How Much Can a Landlord Charge for Damages?

Written by Cate Carrejo
Updated 12/16/2019

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 vs. damages you could be liable for.

Normal Wear And Tear

The first thing you should do when facing a charge for damages is to make sure the broken item is legally considered damage, or simple, normal wear and tear. State law allows for a surprising amount of normal damage to your apartment when you move out before your landlord can start charging you. You’re not expected to leave your place spotlessly clean or even exactly in the same condition it was when you moved in. 

Here’s what falls under normal wear and tear:

  • 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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Damages

Damages, as defined by state law, are any physical changes to the condition of the unit outside of the consequences of everyday life. 

Examples of damage 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 upcharged 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 all the way to small claims or housing court. If your case does escalate to this level, use JustFix.nyc’s HP Action tool to prepare for your day in court.

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Avoiding Damage 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 state of the apartment before you’ve had a chance to cause any new problems and take plenty of pictures for evidence. This can also show your new landlord that you intend to be a good, reliable tenant and shortcut any other issues in the future. The best way to protect yourself as a renter is always good communication and solid documentation!

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