landlord/tenant Q&A

DARLENE HIGA (RA), RMP
Property Manager, The Realty Company, Ltd.
Past President, Oahu Chapter National Association of Residential Property Managers

Q.

I checked my tenant out of the property and after the inspection I noticed that the 18 month old draperies were taped together, they had obviously ripped them. Can I still charge them for this even though I did a walk through with them?

A.

First thing I would recommend is to call the tenant and inquire about the taped curtains. It should not be a call accusing the tenant of hiding the damage to the curtains, but a fact finding call or inquiry. The delivery of your questions and the tone of your voice will determine how the tenant will react to this situation. If they admit or acknowledge that they damaged the drapes, which we hope most tenants would do, you should inform them that they can be assessed for the repair or replacement cost. Let them know that you will have someone inspect it and provide you with a cost for the repair.

You should keep in mind that although the curtains are only 18 months old there can be wear and tear and the damage may not be due to the tenant’s negligence. Is there a window near the curtains? Is the window in working order – does it open and close properly?

Did the tenant call you to report that the window was broken and could not close?

If the window is broken and the tenant informed you on several occasions that they could not close it – that lack of action on your part in not repairing the window could have caused damage to the curtains. Then the answer is no, we cannot charge the tenant in this case.

So let’s back-up and look at things from the beginning.

1. Remember you should always do a written check-in inspection – a copy should be retained by you and provided to the tenant.

2. Pictures. Dated pictures are recommended. This gives perspective as to how the unit looked during that check-in inspection.

3. Did you give the tenant a written vacating instruction check-list?

If so, it should explain in detail what you expect the unit/house to look like when they check out. Example: window screens and jalousies cleaned; carpets steamed clean with receipt provided; ceiling fan with no dust on blades; A/C filters cleaned and/or replaced, etc. Again, both you and the tenant should have copies of the documentation.

Things to keep in mind:

A. Whether your tenant has occupied your property for one year or ten years, normal wear and tear cannot be charged to the tenant.

B. The age and life expectancy of the item you want to charge the tenants for may be relevant. If the tenants damaged the carpet and you want to charge them for replacement, but the carpet is 15 years old, it may be argued that the life expectancy of the carpet was exceeded. Therefore, you may not be allowed to charge the tenant for the damaged carpet.

C. Owner/Landlord negligence. Did the tenant report a problem to you and you did not make the necessary repair to eliminate or stop further damage to the property?

We recommend that you be proactive and have good communication with your tenants to alleviate and/or eliminate problems that may arise, whether involving day-to-day or check-out issues. You can be strict in applying house rules, inventory and condition forms, and check-in/checkout lists, but always remember to be fair – to the tenants and to yourself.

Answers to questions in Landlord Tenant Q&A are provided by members of the Oahu Chapter of the National Association of Residential Property Managers (NARPM), an organization that supports the professional and ethical practices of rental home management through networking, education, and certification. The Oahu Chapter, founded in 2004, has become the largest in the nation with 175 registered members.

Disclaimer: The answers provided in this column by Realtors address individual cases and should not be construed as interpretations of the law. For specific information on Hawaii State Law, go to http:// hawaii.gov/ dcca/areas /ocp/ landlord_tenant or contact an attorney.

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