How Much Can a Landlord Charge for Damages or Cleaning?

When a tenant moves out of a unit, the landlord will inspect the property to look for damages and to assess the state of the property. If the unit isn’t in the same condition it was when the tenant became a resident – minus normal wear-and-tear – the landlord may charge the tenant for damages or cleaning.

How much a landlord can charge for damages or cleaning can vary. However, in a general sense, landlords can usually levy fees based on the cost of repairing the damage or cleaning the unit. Additionally, the cost typically has to be considered “reasonable” based on the work that has to be done to return the property to its original state.

If you are wondering how much a landlord can charge for damages or cleaning, here’s what you need to know.

How Much Can a Landlord Charge for Damages?

Precisely how much a landlord can charge for damages depends on the type of damage involved. Usually, there isn’t a legal upper limit on damage-related fees, as the cost is largely determined by the kind of repair that’s needed to bring the unit back into the same state it was in before the tenant moved into the unit.

In most cases, the charges, however, do have to be “reasonable.” If a fee is in excess of typical local rates for the kind of repair work required, it may be considered unreasonable.

Generally, landlords will gather estimates from contractors or, if a broken item needs replacing, research local stores to figure out the cost for the repair. That way, they have evidence showing the expense associated with fixing the issue, allowing them to establish that the fee is “reasonable” based on the going rates in the area.

However, landlords can also factor in the amount of time a repair can take. If the damage is extensive, requiring a multi-day project to fix it, the damage fee may be higher. It acts as compensation for the fact that the unit may be unrentable until the repair is done. Whether that is allowed and how much a landlord can charge for it does vary by state law, but it is a possibility.

What to Do If You Disagree with a Damage Fee

In order to dispute the charge for damages, you want to first gather evidence that the cost is excessive. Then, send your landlord a certified letter explaining why you disagree. If your case is strong, that may be enough to solve the issue. You may want to contact your local housing authority as well, as they can help you review your options.

However, if your landlord asserts the charge is reasonable, your only option to address the fee may be to go to court. At times, the cost of going this route may not make it worthwhile, as it can be costly, but it may be on the table.

How Much Can a Landlord Charge for Cleaning?

If you’re wondering how much a landlord can charge for cleaning, it may depend on a few factors. First, state law may put an upper limit on what the landlord can charge. Second, the amount may be outlined in your lease, stating the exact fee that the landlord will levy. Third, landlords can use an approach similar as they do for repairs, getting estimates from cleaning companies in the area and basing the cost on that.

The exact size of the cleaning fee will depend on the condition of the unit, the size of the unit, the going rate for cleaning services in your area, and, potentially, local law. On average, move out cleaning services cost $40 to $60 an hour. For a typical apartment, the average usually comes in between $110 and $350, while larger houses could run $450 to $650 or more.

Now, those numbers are just averages. A landlord may charge more or less depending on the city’s going rate for similar services. Additionally, if the unit is particularly dirty or if there are certain kinds of hazards, such as human waste or significant amounts of mold caused by a lack of cleanliness, the cost can go up, at times dramatically.

However, it’s important to note that, in many states, a landlord can’t charge for cleaning if you leave the unit in the same condition you found when you moved into it. Landlords can’t levy a fee if the unit isn’t dirty to the point where a cleaning is necessary to get it back into that condition.

What to Do If You Disagree with a Cleaning Fee

If you believe that a cleaning fee was too high or that a cleaning wasn’t necessary, you can dispute the charge. The only exception to that may be if your lease specifically stated that a cleaning fee would be levied upon moveout, suggesting that the clause is legal in your area.

For a dispute, use the same approach as you would for disagreeing with a damage fee. Gather evidence, send a certified letter, and contact your local housing authority. If that doesn’t resolve the issue, court may be your only other option.

Can a Landlord Charge for Normal Wear and Tear?

No, a landlord cannot charge for wear and tear in the vast majority of cases. Typically, there are landlord-tenant laws that prevent landlords from making tenants financial responsible for wear-and-tear. However, the exact line in the sand can vary from one state to the next.

Wear-and-Tear vs. Property Damage: What’s the Difference?

Understanding the difference between wear-and-tear vs. property damage is crucial if you want to make sure everything is handled fairly. Generally, tenants aren’t financially responsible for deterioration that isn’t avoidable if they use a space, appliances, fixtures, or anything else in a normal, expected fashion.

For example, slight discoloration or matting on a carpet that isn’t caused by a lack of cleanliness is usually normal wear-and-tear. Minor scratches on wood flooring, paint chipping due to aging, or slighting discolored or chipped grout between tiles aren’t traditionally considered damage, either.

Any harm to the property that could have been avoided or is a result of intentional acts, including negligence, could potentially be considered damage. For example, deep gouges in flooring, large stains, holes in walls larger than a nail hole, pet-related harm, and more can qualify as damage. Even a lack of cleanliness, such as mildew buildup in a bathroom, may be damage.

What to Do If a Landlord Tries to Charge for Wear-and-Tear

If a landlord tries to take money from a security deposit or otherwise levy charges for wear-and-tear-related issues, tenants can dispute them. Precisely how the process will need to go may depend on local rules and regulations, so it’s wise to review landlord-tenant laws and, potentially, speak with a housing authority for additional details.

However, the first step is usually to respond to the charges. Request an itemized list of all costs from the landlord. Then, craft a letter explaining what you disagree with and send it as a certified letter. In some cases, that will be enough. If it isn’t, then you may need to use other approaches, like small claims court, if the landlord withheld part of a security deposit for wear-and-tear.