Has Many Shades of Grey!
What constitutes ‘normal wear and tear’ when you move out of your house at the end of a lease period? Tenants and home owners can be unpleasantly surprised during their final walk-through to specify any damage caused to the rented premises.
I clearly remember Sam and Holly with their two dogs and three young sons. Six years ago I found them a lovely family home close to the beach for € 3,900 per month. It was a no-nonsense house, in good shape and very suitable for a young family. At first, the owner was apprehensive about the dogs and wanted a deposit of three months’ rent, but I negotiated the amount back to the standard of one month’s rent and included an extra clause in the contract that any damage caused by the dogs would be fully for Sam’s account.
On the day the contract started, I made a detailed inspection report of the actual state of the house and took pictures of any possible defaults, i.e. nails in the wall, dents on the doors of the fridge, marks and smudges on the walls, stains in the carpets, cracks in the colored glass windows, patches in the grass, holes in the fence and so forth. The owner, a neat and elderly lady, introduced Sam to the property manager and all parties happily signed the inspection report. I felt confident that Sam’s deposit would be secured and reimbursed at the end of the tenancy. Of course he knew that he was liable for any damage caused by themselves and the dogs, but at least things would be clear and manageable. I could not have been more wrong. Six years later Sam called me in distress.
“Monique, I am leaving the Netherlands tomorrow and we had the final check-out with the owner yesterday. She will not reimburse my deposit and I have to pay an extra month’s rent. Is this possible?”
“Did you have a pre-check before your final check-out?” I asked.
“Yes,” he answered, “and nothing major came out. We had to make sure the house was clean and there were a few issues, but the property manager promised to take care of them for me.”
Formally, I don’t deal with check-outs, but Sam sounded quite stressed and I wanted to know what had gone wrong. I promised to meet with the owner and property manager the next day to find out what had happened.
The State of the House
As soon as I stepped into the house I remembered the beautifully-colored glass doors leading from the hall into the corridor. I had advised to have them protected at the time, but her agent had told me that the owner was not interested. The pictures we had taken took six years earlier, showed many small cracks, but now some of the panels were totally shattered. The kitchen counter had a burn mark on it. The contour of a round casserole was still to be seen. The carpet in one of the bedrooms had the exact imprint of an iron in the left corner. Some walls were dirty and the decking on the balcony shimmered with a green slime. The lawn showed big dark patches and I saw some broken tiles on the patio. However, the house was very clean, the oven sparkling, the curtains fresh and the wooden floor polished, although the owner pointedly indicated a few cracks. Fortunately, they were also clearly visible in the pictures I had taken six years earlier. Meanwhile the owner was in tears. She looked at me in shock.
“That is why I wanted three months’ deposit” she cried.
“That is why I wanted three months’ deposit” she cried. “Look at my house, it is totally ruined.”
“Yes, there is some damage,” I replied calmly, “but can you expect a young family to live in a house for six years like staid elderly people? The children run around and play, they cook together in the spacious kitchen and most probably have a morning rush to get everyone to school and work in time. Accidents happen, even to normal people,” I smiled. “But never on purpose. If something happens, tenants pay for any damage they have caused, as long as it is reasonable.”
The owner walked over to the shattered panels of the colored glass doors. “Yes,” I agreed, “that can be a difficult repair, but please note that there were quite a few cracks in them six years ago.” I showed her the pictures on my small computer and she nodded her head reluctantly. “Without proper protection, these cracks can turn into damage and become normal wear and tear, especially after six years. Letting a house is never without risk,” I said firmly. “Tenants pay a fair rent and should be allowed to live in it rather that tiptoe around in their rented property.”
She took me to the kitchen and sighed, pointing at the burned circle of the casserole. “Of course the kitchen counter top has to be renewed,” I responded to her gesture, “but you cannot expect a tenant to replace old for new. This kitchen is more than 10 years old. Sam should pay a reasonable amount of damage compensation towards replacement.”
Upstairs we went. The carpet with the iron burn had not been new when they moved in and had already been stained at the time. Fortunately, there was an extra piece of carpet stored in the cellar, which could be used to replace the mark in the corner. In this case a whole new carpet would not have been reasonable. Last, we ended up in the garden. The lawn needed new patches of grass and the broken tiles on the terrace could easily be replaced. I quickly summed up the damage in my head and expected it to be less than a month’s rent. After six years, the paint job on walls can clearly be considered wear and tear and the glass could possibly be claimed on the insurance. I had advised Sam to take out additional glass insurance at the time, because legally tenants are liable for glass breaking.
The deposit is money that belongs to the tenant, but is paid upfront to the owner as a guarantee for payment should there be damage to the rented premises. This money cannot be used at random to renew items that were not new to start with. The owner has to provide an exact specification of the costs and be able to justify the claim. To be able to specify the damage, an inspection report at the beginning and at the end of the tenancy is legally required, but if a conflict arises it is doubtful that the tenant will be able to enforce his rights by law. It is simply a matter of common sense and a civilized attitude when it comes to specifying ‘normal’ wear and tear. Parties will have to settle on an amount of compensation that can be considered within reason.
In my opinion, the deposit should be held by an independent party, but unfortunately this is not legally required in Holland. It is not fair that a tenant should pay for a complete replacement of kitchen units or carpets, wooden floors and other items that would have been replaced anyway after a certain number of years. In that case, what is damage and what is wear and tear? And, most of all, who decides what is what? The law is quite grey in this matter and so was my hair at the end of the discussion with the owner and her agent. I asked for an independent quote on the work and we finally settled for less than a third of the amount she had claimed before. Sam was very pleased and the owner felt reassured, because a new family was waiting to move in next month. I negotiated with her agent that this time she would have to install protection for the colored glass panels once they had been repaired.
All’s well that ends well – thank goodness!
This article was originally published in The XPat Journal Winter 2017 Issue