Security Deposit and Torn Carpet

21 Replies

What can I take out of a security deposit for dog-destroyed carpet that is 10-years old?

Tenants moved out after 4 years. On top of the normal security deposit, my tenant paid a $400 damage deposit to have a pet. The dog tore through some carpet in three rooms. The three rooms require replacement.

The carpet being replaced is over ten years old (6 years while I was there and 4 years with tenant). I would not have had to replace it if the dog had not destroyed it. I understand that depreciation of the carpet means that it has no value left and I cannot charge the tenant for the damage. 

However, this does not seem "fair" that a a tenant can destroy 400 sq ft. of carpet and walk away scot-free. Can I charge to have the carpet in those rooms replace simply because the excessive damage is the only reason I have to change the carpet?

Thanks for any counsel you can give.

I wouldn't charge them for that.  10 years of wear, carpet definitely shows its age.  You might get to charge for cleaning if there is a dog odor or hair everywhere still.    

Perhaps you should have charged a pet fee instead.  This way, you would have had the money for such "expected" damage without the need to justify.  

Their is a gray area between wear and tear and abuse. Personally - my carpets dont last 10 years- I think the life of carpet (depreciation schedule) will determine the amount of the deposit that is withheld.

Originally posted by @Paul Brockmann :

Perhaps you should have charged a pet fee instead.  This way, you would have had the money for such "expected" damage without the need to justify.  

 I hear you.  I have learned... 

Thanks!

@James M. - I would have a phone call with the tenants and ask them what they thought about the condition of the carpet.  They may surprise you and tell you that they realize the dog tore up the carpet and it has to be replaced.

If they don't admit any fault by their dog, you can ask them what they think is fair and send them the pictures of the torn carpet and then maybe you can find a middle ground with them.

I just went through a similar situation with my tenants when they moved out (huge red wine stain and water damage from a utility sink that overflowed because they left some clothes in there to soak).  After initially pushing back, they finally agreed to have the carpet replaced.  I think the discussions went better when I asked them what they thought I should do and what they thought of the damage/stains, etc.  

I've had much better luck when I can talk them on the phone and get their buy in as opposed to just deducting from their deposit.

Good luck - let us know how it works out.

Originally posted by :

I've had much better luck when I can talk them on the phone and get their buy in as opposed to just deducting from their deposit.

Smart and simple. Thanks!

If they volunteer to pay, great.

If not, understand that no judge will award you damages for something that is quite literally worthless.

The bottom line is that they do not actually owe you anything.  You rented that house to them with carpet that was already older than its useful life, and got another 4 years out of it.  You should be happy with that.

I hate carpet.

@James M. , I will play devils advocate.  I have a very nice carpet in my house that is 20 years old.  I take care of it and and it was very high quality carpet.  I have many houses with carpet 10 years old, that speaks to quality of tenants.  It would not be fair to make a tenant replace old carpet with new carpet at full price, but there is a made whole doctrine.  If they damaged it resulting in cost to you they should pay something.  If the carpet had usable life left I would offer to split the cost.  just tear out and installation has a cost.  I always strive to be fair, and to be honest it has usually paid off.  It is not fair to get new carpet for old, but is not fair to have torn carpet that MUST be replaced.  Good luck.

@Jerry W. raises an interesting point. Can you charge the tenant for the cost of installation only but not the cost of the new carpet? Does the fact that the old carpet was torn by the last tenant's dog mean anything? In reading between the lines I am assuming that the old carpet was not stained, only torn, and wouldn't need replacement if not for the dog.

So can a landlord charge for installation while acknowledging that the carpet itself has no value?

Personally, I can't imagine a rental property with carpet 10 years old that doesn't need to be replaced, unless the place is specifically rented as a slum. Any carpet that has had a dog lying on it for 4 years is going to have body oil imbedded in the carpet, as well as odors that have permeated the padding. I assume you've already kept the $400 for pet damage? If so, I think you have already been made whole. If not, you should probably chalk it up to experience and either not have carpeting in houses, not allow pets, or charge a non-refundable front-loaded fee for having a pet so that you are covered for something that cannot be deducted from a deposit. 

I suspect that some landlords see everything in their house, short of catastrophically damaged, as "never needing replaced". A unit I just bought, that was apparently their philosophy; a bathroom floor with obvious soft spots and rot was never replaced, just put another layer of flooring on top of it, no on will know the difference. Paint? We don't need to paint, the stains are hardly noticeable. 

Wait a second.  I don't care how old anything is.  The question is whether the carpet was still in good condition. And whether it is "reasonable" wear and tear that ended its useful life or not.

If the dog hadn't tore up the carpet, would you have been able to keep it for the next tenant? If the answer is yes, then the tenant is responsible for the carpet.

Unless you're using accelerated depreciation on the property and have itemized your depreciation, then technically you are depreciating everything at 27.5 years. Period.

Regardless I don't see how a judge is going to ask you how old the carpet was and then give you a number based on that. Thats like saying that if the windows were 20 years old and the tenant broke every one, they wouldn't have to pay a thing.

I do like the idea of calling the tenant and going thru the number with them. That makes the most sense. And I'm not suggesting that you should ding them for brand new carpet either.   But I think I would charge them 100% for the install (its an expense you would not have had to incur had their pet not tore up the carpet), and maybe 33% for the carpet itself.

That would seem to be fair for both parties. And I would have no problem arguing that one in front of a judge. Not saying its 100% that you'd win. But typically I subscribe to that "reasonable" person rule. If a reasonable person would think that was fair, then I'll do it. And if I end up in court, I'll feel comfortable explaining my case to a judge on why I did what I did and why I believe it was fair.

But just because carpet is 10 years old, doesn't mean it has no value. That carpet might have had 4 or 5 years left depending on the previous tenant. A 5 year old carpet might have no years left it was completely worn out and damaged. 

But if the carpet was in good condition when they got it, then a dog tearing it up is not "reasonable" wear and tear. And the tenant should be responsible for paying for that kind of damage. Just be reasonable with what you charge and you'll be fine.

I can't imagine any tenant on the planet taking you to court for charging them 33% of the cost of the carpet plus the install if their dog tore the carpeting up in 3 rooms no less..... Most tenants wouldn't have the nerve to go in front of the judge and argue that was ok.  And the few that might are typically too goofy to make a legitimate case anyway.

Originally posted by @Mike H. :

Regardless I don't see how a judge is going to ask you how old the carpet was and then give you a number based on that. Thats like saying that if the windows were 20 years old and the tenant broke every one, they wouldn't have to pay a thing.

...

A judge or magistrate will absolutely, positively, beyond any doubt ask you exactly that.  It will be the very first question they will ask you when they get to that portion of the claim.  And they will give you a number based on that, and for 10-year-old carpet that number will be $0.00.  

re: @Richard C.

I definitely wouldn't doubt you there since I've never had it happen. But one, I don't see how they can do that. If that was actually the case, I'd like about the age of the carpet and say it was 6 or 7.  But two, even if the carpet is 10, if it has a useful life left, its worth something. And maybe for the carpet itself you don't get much. But how can they not be responsible for labor?

I just don't believe that a tenant could simply damage stuff and not have any liability. Based on your logic,  if my furnace is 25 years old and they steal it, I wouldn't have any recourse either.

I just don't see how that can be possible.

Originally posted by @Mike H. :

re: @Richard C.

I definitely wouldn't doubt you there since I've never had it happen. But one, I don't see how they can do that. If that was actually the case, I'd like about the age of the carpet and say it was 6 or 7.  But two, even if the carpet is 10, if it has a useful life left, its worth something. And maybe for the carpet itself you don't get much. But how can they not be responsible for labor?

I just don't believe that a tenant could simply damage stuff and not have any liability. Based on your logic,  if my furnace is 25 years old and they steal it, I wouldn't have any recourse either.

I just don't see how that can be possible.

 So you would commit an actual crime, in order to get the carpet valued as if it were 6 years old instead of 10?  If so, why not just go shoplift? Easier and probably more lucrative.

BTW, 6-7 year old carpet?  Also worth $0.00.

Carpet is basically a consumable.  There comes a point, pretty early on, where it just isn't worth something.  Don't believe me?  Pull up some 3 year old carpet and try to sell it on craigslist.

You attempted to extend the logic of my argument.  I will extend the logic of yours.If you have something that has been broken into two pieces, rendering it worthless, and your tenant breaks it into THREE pieces, how much should the tenant pay?  I say nothing.

There are posters on here who have said in the past that magistrates in their areas won't give any credit for carpet more than 3 years old, never mind 5 or 10.

You should probably check with your lawyer about what would be allowed in your area.  I have some doubt that Illinois is the sort of state that would allow a landlord to charge in these circumstances.

Now I will cause your head to explode. You know what else you cannot charge for?  Repainting a room that hasn't been painted in 5 years.  Really.

re: @Richard C.

Again, I would not doubt that you're correct. I have never had this occur though and I can tell you. If someone tears up perfectly good carpet, I'm going to ding them. I guess if I get taken to court, it sounds like I may lose.  But at some point, I'm all about things being "reasonable".

Now if that 10 year carpet was on its last legs and it got tore up, I wouldn't see a reason to charge the tenant any way.  But if I actually thought the carpet was in good condition when I gave it to them and their dog literally tore it up, I'd charge them - again strictly on principle. 

As far as the painting, thats interesting. But I have never charged a tenant for painting - even if they were only there 1 year and the walls were damaged in several spots.

What I will charge them is if they leave a bunch of screws and nails in the walls. If they take them out, I don't charge them to spackle as I do believe thats normal wear and tear.  But if they leave a bunch of nails and screws, I'm going to ding them $50 just on principle.   I literally had one of these the other day. 

The tenants I deal with are pretty decent people and I have never had a single dispute on the security deposit refunds. Typically, I just give it all back. 

I guess for me this carpet thing is just an odd one to me. I don't believe the value of an item is determined by how old it is. I believe its value should be determined on how much life it has left.  

Believe me, there are some houses where the carpet might be 3 years old and I'd say its on its last legs. But then there's other carpet thats 7 years old and its as good as new. And that would be my argument.  

And if I had to guess, I don't think many of the types of tenants that I have would dispute something like that either. They are not going to want to go in front of a judge to argue that they shouldn't pay for a dog ripping up 3 rooms of carpet. If they do, then it sounds like they may win.  But I still wouldn't care. It would be a matter of principle with me where I'd still make them go to court to do it.  

So I guess if I have a really savvy tenant, I may end up on the short end of the stick if something like that ever happens.   And I'm ok with that. 

^^ I think the difference in your examples lies in what is considered "normal wear and tear". Everyone expects carpets to wear out, because people walk on them, items fall on them, animals lie on them, etc. There's no expectation for a window to wear out, nor can a house be left with missing windows as it is part of the weatherproofing shell of a home, so it must be replaced - whereas someone could still live in a house with a ripped-up carpet. 

In either example, the ACV of the item is zero, but one item is an integral part of a home, the other is cosmetic. There's no requirement to have floor coverings at all in my location (this might be different depending on where you are), other than that necessary to protect the integrity of the structure. Thus, in a bathroom, some type of waterproof/water resistant flooring would be necessary, but bedrooms could have bare plywood or OSB floors if you didn't want to pay for anything else. The same holds true for paint. 

Your "reasonable person" test is a good one, but in my opinion most courts would find it unreasonable that someone was trying to recover any type of funds on 10 year old carpeting. It may be that the carpeting was decent, and could have been left in place with a good cleaning, but I find it unlikely most rental properties are going to have carpet of such high quality. In my own home, with kids grown and out of the house, brand-new carpeting we put down in bedrooms and a small hallway only looked pretty sad after 10 years, and that was after having been cleaned professionally once. Even without stains the fibers in traffic areas were noticeably worn and the carpet looked quite shabby (it's since been replaced by hardwood). 

So where does the community stand on charging for installation only, and not charging for the cost of the new carpet?

I'm interested in those who said NO to charging for new carpet. Where do you stand on the labor cost?

Originally posted by @Max Tanenbaum :

So where does the community stand on charging for installation only, and not charging for the cost of the new carpet?

I'm interested in those who said NO to charging for new carpet. Where do you stand on the labor cost?

 Personally I like the advice to just approach the tenant and see what he says.  If he says, "I know the dog tore up the carpet, use the security deposit to cover it" then great.  If he says, "I know my dog tore the carpet.  But you know, it seemed pretty old already..." I might say in return, "You know, the carpet was older, but I am going to need to pay to have it installed earlier than I would have, so how would you feel about something where I pay for the carpet and you pay for the install?"

But in reality, if I rented a place with 6-year-old carpet, and had a tenant stay 4 years on that same carpet, I would consider myself more than lucky.  I basically played with house money for four years.  I wouldn't charge at all.

PS:  Carpet sucks.

Originally posted by @Max Tanenbaum :

So where does the community stand on charging for installation only, and not charging for the cost of the new carpet?

I'm interested in those who said NO to charging for new carpet. Where do you stand on the labor cost?

 I wouldn't charge it. Labor for replacing carpet that's already been laid before is pretty minimal, unless the tack strips are all torn up or you have to do odd things like pull baseboards or other molding. 

It's pretty difficult to put all of this in context without knowing a lot more of the story. OP has another post asking about charging for redoing hardwood floors for (I presume) the same tenant. He allowed the dog, and I can't imagine the dog tore up all the carpets the day before the tenants moved, so either he was lenient/negligent on the inspections, or didn't mind that they were torn up until the tenants moved. 

I think he has to chalk it up to experience. If you have a situation that is important, address it in the lease. It might sound crazy, but on one of my properties that has hardwood floors, I have a stipulation that the dog's nails must be kept trimmed so as to not damage the floors. If I had a carpet that I was planning to keep when the tenants moved out, and they had a dog, I would specify what condition it should be in and how damage would be addressed.  

Originally posted by @JD Martin :
I think he has to chalk it up to experience. 

Definitely yes I am chalking this up to experience. Thanks for all the input and discussion. In the end, the. tenant agreed to pay for a portion of the torn carpet. 

Some of my lessons:

  • Increased awareness on the cost of replacing depreciating items (like carpets and paint)
  • Need for increased communication with tenant (and inspections ... though carpet damage occurred in the last month of tenancy)
  • Charge a pet fee and not a pet security deposit
Originally posted by @James M. :
Originally posted by @Jd Martin:
I think he has to chalk it up to experience. 

Definitely yes I am chalking this up to experience. Thanks for all the input and discussion. In the end, the. tenant agreed to pay for a portion of the torn carpet. 

Some of my lessons:

  • Increased awareness on the cost of replacing depreciating items (like carpets and paint)
  • Need for increased communication with tenant (and inspections ... though carpet damage occurred in the last month of tenancy)
  • Charge a pet fee and not a pet security deposit

 Sounds like it all worked out! Excellent!