How Much Can a Landlord Charge for Damages?

Written by JustFix.nyc
Updated 06/23/2020

Whether you’re moving out of your apartment or need a repair done, dealing with your landlord to resolve damages in your apartment can be a huge hassle. The law only vaguely defines how much a landlord can charge for damages, so it can be easy to get taken advantage of when you’re just trying to be a good tenant. Protect yourself by knowing the difference between normal wear and tear versus damages you could be liable for.

What is Normal Wear And Tear?

If you are facing a charge for damages, you will want to understand the difference between “damages” and “normal wear and tear”. State law allows for a surprising amount of normal wear on your apartment by the time you move out. You’re actually not expected to leave your place spotlessly clean or even exactly in the same condition it was when you moved in.

Often, this type of information is also laid out in your lease, so be sure to re-read every section of it to see what your landlord has specifically declared what falls under “damages” that they can charge you for, and “normal wear and tear” that they cannot charge you for. Normal wear and tear could be things such as:

  • Small holes in the walls from nails or push pins

  • Small stains on the carpet

  • Dirty grout and small amounts of mildew in the shower

  • Tarnish on bathroom fixtures

  • Loose cabinet fixtures

  • Reasonable amounts of dirt on the floors, walls, or appliances

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What are Damages?

Damages, as defined by state law, are any physical changes to the condition of the unit outside of the consequences of everyday life. It is important to document the state of your apartment with photos and videos when you first move in and throughout your time in the apartment to show what issues were directly your fault, or the fault of other major underlying issues in the building. Some examples of damages might include:

  • A broken bathroom mirror or toilet seat

  • Shattered glass in a window

  • A large hole in the drywall 

  • Damaged or missing door handles/locks

  • Major carpet stains like pet urine 

Even if the damage was your fault, you have the right to pay a reasonable amount for the repair without getting overcharged for the work. Ask your landlord for an itemized list of the damages you’re being billed for and for any documentation of labor or materials needed to complete the repair. If they can’t prove that the repair costs as much as they’re charging you for it, a record of that request could help you if you have to take your case to small claims court or housing court. If your case does escalate to this level, you can consider using JustFix.nyc’s HP Action tool to prepare the necessary documents to sue your landlord for harassment.

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Avoiding Charges Before They Happen

If you’ve moved out of your old place and into a new one, it never hurts to do a walkthrough inspection, either on your own or with your new landlord. Survey the condition of the apartment and take plenty of pictures for evidence. This can also show your new landlord that you intend to be a responsible tenant and avoid unnecessary problems in the future. The best way to protect yourself as a renter is always clear communication and solid documentation.

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