Witholding Security Deposit - Smoke Damage

9 Replies


This forum has been extremely helpful in navigating the world of investing and property management. I am still new at this (a little over a year with 12 units as owner and manager). That being said, I would appreciate any thoughts on my situation... 

I inherited a tenant who had smoked in his unit for close to 17 years. Shortly before I purchased the property, the previous owner replaced the carpet and carpet pad in the tenant's unit. When it was time for him to sign my lease which includes NO SMOKING, he decided to move. I deducting the deep cleaning of the carpet from his security deposit as I did not consider this to be normal wear and tear. He has responded disputing the charges stating that I knew about the smoking when purchasing the property and thus smoking was considered his normal conduct of habitation in his unit.

After further research through the Bigger Pockets forum and Michigan Landlord Tenant Law, there appears to be no set rule around this issue. Is it worth standing my ground?

Thank for your thoughts!

He has a point. If he was allowed to smoke in the unit for 17 years, it's reasonable to think that smoke smell would be a by-product of the behavior. 


I know it may sound ridiculous, but I think it would come down to what judge or person you get if you needed to go before them for mediation, or however this is handled in your area. I have seen a times where they will split the cost down the middle between landlord and tenant. Personally, I would deduct and see where it goes especially since it was brand new carpet. 

You accepted condition of building / unit when you took over..

Wear and tear on carpet this age is ridiculous,, it's has no appreciable life left.

You could charge him if he broke a window since your ownership, or that type of damage,, but anything nicotine damaged from your point of ownership is pointless in trying to recover any damages from this tenant.

Any why you would have DEEP CLEANED a carpet that was in this type of unit was a waste of your money.

You will not get rid of the smoke smell until you wall wash with TSP all walls, woodwork, windows, then prime coat walls with KILZ,, clean all filters, any vents spray inside after washing out as best possible with spray kilz,, don't try to save any window treatments.

After it's cleaned,, then paint.. you may have to even Kilz the sub floor.

@Janae Aasen - I personally think charging them for carpet cleaning is fine, and something I would feel comfortable arguing since it was relatively new carpet. 

As a previous poster mentioned, you might have to paint the walls, ceiling and trim with Killz to remove the smell. 

I have had a lot of luck with first cleaning with TSP, then using ozone generators for 24-72 hours. I found this gets rid of really deep smells. Then if there is still a lingering smell, I then use killz.

Good luck!

Thank you everyone for your thoughts. @Kim Meredith Hampton , I agree with you about the judge for the day. It's such a grey area!

@Deanna McCormick , The carpet and carpet pad are only a year old. So, we wanted to attempt to save it. The rest of the place has been redone and most of the smoke smell is out. 

Thank you, @Andrew Kerr ! I'll get an ozone generator over there! Haven't tried that before, so I appreciate your thoughts!

Sorry I misread the post,, about age of carpet,, but I bet prior to it being replaced the subfloor may not have been primed.. it's just plain difficult to get out smoke odor.

Try a ozone machine,, it's worth a try before you pull the carpet out they use those in hotels you can rent one.

Not a chance in hell would a court in my state let you take a penny for that.  The landlord at the time the carpet was replaced allowed smoking.  Smoke odor is therefore not wear-and-tear, or damage, but simply to be expected.

Allowing smoking does not remove a tenants responsibility for damage caused by their actions. Allowing smoking causes damage the same as  allowing pets. Tenant is still held responsible for any damage that results.

Stick to your guns and see where it goes. 

This will come down to how a judge feels about it...and, most, will say that painting between tenants is a usual and customary part of doing the business--even if you have to use Kilz (some landlords simply tint Kilz the color that they wish the unit to be to avoid putting a coat of paint on).  

The previous landlord should have evicted the tenant for not complying with the non-smoking part of the lease.  When a landlord let's a tenant continue doing something in violation of the lease beyond the next rental payment, some judges will infer that the landlord has accepted the behavior.  It is always a good idea to respond quickly with a warning letter for lease violations and follow that up with an official eviction notice if the tenant fails to comply.  This goes for things like smoking, pets, long-staying guest, etc.

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