it will kill the mold spores in porous surfaces such as wood and will also deodorize it. Bleach is good for non-pourus surfaces. Then treat the subfloor with an oil based primer such as Zinser or Kilz. Of course if the wood is badly damaged or structurally not sound, replace it.

For tub/showers with curtains, require tenants to use a curtain liner in addition to their decorative curtain and show them how to place it inside of the tub in a way to prevent water from getting out onto the walls and floor. Also talk with your tenants about their responsibility to dry up spilled water immediately.

@Jason M.  

I view such damage as just 'the cost of doing business'. It happens and I wouldn't think of charging a tenant (especially a good one) for something like that. Since you're able to fix it yourself, your repair costs should be minimal. 

By the way, tiling the floor is better than what's there now but even that is not a guarantee that you won't incur future problems. 

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