“You know you have a good compromise when both sides are slightly unhappy.” (Many Authors Credited)

As a Charlotte property manager, my least favorite part of the job are the end-of-lease walk-throughs; that is, when the tenant moves out, and we visit the property to check out its condition. If there are damages, we need to decide whether they are “normal wear and tear” (no charge to the tenant) or damages that need to be repaired from the tenant funds. It’s very subjective.

There are three scenarios when it comes to these property manager walk-throughs. The house is left in:

Great condition: The tenant gets their security deposit back and the owner doesn’t have to pay much to get the home in market shape. Everyone is happy. Mediocre Condition: Some of the damage is normal wear and tear, and some of it was caused by too much rough play by the tenant. This is where the greatest conflicts occur between owner and tenant. Poor Condition: The security deposit is basically conceded by the tenant. They know they don’t deserve anything back and hope that there is no future contact concerning the property. The owner is able to use the security deposit to mitigate repair costs.

 

I’m going to focus on the most challenging situation, the home left in “mediocre condition”. This can elicit two different responses from the same walk-through report:

Owner: “You’re killing me! That tenant treated my home like a kid’s tree house and they are only being charged $500 for damages? Add a zero please! They should be put in jail! Did they ever think to cover the food in microwave so it didn’t erupt all inside of it? Did they decide to save money on towels and wipe their hands on the walls? The carpet was new when they moved in! You’re being easy on them! You represent me, remember? Why do you like them so much?”

Tenant: “You’re killing me! I treated that home like my own! I cleaned it daily. We took our shoes off when we were inside (which we shouldn’t have even bothered with, being that the carpet was shoddy-looking when we moved in- I told you this!! Remember??) There might have been a couple things wrong, but I could have fixed them for like $50! $500? Are you crazy?? I thought you liked me! This is highway robbery! You’ll be hearing from my attorney!”

Property managers are really trying to do the right thing, but are stuck in the middle of competing interests. It’s sort of like being friends with both the wife and the husband when they are in the midst of a divorce. You want to be friends with both (like usual), without either of them feeling slighted. Practically-speaking, that can be tough to do!

To make this experience as clean and easy as possible, I’d offer the following four suggestions to landlords:

Trust your instincts- there is no “right” answer and it is usually impossible to make both parties entirely happy Be specific on damages and document repair costs Have a consistent methodology on how costs are assessed Take pictures or use video during the walk-through so tenants can see the damages they are being charged for

Though rental home walk-throughs can’t always be pain-free, there are ways to limit potential fall-out from this necessary part of the property management business.