Carpet ruined - Do I have recourse? Should I pursue?

44 Replies

I had tenants rent my 2,850 SF house for 5.5 years. They disclosed their four dogs before signing, and they gave me a $500 extra deposit for that (in addition to last month's rent). And the wife said to me as they were moving in, "We'll probably have to buy all new when we leave." ("all new" is all she said, not carpet or anything else) Once they moved out I began rehabbing the place, which smelled very bad. I tried everything to fix the odor (scented oil warmers; baking soda on the carpet then vacuum; vinegar), but finally had to tear out the carpet (did it myself). And of course I found that their dogs had peed EVERYWHERE. Bottom of the carpet is white, so urine stains show up perfectly, and those dogs covered a vast majority of the carpet (multiple times in many areas), which was almost the entirely upstairs (1150 SF) & the stairs themselves. And the upstairs floor is plywood - Ugh. I'm kinda anal, so rather than just rolling up each floor & chunking it onto a trailer for disposal, I cut the carpet in each room into thirds, then folded it and stacked it outside - so I still have it. Oh, and the carpet was brand new when they moved in; I have the receipt.

Now, these renters paid the rent on time / every time for 5.5 straight years, and they're nice folks, so I felt kinda lenient towards them when they asked if they could use their last month's rent deposit as their actual last month's rent, so I said yes. AND ... I had toured the entire house with an architect just the month before for modernization planning, and while the house smelled like somebody was living there, it was not bad at all. Turns out they had masked the odor pretty well with incense, perfume etc. And when they moved out they had the carpet steam cleaned ... which prob really awakened the odor.

The tenants ended up buying a house about 2 miles away, and the H/W are both gainfully employed with very good local jobs. The wife makes over $150K (it's available via public disclosure).

I feel like allowing pets is not the same as allowing pets to destroy the carpet. Do you agree? In any case, I'm not surprised the carpet is ruined; just wondering if I should pursue them for it.

So ... do you think I should ask them to pay for carpet replacement? And if they decline, do you think I should sue them?

Thank you ...

@Jeff G. I understand your frustration, but I think 5.5 years warrants the replacement of carpet.  The IRS depreciation rate for carpet is 5 years. So the government believes the lifespan of carpet is 5 years.

It certainly can not hurt to ask them for some money towards the carpet, but I would not hold my breath. I also think if this was in housing court, the court would say the carpet lasted its expected lifespan.

While charging for the carpet would likely not be successful, if you had to replace any subflooring or pay for sealing in the odor after the carpet was removed, I would definitely send them a bill for those charges.  And no matter how nice the tenants are or how long they have stayed, never allow them to put the last month's rent toward the deposit.  I've gone out of my way to get it back to them quickly after I've checked the house out thoroughly once they are gone, especially if it has rented out again quickly, but even the best tenants are less likely to leave it in great condition if they know they have no money at risk.  

@Russell Brazil hits it right on the head. The carpet has served its purpose, and was worthless half a year ago. It stinks, because a normal person would be able to get way more than 5 years out of a carpet, but you allowed dogs to live there, and sometimes dogs pee in the house.

Chalk this up to lesson learned, and cost of doing business. Did you depreciate the carpet for the last 5 years?

paint the plywood floors with a oil based paint to seal the odor in 

I also say that over 5 years of life out of a rental property carpet is probably when you'd usually expect to have to replace. Thinking of a hard-floor option for this time around? And wow, were their dogs not trained?? I can see an occasional mistake, but you said it was pretty much everywhere? Pathetic. 

If you sue, you will lose.

You can go after them for the cost of sealing the subfloor if necessary.

Carpet is disgusting, dogs or no dogs.  If you ever looks at a piece of carpet under a decent microscope, you would never install it again.

I second the comment about carpet being pretty disgusting even without pets.

Your first mistake was to rent to someone with 4 dogs. Then you only got a $500 deposit? For a 2850 sq ft house? No need to sue, this is just a lesson learned.

Obviously none of us have read your lease but most leases hold a tenant responsible for damages beyond normal wear and tear.  Pet urine and feces is not normal wear and tear and the tenant can be held responsible for the correcting any damage regardless of the age of the carpet

The key is to always document the damages by pictures, estimates and in these cases put a piece of the carpet in a ziplock bag in case you have to go to small claims court( The judge will love to get a whiff !)

Reality is that even if you received a judgment it is very unlikely you will collect unless you are in a state that allows garnishment of wages

The lesson that should be learned is to never allow a tenant to use their deposit as last months rent.  Even the best of tenants tend to focus on their new residence and the move and overlook their move out responsibilities

This is one of the things that I truly hate and I am clearly one of the few that disagrees with the BP response. I don't care what the IRS says about the life of carpeting. Thats the most illogical idea I've ever heard.

And I'm not saying I'm definitely right. But I actually believe you could definitely argue about some of that.  If you buy decent carpeting, it typically comes with a 7 yr or 10 yr warranty.  So I would suggest you are entitled to a portion of that carpeting cost.

Getting a pet deposit does not mean you are approving the tenant to allow their dog to pee everywhere in the house.

As a pet owner, they're responsible for any damage their pet does in the house and peeing on the carpet is damage - not normal wear and tear.

Just because the IRS says depreciation for carpet is 5 years doesn't mean the carpet has no value.  Thats like saying if they let me depreciate a fridge over 7 years, the tenant can steal the appliances after 7 years.

Its ridiculous.  

Personally, I would go after the couple for half the cost of removing the carpet and the smell and replacing with new carpet.

If they really make 150k/yr, I'd be hard pressed to see them wanting to go in front of a judge and a bunch of strangers to argue that it was ok for their dogs to pee all over the house.

The other thing I'd say is that it doesn't cost much to threaten them that you're going to take them to court if they don't pay for half the carpet. And, if they don't budge, then file the small claims court and see if they pay.   If they still don't pay and you don't want to go to court then cancel the case at the last minute and call it a day.  It can't hurt to try.

Because the other thing that most of the people on BP don't seem to get is that while their court system may have certain rules for this, most tenants don't have a clue. And they're going to believe you if your argument is based on common sense.

Not saying you'll get your money back. But you'd be surprised how often you can just make the common sense argument and the tenant believes it enough to follow through.

But one thing I would also add. Pet fees.  $300 per pet. And its a fee not a deposit. I'm keeping it regardless of whether their pet does any damage. The bottom line is that a pet will cause more wear and tear on a house. 

Originally posted by @Greg H. :

Obviously none of us have read your lease but most leases hold a tenant responsible for damages beyond normal wear and tear.  Pet urine and feces is not normal wear and tear and the tenant can be held responsible for the correcting any damage regardless of the age of the carpet

The key is to always document the damages by pictures, estimates and in these cases put a piece of the carpet in a ziplock bag in case you have to go to small claims court( The judge will love to get a whiff !)

Reality is that even if you received a judgment it is very unlikely you will collect unless you are in a state that allows garnishment of wages

The lesson that should be learned is to never allow a tenant to use their deposit as last months rent.  Even the best of tenants tend to focus on their new residence and the move and overlook their move out responsibilities

 No.  Sorry, but no.  Maybe that is how it works in Texas, but in the courts in my state, you will get a judgment of exactly $0.00 for carpet the is FOUR years old, never mind five.

Something that is without value cannot be damaged.  You have no damages to collect on if someone messes up valueless carpet.

OK, thanks all. I had considered the 'how long should carpet last anyway' idea, especially in a rental, but hadn't thought about the IRS depreciation aspect. (I'm new to the landlord thing, as I think I've stated in other posts some time back)

Funny - When I'm not working in that place with its god-awful wooly dog odor, I feel like being lenient toward them; then when I go back in there to work some more, I get angry again and wanna go after their wallet! "Who could live like this??!" and "Who would let their dogs piss all over the entire house like this??!" But, like I said, the odor was masked pretty well before they had the carpet steam cleaned. They had to have known, but had somehow just decided it was acceptable. YIKES.

In any case, I'll let it go then. And just be glad they consistently paid the rent for all those years.

Oh, and I just stopped by the house: After finally removing all the carpet, padding & tack strips late last night, I drenched the plywood floors with 50/50 vinegar/water with a pump sprayer, and it's smelling MUCH better now. So I don't think subflooring will need to be replaced or anything like that. Very relieved. I may let that all dry and paint it, as suggested, which would be cheap, easy & fast (a rare combo!), but will decide after another couple days of letting it air out.

I really appreciate all the responses.

when you replace the carpet use vinyl plank flooring. It will cost 2x as much but will last longer and is very durable and highly water resistant. It also makes rooms look bigger. We put that in all our houses in high foot traffic areas. Really we limit carpet to bedrooms only. 

@Jeff G.

Even though you say it is much better I urge you to paint the subfloor.  Heat and moisture will tend to bring out the odor again at some point but sealing with paint should cure the issue.  Moving forward using tile or laminate alleviates the issue

@Richard C.

So in NH as long as I the carpet is 4 years old I can use as a canvas for my paint or a lawn for my dog without any repercussions ?

I try to make tenant deposit deductions based on what I am willing/able to defend.  Our small claims courts are run by elected officials that may or may not be attorneys.  In my experience, being prepared with documentation goes a long way.  In 25+ years, I have never had a tenant challenge a deduction in court.....many whine about it though

Getting damages in excess of the deposit in Texas is fruitless as we have no garnishment and judgements are nearly impossible to collect

Using tile or laminate alleviates the issue

I posted my previous reply before reading Mike H.'s reply. Mike, I'm with you on carpet lasting more than 5 years. Damn. This is a tough one. Probably will just let it go, though.

I have put down the cost of removing the carpet (not the cost of the carpet itself, the labor to remove it) on my itemized deductions out of the security deposit and it passed the court to make it as a judgement against a tenant.  Not sure if this would be legal for you; you'd have to check your state's laws.  Or just try it and see if you get away with it.  The main difference is that I had a contractor do it, you said you ripped out the carpet yourself.

I agree allowing dogs is not the same as allowing dogs to destroy the property. However, with regard to the carpet as others have said, 5 years likely warrants replacement. I doubt there is much if anything to pursue.

Hi Orange Park, 

Sorry to hear about your PET PROBLEM.

The real lesson is stay clear of the fuzzy stuff.  TILE is way to go.  Hit me up on the private email, I have a good contractor I can connect you with. 

Lol -so you pursue them into the courtroom, and the judge says to you - which part of 4 dogs confused you 5.5 years ago...?! Then the judge laughs as I am laughing :)

These are nice people who paid rent on time. You should pursue hiring some installers to put in new flooring :)

Originally posted by :

So in NH as long as I the carpet is 4 years old I can use as a canvas for my paint or a lawn for my dog without any repercussions ?

 There is a difference between willful destruction and normal wear and tear. Of course every jurisdiction is going to have different rules on what constitutes normal wear and tear, the IRS depreciation schedule is a pretty good rule of thumb if your state or local jurisdiction does not have a rule in place. I am in Maryland, and the Maryland Attorney General's website even says that landlords need to be prepared to periodically replace carpet. From their website below. (Now granted Maryland is generally tenant friendly)

"""Damage" or Normal Wear and Tear?

This is often the point on which landlords and tenants disagree. Unfortunately there are no hard and fast rules that fit every situation. However, common sense suggests that carpeting will need to be replaced periodically, and walls will need repainting, due to normal wear and tear. A landlord must expect to bear these costs as part of doing business. If, however, a tenant scorched a large area of the carpeting, or dragged an appliance over it and ripped it, that could reasonably be considered damage. Leaving small holes from picture hooks in the wall would be wear and tear, while knocking a hole in the wall that would require drywall or plaster repair could be damage."

https://www.oag.state.md.us/Consumer/landlords.htm

I think you are right to not go after them. My opinion is that where you went wrong was on allowing them to use deposit as last month rent; no way should you do this under any circumstance. Also, if you put carpeting back into the house, you might consider charging a pet fee based on square footage of carpeting

As a landlord, I probably would not be too upset about changing five year old carpets, in fact I consider it gravy if they last longer with tenants.   You would  probably be wasting your valuable time and money trying to go after them.

 Moving forward however, I would advise against renting to anyone with more than two pets, be cats, dogs or whatever.  You can never count on tenants to be diligent with your property.  

No need to address the security deposit issue, I am sure that point is well understood by now.  Just  consider this as part of the learning curve and look ahead  to many years of future  successful investments.  

Jd Martin - Your response seems unnecessarily defeatist; i.e. Because I gave the deposit back, I should drop the issue, even though keeping the deposit may have had merit? I myself do not consider pursuing $ too late at this point. For example, if it takes 5 hours and I recoup $5,000, well isn't that $1,000/ hour? So to me, this is a matter of whether I should pursue or not, now. I do understand most responders think I should not.

For those interested, I will post the final decision, including the result if I decide to pursue them in some way, including how I did that.

@Jeff G.

As I said,  I believe the damage was beyond normal wear and tear.  The chances of you getting a judgment may be greater than 50-50,  the chances of you collecting on that judgment is probably less than 10%.  The deposit was your 100% opportunity to collect on some of the damages.  Never let the deposit be the last months rent no matter how great the tenant may seem

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