The problem here is that the re-frig cant be repaired unless we change both doors. That cost is more than the cost of the ref-rig. But the re-frig is still working and operational. We tried stainless steel cleansers and scratch removal but it doesn't work. Scratches are too deep on both doors.
It seems excessive to charge them for a new fridge even though that is the cheaper of the two costs compared to replacing both doors. I don't see this are the proper way to charge when trying to be fair.
Of course tenants argue they didn't do it at all, etc.
Re-frige is say $1000 new when moved in and we can show receipt of purchase. It was say 2 years old when tenants moved out. Not sure what tnhe expectation on fridge life is now days.
What would be exceptable method to charge tenants?
This is VERY difficult to answer. The court GENERALLY looks to equity - or fairness - under the circumstances. If you show an estimate to replace the door is $1250 (and why you NEED to replace BOTH doors) and a new refrigerator is only $1000, then it makes sense. However, there are issues with depreciation, but this is where you would need to craft an argument. Clearly, you could, on your own, figure out a way to pro-rate it, e.g. charge $750, but it will ultimately be up to the court to determine what is fair.
If you can prove that the refrigerator was new when the tenants moved in, and they do not have photos to prove it was already damaged, the facts are in your favor. Just try to think this through logically and come to a self-determination of what is fair. This is OFTEN what the court will decide.
If you have further questions, be sure to speak with a lawyer that knows Small Claims and landlord/tenant law.
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Such scratches are clearly above and beyond normal wear and tear. Assuming you have proof it was a new fridge or was in normal condition, I think you get to choose the cheaper of replacing it with another 2-year-old fridge or replacing the doors. It sounds expensive but you have a right to the fridge in the condition you provided it (less normal depreciation).
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If you still have an invoice showing how much you paid for the fridge and how old it is, but the tenant cannot prove that the scratches were on the fridge when they moved in, you could probably ask for half the value of the fridge minus normal depreciation. Fridges last more than 10 years nowadays, and if the fridge is still working, half of the value minus depreciation should "make you whole".