Home > Personal Finance > Should I Tell My Landlord I Trashed My Apartment?

Comments 0 Comments

Moving to a new place comes with a lot of costs, not least of which is the security deposit. Oftentimes, it means paying double your rent, which no one enjoys, and you can only hope you get some of it back when you move out.

At the same time, deposits are helpful later on, because you’ll likely do some damage when you’re a tenant, and the landlord can make repairs using your security deposit. Unfortunately, that deposit sometimes isn’t enough: If you’re not paying attention during your housing transition, you could find yourself in a nasty financial situation.

What Is ‘Wear & Tear’?

If you’ve ever signed a lease, you’re likely familiar with the part of most agreements that says the landlord expects wear and tear. Sometimes, tenants won’t be liable for repairs resulting from wear and tear, or the landlord will use a small portion of the security deposit to cover them.

There’s a problem with this idea: Wear and tear is a vague concept, so standards will vary from place to place. Lakeisha Johnson, a property manager in Virginia, gave some examples:

“On carpet, you’re going to have a wear pattern where people walk the most, but if you have a Kool-Aid stain, that’s not wear and tear,” she said. “Wear and tear on paint may be where you have furniture that rubbed against the wall.”

At the same time, it doesn’t have to be deliberate to be damage. You probably didn’t ask your kids to draw on the walls or let your dog chew on the carpet, but if those things happen while you’re not watching and you couldn’t fix the problem yourself, you’re probably going to get charged for it.

“Accidents are going to happen,” Johnson said, “and someone has to be responsible for it.”

When to Come Clean About Damage

Check your lease and see if there’s anything in it about how your landlord wants you to handle damage. If there’s nothing specific, it’s up to you how to proceed. If the problem could get worse, it’s a good idea to address it immediately and prevent further, more costly damage. On the other hand, stained carpet isn’t going anywhere. In fact, if you replace it right away, you could end up damaging the new carpet and having to pay to replace it again.

Johnson said she preferred to know about damage as soon as possible, which is an understandable position for a property manager. Thomas Simeone, an attorney who specializes in landlord-tenant issues, said it could be in your best interest to wait till you’re moving out, take note of all the damage and see what happens.

In either case, you should document everything, which is extremely simple these days. The vast majority of cellphones are equipped with digital cameras, which likely take video as well, so take pictures of anything you mess up. Ideally, you should take pictures of the place when you move in and make a record of pre-existing conditions so you don’t get charged for something you didn’t do, but even if you don’t have a before-and-after comparison, you should keep detailed documents on the condition of the place when you move out.

“If something breaks, and it’s not your fault, and you don’t want to be held responsible, tell your landlord immediately,” Simeone said. “Short of that, from the legal point of view, it’s in the tenant’s best interest to document and then wait.”

Be Prepared to Pay

Check your local landlord-tenant laws. Some jurisdictions mandate landlords give tenants an itemized list of damages within 30 days of the lease ending, otherwise the tenant doesn’t have to pay for them, Simeone said. You may get lucky and the landlord just won’t charge you for damage, but no matter what, look out for correspondence from your landlord after you move out.

If damages exceed your security deposit and you get a bill to cover them, do not ignore it. Failing to swiftly deal with the charges may lead your landlord to send the bill to a collection agency, and a collection account will have a negative impact on your credit standing. If that happens, make sure you know your rights when dealing with debt collectors and how the process will affect your credit going forward.

To expedite the process, you may want to have an independent contractor come in and provide estimates for damage repair.

“If you really think the landlord’s going to charge you for stuff, get an estimate yourself and have that in your pocket,” Simeone said. That gives you negotiating power if you think the bill is too high.

DIY repair probably isn’t the best course of action, in most cases. You may think it’s cheaper to cover up the damages yourself, but unless you do a fantastic job, your landlord will probably want you to pay for a professional to re-do whatever you did. Johnson said people in her properties often try to patch up walls on their own, and she almost always needs professionals to repaint after DIY-repair attempts.

It’s especially important to review your credit reports after you move, because there’s a chance a letter from your landlord may not get to your new place. Ask the landlord to contact you by phone or email if possible, and if you see a collection account pop up on your credit report, look into it ASAP. Many credit scoring models consider collection accounts negative whether they’re paid or unpaid, so you’ll want to avoid them if you can.

You can get a free credit report from each of the major credit reporting agencies every year, and you can get your free credit score more often using tools like those available through Credit.com. A look at your scores on Credit.com will tell you if any negative trade lines pop up on your credit report, and that will enable you to resolve credit issues before they get much worse.

More on Credit Reports and Credit Scores:

Image: Jeffrey Hamilton

Comments on articles and responses to those comments are not provided or commissioned by a bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by a bank advertiser. It is not a bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

Please note that our comments are moderated, so it may take a little time before you see them on the page. Thanks for your patience.

Certain credit cards and other financial products mentioned in this and other articles on Credit.com News & Advice may also be offered through Credit.com product pages, and Credit.com will be compensated if our users apply for and ultimately sign up for any of these cards or products. However, this relationship does not result in any preferential editorial treatment.

Hello, Reader!

Thanks for checking out Credit.com. We hope you find the site and the journalism we produce useful. We wanted to take some time to tell you a bit about ourselves.

Our People

The Credit.com editorial team is staffed by a team of editors and reporters, each with many years of financial reporting experience. We’ve worked for places like the New York Times, American Banker, Frontline, TheStreet.com, Business Insider, ABC News, NBC News, CNBC and many others. We also employ a few freelancers and more than 50 contributors (these are typically subject matter experts from the worlds of finance, academia, politics, business and elsewhere).

Our Reporting

We take great pains to ensure that the articles, video and graphics you see on Credit.com are thoroughly reported and fact-checked. Each story is read by two separate editors, and we adhere to the highest editorial standards. We’re not perfect, however, and if you see something that you think is wrong, please email us at editorial team [at] credit [dot] com,

The Credit.com editorial team is committed to providing our readers and viewers with sound, well-reported and understandable information designed to inform and empower. We won’t tell you what to do. We will, however, do our best to explain the consequences of various actions, thereby arming you with the information you need to make decisions that are in your best interests. We also write about things relating to money and finance we think are interesting and want to share.

In addition to appearing on Credit.com, our articles are syndicated to dozens of other news sites. We have more than 100 partners, including MSN, ABC News, CBS News, Yahoo, Marketwatch, Scripps, Money Magazine and many others. This network operates similarly to the Associated Press or Reuters, except we focus almost exclusively on issues relating to personal finance. These are not advertorial or paid placements, rather we provide these articles to our partners in most cases for free. These relationships create more awareness of Credit.com in general and they result in more traffic to us as well.

Our Business Model

Credit.com’s journalism is largely supported by an e-commerce business model. Rather than rely on revenue from display ad impressions, Credit.com maintains a financial marketplace separate from its editorial pages. When someone navigates to those pages, and applies for a credit card, for example, Credit.com will get paid what is essentially a finder’s fee if that person ends up getting the card. That doesn’t mean, however, that our editorial decisions are informed by the products available in our marketplace. The editorial team chooses what to write about and how to write about it independently of the decisions and priorities of the business side of the company. In fact, we maintain a strict and important firewall between the editorial and business departments. Our mission as journalists is to serve the reader, not the advertiser. In that sense, we are no different from any other news organization that is supported by ad revenue.

Visitors to Credit.com are also able to register for a free Credit.com account, which gives them access to a tool called The Credit Report Card. This tool provides users with two free credit scores and a breakdown of the information in their Experian credit report, updated twice monthly. Again, this tool is entirely free, and we mention that frequently in our articles, because we think that it’s a good thing for users to have access to data like this. Separate from its educational value, there is also a business angle to the Credit Report Card. Registered users can be matched with products and services for which they are most likely to qualify. In other words, if you register and you find that your credit is less than stellar, Credit.com won’t recommend a high-end platinum credit card that requires an excellent credit score You’d likely get rejected, and that’s no good for you or Credit.com. You’d be no closer to getting a product you need, there’d be a wasted inquiry on your credit report, and Credit.com wouldn’t get paid. These are essentially what are commonly referred to as "targeted ads" in the world of the Internet. Despite all of this, however, even if you never apply for any product, the Credit Report Card will remain free, and none of this will impact how the editorial team reports on credit and credit scores.

Our Owners

Credit.com is owned by Progrexion Holdings Inc. which is the owner and administrator of a number of business related to credit and credit repair, including CreditRepair.com, and eFolks. In addition, Progrexion also provides services to Lexington Law Firm as a third party provider. Despite being owned by Progrexion, it is not the role of the Credit.com editorial team to advocate the use of the company’s other services. In articles, reporters may mention credit repair as an option, for example, but we’ll also be sure to note the various alternatives to that service. Furthermore, you may see ads for credit repair services on Credit.com, but the editorial team isn’t responsible for the creation or implementation of those ads, anymore than reporters for the New York Times or Washington Post are responsible for the ads on their sites.

Your Stories

Lastly, much of what we do is informed by our own experiences as well as the experiences of our readers. We want to tell your stories if you’re interested in sharing them. Please email us at story ideas [at] credit [dot] com with ideas or visit us on Facebook or Twitter.

Thanks for stopping by.

- The Credit.com Editorial Team